Martin Port's dream drive? A Landie into the unknown please

| 18 Jun 2013

There has been a lot of talk on the subject of ‘the dream drive’ at C&SC recently, and the exact combination of ‘what’ and ‘where’ floats our boats so to speak.

A Lamborghini up a mountain pass, an MGB on the old Targa Florio circuit, a 250 GTO round Goodwood.

But, thanks to Classic & Sports Car magazine and a certain book, my personal dream drive has taken on a rather different meaning.

Every couple of years, the C&SC team loads up its classics with everything we can think of that might get us through several days of classic motoring and campsite living for the splendid Le Mans Classic.

What we can’t fit in, usually ends up in David Evans’ boot of course, but there is still a reasonable amount of careful planning (or faffing) that goes into packing the cars.

Usually, this biennial trip is the perfect mix of camaraderie, breakdowns, impromptu bodging and elation when we a) arrive at Le Mans and b) when we make it off the ferry back in the UK with cars still running.

Unfortunately it always makes me yearn for more and, as pleased as I am to arrive at the campsite at La Sarthe, I am always a little disappointed that we couldn’t keep on going and the adventure continue with just a few more obstacles to overcome rather than remembering the way to the press accreditation tent.

And that is where my bedside reading comes in, for once again I am reading the excellent First Overland by Tim Slessor.

Back in 1955, a group of students from Oxford and Cambridge universities hatched a plan to drive from London to Singapore.

The aforemention Slessor (writer and assistant cameraman), Henry Nott (chief engineer), Nigel Newbery (quartermaster and mechanic), Adrian Cowell (business manager), Patrick Murphy (navigator and chef), and Antony Barrington-Brown (cameraman), weren’t directly qualified in any way, but they did have (in their own words) “The arrogance of youth” on their side.

The expedition gained sponsorship from Land-Rover, which donated two 86” Series I Station Wagons and was of the opinion that it might make for good publicity before the 1956 commercial release as well as proving to be the ultimate ‘road-test’.

Some 80 other parties also contributed to the venture – from oil and fuel companies to tea producers – but it was the BBC’s David Attenborough that agreed to supply them with a couple of rolls of film, promising to send them more if the footage on those initials rolls made for interesting viewing.

So, later in 1955 the team set off from Hyde Park Corner aiming for Singapore – nearly 18,000 miles away and over the course of the next few months encountered some of the most challenging terrain imaginable – particularly as they had to overcome the main obstacle of their planned route: the lack of roads in to Burma.

There is little point in me trying to relay any of the particular stories or events that happened along the way because I would only scrape the surface, but suffice to say that there was a heady mix of political unrest, bonnet-deep river crossings, perilous mountain-ledge tracks and broken leaf-springs to contend with.

In March 1956, the two Land-Rovers arrived in Singapore to a heroes welcome, although apparently they were greeted with a comment by one of the committee: “You’re half an hour late!” 

Not a bad effort I reckon, and the whole experience left the team with a sense of elation, triumph, but also wondering if they could now face a ‘normal’ life of ‘pen pushing’ in an office.

All of which brings me back to my dream drive. Unfortunately, that group of undergraduates did mine back in 1955 and to try and replicate it now wouldn’t be the same, but I’m sure somewhere out there lies a route, just waiting to be planned that might just provide me with a similar sense of fulfillment.

You can view the colour footage taken by the team here and read Tim Slessor’s account in First Overland, published by Signal Books, ISBN 978-1904955146.

What's your dream drive? Have your say on the thread in our forums.