More than 60 years ago, six students from Oxford and Cambridge university set out to do the unthinkable – driving two Land Rover Defenders, aptly named Oxford and Cambridge from London to Singapore – a journey known as “The First Overland” which experts claimed to be “geographically ignorant and politically naive”.
But the naysayers were proven (so) wrong.
The team of university defied all odds in the 10,000 mile (16,000km) journey, traversing deserts in Iran, forged through treacherous streams and rivers through Burma (now known as Myanmar) before arriving in what was formerly known as the Federation of Malaya and stopping in Singapore in 1956.
It was documented in three BBC films commissioned by Sir David Attenborough which showcased many remote corners of the world on film for the first time, as well as by a book authored by Tim Slessor.
Writing about the original expedition, Sir David Attenborough described it as “a madcap adventure” that would be “quite impossible today.”
13 years later, mankind stepped foot on the Moon for the first time in history. If these extraordinary journeys are anything to go by, almost nothing is inconceivable when armed with boundless determination.
Six decades on, history is repeating itself and that incredible feat will be repeated; once again exemplifying man’s thirsts for the unknown. This time, a member from the First Overland, Tim Slessor aged 87 years old, will once again make history with the original “Oxford” Land Rover Series 1 to retrace the route from their first overland expedition.
This time, the journey through three major continents will take him along with award-winning filmmaker Alex Bescoby, the other way round from Singapore to London, taking approximately 100 days.
The nostalgic return of the “Oxford” to London will take them through the jungles of Malaysia and Myanmar, the mountains of the Himalayas northern Turkey, the deserts of the Middle East, as well as over twenty countries, including Nepal, China, Uzbekistan, Iran and Bulgaria.
Tim Slessor spoke about the thrill of being reunited with his old “Oxford” Land Rover, “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.
The “Oxford” had lived a life of neglect and oblivion ever since the First Overland where it was found dilapidated, hidden and decaying in Ascension Island, a tiny South Atlantic island, for decades.
It was rescued by a man named Adam Bennett in 2017 who had grown steeped in the story of the First Overland. In an extreme act of generosity, the restored Land Rover was gifted to Slessor and Bescoby, to allow them to uncover just how much of the world has changed in the last 60 years.
“As I get older, I have been bothered by a recurring and nagging whisper: ‘Go for it – before it’s too late”, said Slessor.
“I am 87, and if I don’t do It now, I may never get another chance. After all, as that whisper reminds me, ‘you’re only here once”, he added.
With copious amounts of humility, Slessor joked, “If you like, it’s merely a case of ‘this Old Man helped take the SNX891 Old Lady home.”
SNX891 was the original registration number of the “Oxford”.
The Last Overland expedition began on the 25th of August in Singapore, after a flag off at Singapore’s F1 pit straight in Marina Bay.
Upon arrival in Malaysia, Slessor and Bescoby, flanked by a team of professional advisors, Land Rover enthusiasts and travel experts, made their way to Cameron Highlands to “pay their respects” to the old Series I to III Land Rovers still plying their trade to this day.
With Penang earmarked as their next stop in Malaysia, the “Oxford” will carry on their expedition for the next 97 days until its reaches London, where it will be greeted by a record-breaking gathering of classic Land Rovers in celebration of its remarkable return home.
We wish them an unforgettable journey with the best of luck!