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Spirit of adventure: 65 years of Land Rover expeditions

The Land Rover Defender is one of the most iconic cars ever built – and the new model has big shoes to fill. Here we look back at 65 years of Land Rover expeditions that led up to its making

In these difficult times, it’s reassuring to see large multinational firms doing the right thing. Jaguar Land Rover is a prime example – so far, the company has deployed 160 vehicles globally to support emergency response organisations.

Of these, 57 vehicles – including 27 new Defenders – have been put into service with the British Red Cross to deliver medicine and food to vulnerable people including the elderly across the UK.

A further 65 vehicles are supporting the Red Cross in Australia, Spain, South Africa and France.

Jaguar and Land Rover are also loaning vehicles to the National Health Service and emergency services response teams fighting coronavirus.

Land Rover’s history with the Red Cross dates back 65 years, funding emergency-response projects around the world.

It was also 65 years ago that Land Rover undertook its first great expedition: from London to Singapore.

So we decided to take a look back over Land Rover’s ten most impressive expeditions to date: 

This 1955 expedition, comprising six students from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, was a world first, capturing the imagination of an international audience thanks to three films commissioned by David Attenborough.

Two Land Rover Series I vehicles travelled over land from London to Singapore.

(They had a little help over the English Channel and the Bosphorus, mind.)

They faced some major hurdles along the way, including the desert between Damascus and Baghdad, which took 14 hours alone in sweltering temperatures.

They also tackled the famous Ledo road between Burma and India – requiring the crossing of hundreds of streams and rivers, not to mention keeping an eye out for thieves and headhunters.

The Trans-America expedition led by Col John Blashford-Snell took in the full 18,000-mile length of the American continent from Alaska to Cape Horn, using two Range Rovers provided by British Leyland.

The biggest challenge was the Darien Gap – a 250-mile stretch of swamp and impenetrable jungle, preventing all road traffic from passing between the north and south parts of the American continent.

The expedition took a full 99 days to fight their way through this stretch alone.

In 1990, the Land Rover Discovery I took on a gruelling 1,000-mile expedition through the USSR as part of the Camel Trophy.

The trek travelled across some of the most remote terrain on earth, starting in Bratsk, then travelling south to Kob, through the vast Tiga Forest via Kachug to Lake Biakal, then west to the finish at Irkutsk on the Angara River.

Where Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants, Land Rover decided to opt for Range Rovers instead.

Recreating Hannibal’s famous journey from France into Italy via the Alps, this expedition included a gruelling 85 miles of off-roading through forests and up rocky climbs to more than 3,000m above sea level.

With newly upgraded electronic suspension and a new long wheelbase chassis, the Hannibal Trail expedition was designed to showcase the capability of the second-generation Range Rover.

The introduction of Discovery 2 was a baptism of fire, with two pre-production models taking on a Trek challenge in excess of 30,000km from London to Paris, via Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India, Sydney, and central America.

Departing from London on June 1st 1998, the Discoverys were driven across western and eastern Europe to Istanbul and then on across Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India where they were shipped to Australia.

The teams had to deal with temperatures above 50C as well as hair-raising road hazards. These included ox-carts, unlit overloaded trucks, camels and monkeys – not to mention the odd brigade of gun-toting militia.

Designed as a successor to the Camel Trophy, the G4 Challenge ran in 2003 and 2006.

In the latter, Discovery 3 vehicles were used, totally unmodified apart from the fitment of some genuine Land Rover accessories.

Eighteen nations competed in the Challenge, tasked with crossing Thailand, Laos, Brazil and Bolivia.

The 4,000km route took 28 days to complete, including climbing mountains in Bolivia, traversing the jungles of Laos and the urban jungles of Rio de Janeiro and Bangkok.

In 2012, the 1,000,000th Discovery built started the 'Journey of Discovery' from its birthplace in Birmingham to Beijing in China.

The 50-day, 8,000-mile adventure was undertaken by three Land Rover Discovery vehicles travelling through more than a dozen countries across Europe and Central Asia.

In an extreme engineering validation test, they set off from Land Rover's UK home at Solihull to drive the 16,800km extended Silk Trail, arriving in Mumbai, India, 53 days later.

The mission took the vehicles through Europe and into Central Asia, passing the Silk Trail cities of Bukhara and Samarkand on their way to the ultimate challenge – the Himalayas.

In the high altitudes of the Tibetan plateau, the Range Rover Hybrids entered a technical unknown.

Pushed into thinning air at 5,000m, the reduced atmospheric pressure put engines and cooling systems to the test.

In recent years, the current Discovery has been used on the Land Rover Experience (LRE) Tours, tackling far-flung destinations and tricky off-road challenges.

In 2017, LRE Tours took on Peru across two six-day stages.

The off-road expedition headed through the Peruvian mountains, jungles and desert toward the ancient Inca city of Machu Pichu, 4,200 metres above sea level in the Andes Mountains.

The New Defender tackled a 686km route through Namibia’s Kaokoland – ‘the land God made in anger’.

From towering sand dunes to bone-dry riverbeds, it was a four-day expedition across some of the world’s toughest terrain in scorching temperatures.

At one point the expedition had to tackle Van Zyl’s pass, built by Dutch explorer Ben van Zyl in the 1960s, and littered with large rocks, loose gravel and steep descents of up to 35 degrees.

From Van Zyl’s pass, the expedition headed to Marienfluss and the Skeleton Coast National Park.

Stretching 500km along the Atlantic, the waters off the Skeleton Coast are renowned for strong currents, sharp rocks, shifting sandbanks and thick fog, leading to the beaches being littered with ghostly remains of ships.

For more information on the new Land Rover Defender, see landrover.co.uk

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