25 March 2023
To celebrate the launch of Alex Bescoby’s much-awaited book about The Last Overland expedition, we publish a short extract from it
If there is one book that inspires Land Rover owners the world over to head off into the sunset and explore, then it has to be The First Overland by Tim Slessor. For those who don’t know, it tells the story of the 19,000-mile Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition. Basically, six university graduates drove two Series I 86in station wagons from London to Singapore in 1955 – and boy-oh-boy did they have an adventure along the way. In fact, The First Overland is the book that inspired my quest to see as many countries as possible in a Land Rover.
No one really knew what happened to the poor old famous SIs after that. They kind of just disappeared off the face of the earth. When Oxford (one of the two Series Is to complete the expedition) suddenly resurfaced in 2018 after being found on the remote island of St Helena, I sat up and took notice. Oxford then returned to the UK where her new owner, the lifelong Land Rover fan, Adam Bennett, oversaw her restoration.
The story just gets better after that. In 2019 Oxford ‘came home’ by driving from Singapore to London under the leadership of filmmaker Alex Bescoby. Also in the convoy were two Defenders, Adam Bennett’s 110 and Larry Leong’s 90. This expedition was called The Last Overland and LRM was there at the start in Singapore and finish in Folkestone. This 13,000-mile and 23-country expedition, which I dubbed the mother of all road trips, was extensively covered in the pages of this very magazine.
Right: The author cools down in the stifling Cameron Highlands
It was a journey that captivated the hearts of Land Rover fans everywhere and once it was finished it was just crying out for another book to be written or a TV series to be made from the footage. Now that has become a reality. Alex Bescoby’s book The Last Overland: The Return Journey of the iconic Land Rover expedition is out now.
Oxford’s return journey is a story that had to be told and Alex does a great job of combining the history of the countries they are travelling through with the goings-on of the road trip. And as most of you are well aware, where there are Land Rovers there is drama by the bucket-load. It is a modern-day travelogue undertaken in an old and famous Land Rover. We hope you enjoy the book’s prologue which we have published overleaf, as it graphically describes the one moment all Land Rover owners constantly have in the back on their minds when on an expedition or school run – the possibly journey-ending breakdown…
6 November 2019: The Middle of Nowhere
Under a crystal-clear sky, in a country you’ve probably never heard of, the sand gathered slowly on the ruins of Oxford and of my great and foolish dream.
I knelt with my head in my hands, watching through gaps in my fingers as her vital fluids gushed around my feet. They formed into a little stream, running along a deep gouge in the tarmac that Oxford had carved in her death throes. Slowly, like a tentacle, they crept to where a single tyre now lay flat, still impaled by half an axle pointing stubbornly to the sky.
After Myanmar the team took a more northerly route than The First Overland did
She – and yes, I had come to concede the ‘Grand Old Lady’ could be nothing else – had overcome so much. She was a world-conquering heroine, lost to history on a remote, rocky outcrop, then brought triumphantly back to life after six decades in exile. Oxford had been in my care for all of 73 days, carrying me safely across 11 countries and 13,000 kilometres (8000 miles). Together we had seen Mount Everest at sunset, dodged headhunters and the Taliban, half-drowned in monsoon rains, and half-baked in the Southeast Asian sun. And for her troubles, I had dumped her into a roadside ditch, leaving her bleeding and maimed. There were now three wheels on my wagon, and – contrary to popular myth – I wasn’t rolling anywhere.
“Well, I guess this means we’ll be late for lunch,” said Marcus, his looming form casting a shadow on my grief.
“Do you ever stop thinking about your stomach?” said a second, Nat-shaped shadow. I had managed to keep him alive for another day, at least.
“How bad is it, Doc?” I asked, as a third, much shorter shadow appeared. He paused, looking thoughtful.
“How do you walk with no legs?”
Larry stooped down to give a second opinion, casting his seasoned eye over the damage.
“That’s going to take days to fix, if it even is fixable, which I doubt.”
“You have only five days on your visa. After that you must leave,” said our guide Tashmurad, helpful as ever.
I looked back to see our two support cars parked a respectful distance from the crash site, both reassuringly intact. From them emerged Leo and David, cameras rolling as ever. They padded up to Oxford with a rare reverence, as if filming a funeral.
The fog of shock began to clear enough for me to take a silent head count, which then only sparked a new panic. Seven… there should be eight. Where was Tibie? Calm down – she’s waiting for us in Georgia, of course, after we mislaid her a little carelessly in Uzbekistan.
Driving a Series I for 13,000 miles takes some doing
It felt like the end, but surely it couldn’t be? People all over the world were watching and waiting for us to finish, and we still had 12 more countries and 8000 kilometres (5000 miles) further to go. I had given this ridiculous endeavour every penny I had, missing births, marriages and funerals of those I loved to see this mission through. Had it all been for nothing?
I felt my stomach churn; it had not been quite right since that volcanic diarrhoea in Nepal. I looked round at my crew, my little family of oddballs dressed in their jumbles of grubby layers, hair unkempt and faces unshaven, all of them lost in private thought. Had I dragged them all the way across the world simply to fail alongside me?
After an hour, a flatbed truck appeared on the horizon, summoned from the desert haze by Tashmurad. For the first time on her epic trans-global journey, all Oxford’s remaining wheels left the road. As she was slowly winched into place, the rescue-truck driver shouted to me in yet another language I did not understand.
“He wants to know what you’re doing,” translated Tashmurad.
“We’re on an expedition,” I said, immediately feeling stupid as he took in my bedraggled, dust-covered form. The driver screwed up his face as if sucking on a lemon. He looked at me hard, then answered, shaking his head. I turned to Tashmurad for help. “He said ‘no one goes on expeditions anymore.’”
Three Land Rovers, eight expedition members and lots and lots of fun
Buy it now: The Last Overland hardback costs £20 and can be purchased from the publishers, Michael O’Mara Books. mombooks.com.
Watch the series: A four-part documentary on The Last Overland is available on All 4. Don’t miss this mother of all Land Rover road trips.
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