Sixty-four years ago, six young British blokes took upon themselves a journey that no one thought achievable, which is to drive from London to Singapore. In the 1950s version of ‘hold my beer’ and ‘challenge accepted’, they started out in London in 1955 and reached Singapore in 1956. And they achieved this 10,000-mile drive with two excellent examples of the 1955 Land Rover Series I, named Oxford and Cambridge.
The first expedition, called The Oxford & Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition, also known as The First Overland, passed through countries such as Iran, India, Burma and the Federation of Malaysia. Sir David Attenborough, a name that needs no introduction, commissioned three BBC films on the journey.
Years gone by; three of the six have passed on, and Cambridge was dismantled. Oxford, however, retired on an island, spending its days as a chicken coop. No joke. That is until one Adam Bennett found it and restored the Land Rover in 2017.
Today, sixty-four years on, the lone surviving Oxford Land Rover is restored and called back into action to make the journey but in reverse, called The Last Overland. And of the three surviving members, only Tim Slessor — now 87 years old — will drive from Singapore to London with film-maker Alex Bescoby. Along for the drive are a mixed crew of very experienced overland adventurers, professional advisors, experts and enthusiasts.
Tim Slessor was beside himself when he was reunited with his old Oxford Land Rover. He said, “The last time I seriously drove this old thing was a long time ago. So, as you might imagine, to see the old thing again today is quite moving. After all, before we had set out, the Experts had told us that we were geographically ignorant and politically naive; the journey couldn’t be done. All that did was to make us more determined. Six months later, we pulled into Champion Motors on Singapore’s Orchard Road. I can tell you, the champagne and flash-bulbs really popped that day. We’d made it. As the man from America’s Time magazine put it, ‘I guess you boys have run plumb out road.’”
Unlike the first expedition, The Last Overland will not use the exact route taken 64 years ago. Instability in certain regions due to war and politics have forced a change in route. This time, the expedition will drive through Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, China, Uzbekistan, Bulgaria, Iran and the Himalayas over northern Turkey.
The team aims to arrive in London approximately 100 days after the flag off from Marina Bay, Singapore. In Malaysia, they will be driving past Kuala Lumpur, up to Cameron Highlands, into Penang and then off to Thailand.
You can follow them on their journey on Youtube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Without a doubt, there is a good story to be told here.
(Note: Just before the flag-off in Singapore, Tim Slessor had taken ill and is still resting in Singapore. He did give his blessing that the expedition should start without him. And when he is feeling better, he will catch up with the rest. His grandson, who has never done anything like this before, has agreed to take his place. We wish Tim Slessor a very speedy recovery.)