It’s possibly the longest, and definitely the most scenic, road trip happening in the world right now. Called ‘The Last Overland’, 10-odd adventurers from across the world are attempting to recreate the historic ‘First Overland’ expedition of 1955. Currently, somewhere in Central Asia, they set off from Singapore on August 25, 2019, and will drive 16,000-km before they reach the UK by the end of this year.
What is the First Overland?
The Oxford & Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition, the First Overland, made history in 1955 by being the first to drive from London to Singapore. That young team, the website of The Last Overland (www.lastoverland.com) notes, “inspired generations of adventurers through their extraordinary endeavour, showing many remote corners of the world on film for the first time.” That vehicle, a Land Rover, was called the ‘Oxford’. After the journey was complete, the ‘Oxford’ somehow ended up on the remote Saint Helena island—where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled and where he ultimately died 200 years ago—in the mid-Atlantic.
In 2017, a Land Rover fanatic, Adam Bennett, recovered, refurbished and brought the ‘Oxford’ back to life in the UK. In fact, it passed the MOT (Ministry of Transport) test—vehicle safety, roadworthiness and exhaust emissions test in the UK—at the first attempt, and its original SNX 891 number plate was reinstated. In 2018, Bennett gifted the ‘Oxford’ to Tim Slessor (who documented the First Overland), Alex Bescoby (who is driving and documenting The Last Overland) and the team. In 2019, the original 1955 Land Rover is climbing mountains, and crossing cultures, for one last adventure.
The team is forging the path through some of the densest jungles, highest mountains and most arid deserts on the planet, returning the ‘Oxford’ from Singapore to London. They include:
Tim Slessor: The award-winning British presenter, traveller and author joined the BBC in 1957, and for more than 30 years worked with the BBC making documentaries across the world. His book about the First Overland was a bestseller and is still in print 62 years on.
Alex Bescoby: He has spent much of the last decade working, exploring and living in Southeast Asia, and has a passion for Land Rovers stretching back to childhood, having long idolised the First Overland expedition.
Marcus Allender: A travel entrepreneur who has vast experience throughout Myanmar, China and Southeast Asia. On the road for the entire journey, he is responsible for route-planning and the security of the team.
Larry Leong: He has driven over 200,000-km in his Land Rover Defender 90. In 2007, he took his car from the factory in Solihull, England, to Singapore via Europe, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal and China. On this trip, he is focusing on security and emergency response.
Adam Bennett: He has owned most Land and Range Rover models, and is an expert in restoring damaged vehicles (including the ‘Oxford’). He is overseeing the smooth running of the ‘Oxford’ throughout the journey.
Léopold Belanger: A French photographer, based in Southeast Asia for many years, Leo is in charge of documenting the team’s adventures from the road.
Doctor Sil: Doctor Silverius Purba began his love affair with the Land Rovers in 2005, when he bought his first model. He is taking care of the health and welfare of the crew.
Thérèse-Marie Becker: Tibie is a professional digital strategist, and founder of digital strategy agency Digital et Moi. She is leading all online communications for the expedition, and is probably the pluckiest member of the team.
David Israeli: While he knows next to nothing about cars and cannot drive, he is the expedition’s resident cinematographer, writer, sous-chef. He is working with Leo to capture this voyage.
Nat George: The grandson of Tim Slessor, he grew up steeped in Tim’s stories of the First Overland. He now finds himself at the same stage in life as his Grandpa was in 1955, when he decided to head out on his historic journey.
Every brave story has a sad part: While the ‘Oxford’ is being driven, the ‘Cambridge’ has gone missing—it, reportedly, ran off the road in an expedition to the Middle East, and was lost, probably forever.
(The author ran into the team in October at a Chinese checkpoint in Gyirong town, Tibet, while on his own adventure, the Ride to the Everest, on a Royal Enfield Himalayan motorcycle.)