The Camel Trophy events 1980-2000
The Camel Trophy has been called "the Olympics of 4x4". The events were all about adventure and exploration. These gruelling tests of human endurance were often subtitled "1,000 miles of adventure". The Camel Trophy brought together teams from around the world in the hope of triumphing in some of the most treacherous off-road conditions imaginable. Team work and camaraderie were crucial. The competitive element came in a series of "Special Tasks," such as winching and timed driving routes, in which the national teams competed against each other.
The Camel Trophy originated in 1980 with three Jeep-equipped German teams exploring the Amazon. The vehicles were the U50 model licence built by Ford of Brazil and fitted with a Ford 2 litre OHC engine. The support vehicles were Brazilian-built Volkswagens. After that first event, the organisers turned to Land Rover and over the course of the next twenty years, the event used Range Rover, Series III, Ninety, One Ten, Defender, Discovery and Freelander vehicles.
Over the next eight years, the expeditions crossed Sumatra, Papua New Guinea, Zaire, Brazil, Borneo, Australia, Madagascar (the first north-south crossing) and Sulawesi before returning to the Amazon.
For the 1990s, the Camel Trophy headed to Siberia and the USSR, followed by Tanzania, Burundi, Guyana, Sabah-Malaysia, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile (the "Road to Hell" event), Belize, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras (controversially serving 500 out-of-season lobster at a dinner), Kalimantan (a thousand miles and 18 rollovers to celebrate the first crossing of the island 100 years previously) and Mongolia. But the Camel Trophy didn't just change venue. Over the years, the event evolved from a mud-plugging expedition to involve elements of adventure sport, such as kayaking mountain biking and winter sports. For some events, a million people applied to take part! One person's hell is another person's heaven.
Although the events had an impact on the environment through which they travelled, there were ways in which the Camel Trophy benefited local communities. The convoy's progress reopened roads and tracks which had fallen into disuse and frequently rebuilt bridges, repaired sections of damaged tracks and rescued stranded vehicles. In 1993 the teams worked through the night to build an environmental monitoring station so ecologists could study the flora and fauna of "The Lost World" of the Maliau Basin conservation area. It had barely been explored previously. The exercise was repeated in 1994 when the convoy halted to construct a scientific station.
In 1998, the Camel Trophy returned to Argentina and Chile for the penultimate Tierra del Fuego event. The Freelander made its debut and was used to speed the competitors six thousand miles across the remote and snowy environment. Outdoor pursuits dominated the event. Shortly afterwards, Land Rover, a major sponsor, felt that the Camel Trophy was moving away from adventure and exploration and a news release indicated they would not sponsor future events. The 1999 Camel Trophy, planned for Peru, was cancelled.
In 2000, the Camel Trophy returned with a new style of event. It developed the spirit of the Tierra del Fuego but the 32 competitors explored Tonga and Samoa in RHIB powerboats. Although the event was successful as a sporting activity, it failed to give the sponsors the exposure they desired. In the future they would concentrate on fashion, not performance. It was to be the last Camel Trophy.
The demise of the Camel Trophy left a gap.
In 2003, competitors representing sixteen nations helped Land Rover fill that gap. Surprisingly, the inaugural Land Rover G4 Challenge contained many of the elements of last few Camel Trophy events, which Land Rover had reportedly been disappointed with. The "ultimate global adventure" was a test of skill, stamina and mental agility in four separate stages, each in a different time zone. The prize: a top-of-the-range Range Rover. In true Camel Trophy style, the winner Rudi Thoelen, declined a Range Rover, and opted for two Defenders instead!
The 2006 Land Rover G4 Challenge was tougher than the inaugural event with a greater emphasis on vehicle-based activities. The competitors, working in bi-national teams were faced with thousands of miles of adventure in China, Laos, Brazil and Bolivia.
In 2008, Land Rover announced the event would be in partnership with the International Red Cross, and take place in Mongolia. However, all was not right at Land Rover, and the Tata-owned management were uncomfortable with running such a large and expensive event whilst at the same time asking for millions of pounds of government support during the economic downturn. Once again, the event was cancelled, shortly after the National Selections.