Tempest trek

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The 'new' Discovery 2 on it's way around the world : credit: © Nick Dimbleby
Two pilot-build Discovery 2s drive round the world on their way to Paris

It was very tempting to call this Land Rover Legends article The Long Way Round despite the fact that Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor snaffled the title 18 years ago, for the book and TV series about their 2004 journey from London to New York City on a couple of BMW motorcycles, pursued by a film crew and a support vehicle.

The journey that is the subject of this Legends article took place six years before that bike ride and was undeniably an expedition that took the long way round. After all, there are quicker ways of getting a couple of Land Rovers from Solihull to Paris than spending four months driving 20,054 miles over 56 days, across four continents and 27 countries.

The vehicles’ round the world route was illustrated on a handy sticker fitted to the front doors of the vehicles.  This proved useful when explaining the trip to inquisitive locals​​​​​​

But Tempest Trek is a more appropriate title. That is what it was known as inside Land Rover when it was being planned, because it involved the Discovery 2, known internally as Project Tempest, and obviously the drive from Solihull to Paris ‘the long way round’ was, by any stretch of the imagination, a bit of a trek. As far as I can see, it is still the longest journey ever made to an international motor show to launch a brand new vehicle. It would probably never have happened if fate hadn’t brought together two strong-willed, single-minded, can-do characters: one was Iain Chapman, and the other was the late Bill Baker.

Bill had been a successful broadcast journalist in Ohio and this led to him being hired by Ford to join its broadcast media relations team. A couple of years later he was recruited by Volvo, and then Fiat-Lancia and Ferrari, Sony and Chrysler. Bill’s talents were already well-known when Charlie Hughes, the newly-appointed CEO of Range Rover of North America, hired him to lead the PR campaign behind the 1987 launch of the Range Rover in the USA. When I talked to Charlie in 2019 while writing about this fascinating episode in Land Rover’s history, he was unequivocal when he remembered Bill’s contribution to RRoNA’s runaway success. “Bill’s communications and PR campaign for the Range Rover really did confirm his reputation as one of the most creative and brilliant PR guys in the industry, and probably the best ever,” he told me.

A quick excursion into the sand dunes in Pakistan

Iain Chapman was also a well-known and highly-respected figure in the Land Rover world, having been a member of the UK Camel Trophy team in 1987, part of the event support crew in 1988, and the Camel Event Director from 1989 to 1996. Those were arguably the years when Camel Trophy was at the peak of its fame and popularity, and when the events themselves were at their most polished and professional, thanks in no small way to Iain’s skills, focus, experience and dedication.

When the Camel Trophy came to an end, Iain set up a consultancy business specialising in planning and executing complex events and continued to work for Land Rover on various projects. He takes up the story: “Bill’s success in re-establishing the Rover brand in North America and putting Range Rover on the map had been recognised by the powers-that-be, and he was assigned to Land Rover HQ in the UK from 1996 to around 2001. Bill had been a strong supporter of Camel Trophy and had visited a couple when I was Event Director, to get first-hand experience of what it was all about. He was one of the few to really get the fact that it was never a Land Rover event. It was an event owned by RJ Reynolds and it existed purely to promote tobacco sales. It just happened to make use of Land Rover vehicles.

The V8 gets its tyres wet in Central America​​​​​​

“When the Camel Trophy ended, Bill was very keen to create another major event that would provide the same kind of exposure and association with adventure for the Land Rover brand. In fact, there were many different departments in the company that were looking at this, and I was asked to work up plans and proposals for quite a few, including an idea for a Land Rover Trophy and something called Land Rover Global Expeditions to World Extremes, which involved visiting a number of points on six continents over a ten month period using Land Rover vehicles. The extremes were things like the highest and lowest man-made road or track; the hottest and coldest locations on Earth; the wettest and driest places; the farthest north and farthest south road or village, and so on.

“The lack of co-ordination within the company, with no single individual in charge, always amazed me and could be quite frustrating at times. One of the things that did eventually go forward was G4, although I had nothing to do with that and always thought it to be a bit lame, compared with the Camel Trophy.

To keep things varied, the route –  designed by Iain Chapman – occasionally left the tarmac behind.  Here the two vehicles and trailer tackle a hilly track in Turkey​​​​​​

“I can remember working on at least a dozen significant ideas for expeditions and events that were put forward by various individuals or departments in Land Rover, including Nordkapp to Cape Town; Euro-Africa Driving Extremes; and a re-run of the crossing of the Darièn Gap. The last big project I worked on was in 2000. It was called The Moon and the Czars and was an idea to run a Land Rover Adventure expedition between St Petersburg and Moscow. I actually carried out a lengthy route reconnaissance expedition in September 2000, but the project didn’t proceed.

“In early 1997 a couple of ideas came together purely by chance, and these eventually evolved into what became known internally as Tempest Trek. In fact, it was the only one of the dozen major initiatives that I was asked to work on that actually took place.

“The initial idea had come from Bill for a round-the-world drive of some kind, and he gave me a contract to come up with some options and feasibility studies. The second initiative was a proposal submitted to Land Rover by Autocar magazine outlining their idea for a global drive that they proposed to co-ordinate that provided their journalists with a range of Land Rover vehicles to drive.

Many different journalists drove sections of the route, allowing them to try out the new Discovery 2 for the first time – here in Australia

“The Autocar idea came at just the right time and focused attention on a number of themes including having journalists as drivers and an idea to position it as The Longest Test Drive on Record, starting and ending in London and circumnavigating the globe in a clockwise direction. All this quickly became associated with the forthcoming launch of Project Tempest, which was the codename for the vehicle that would replace the hugely successful Discovery that had been launched in 1989 and had probably saved Land Rover.

“There was no shortage of people with additional opinions and ideas and, once Land Rover’s National Sales Companies in the various countries we planned to drive through got involved, there was endless debate and discussion on what the expedition should do, where it should go and so on. It was deeply frustrating at times, to say the least.

“And then it was decided that the trek would finish at the Paris Motor Show with the vehicles driving straight into the event at the end of their drive round the world, without as much as a wipe with a damp cloth, let alone a full valet. It was inspired thinking but now that we had a firm end date in mind, the need to get on with detailed planning was becoming vital. There was also uncertainty about exactly when the two pilot-build Discovery 2 vehicles would be available, although it had been agreed that one would be a V8 and the other a Td5. The original plan was to fit them both with roof racks but Bill thought this would spoil the look, so we ended up with an Ifor Williams trailer instead.

To save time, the two Discoverys were flown from Sydney to New York by a Korean Airways cargo plane

“There were multiple sea and air transits to be arranged and booked, not just for the crew and the vehicles but also for the media, because it had also been decided that groups of journalists would join each of the planned legs, with changeovers happening at locations with viable transport links and the ability to host end/start dinners. This meant travel needed to be arranged for what in the end was 31 journalists from 12 countries, representing the global motoring magazines, newspapers and TV.

“Bill in particular kept coming up with new ideas, and meanwhile the start date was getting later and later while the end date in Paris stayed the same, so the window was getting smaller and smaller. The route had to be modified many times to ensure we had enough time to complete the legs and guarantee we wouldn’t miss the all-important Paris Motor Show dates. One of the transits by sea had to be changed to an airlift from Sydney via Seoul to New York, which saved us a theoretical three weeks and got the plan back on track.

“I’d given a contract to a company called Logistics Support Services Ltd run by Gerry Brennan, an ex-Royal Logistics Corps officer who’d worked with me on the Camel Trophy. Gerry and his team were absolutely invaluable and also provided 24/7 telephone support throughout the expedition.

Visiting the Troglodyte caves in Cappadocia, Turkey

“1998 was Land Rover’s 50th Anniversary year and also happened to be a time when money was tight in the company, which had already cancelled its sponsorship of The Land Rover Global Expedition, intended to be led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, that was supposed to drive from London to New York via the Bering Strait. The remaining two big events to commemorate this important birthday were The Fifty 50 Challenge, an expedition planned by volunteers from among the company’s workforce to drive two pre-production Freelander to 50 countries in 50 days, and Tempest Trek. Bill was very keen to call it just that – Tempest Trek – but he was overruled and when it was announced it had been watered down to that rather more prosaic New Discovery Trek.

“The budget for the Trek was not to exceed £200,000 and this was only achieved because participating journalists paid their own expenses. A great deal of effort also went into securing sponsors, and we ended up with Ifor Williams, Warn, Mobil, Michelin, Texaco Havoline, Land Rover Clothing, British Telecom Mobiqe satellite telephones and Inmarsat airtime, Garmin, Nevada Communications and Coleman, which between them contributed over £100,000 to the project’s coffers.

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In India, the two vehicles drove much of the Grand Trunk Road from the India/Pakistan border to Calcutta (now Kolkata)

“It was also decided that I would lead the Trek in the V8 while the Td5 would be driven by Land Rover Field Engineer Mark Dugmore. The rotating groups of journalists would join us in both cars and take their turns at driving, while I would remain responsible for navigation throughout. The original plan was for Nick Dimbleby to join the entire Trek, but he was committed to photographing the Camel Trophy 1998 and could only join Trek for the London to India and Spain to Paris sections. The section between those two, covering the South America and Australia legs, was photographed by John Rettie.”

Fast forward to early October 1998, when Land Rover issued its official summary of the event in a press release, and the New Discovery Trek, ‘an Autocar initiative supported by Land Rover’ was over. The Discoverys arrived in Paris on time and the V8 made an impressive entry onto the Land Rover stand at 2.30 pm on September 29. The Td5 and the expedition Ifor Williams trailer were not forgotten and had their moment of glory on display on the Paris Motor Show off-road course. It had all been an undeniable success and a magnificent way to launch the Discovery 2.

‘Departing London on 1st June,’ the press release reads, ‘the vehicles were driven across Western and Eastern Europe to Istanbul and then across Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India where they were shipped to Australia. The teams had to deal with temperatures above 50˚C and hair-raising road hazards, ranging from gun-toting militia to ox-carts and unlighted, lurching, overloaded trucks; not to mention the odd camel and a few monkeys. The new ACE active suspension is credited by one journalist with saving the lives of the travellers during one particularly violent evasive manoeuvre.

The two Trek Discoverys pause for a photo on a dirt road in the Australian outback, en-route to Sydney from Perth. The Td5 diesel towed an Ifor Williams trailer because Land Rover’s PR department didn’t want to fit the vehicles with roof racks​​​​​​

‘From Calcutta the vehicles were shipped to Australia where the teams drove the V8 and new Td5 diesel-powered Discoverys across the brutally rutted Gunbarrel Highway to Ayers Rock, and then to Melbourne and Sydney. Along the way they camped out in freezing temperatures and were coated by the pervasive red bull dust.

‘From Sydney the vehicles were air freighted to New York for a 3500 mile drive south to Central America. After stops in New Orleans and Houston, the drivers crossed into Mexico at Nuevo Laredo to encounter what would be the first of many delays caused by immigration and customs red tape at each of ten border crossings.

‘Rough roads and record high temperatures in the Americas were made all the more tiring by heavy rains as the drivers wound through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the rainforests of Costa Rica. Another shipment to Spain for the final leg of the journey across the Alps brought the two vehicles and their one-ton Ifor Williams equipment trailer to the Paris Show for the world premiere of the New Discovery.’

So much for the official account. Iain drove the entire journey, as did Mark Dugmore, and Bill Baker joined the Trek for four of the eight legs: London to Istanbul, Islamabad to Calcutta, New York City to Houston and Valencia to Paris. “It was the biggest Land Rover adventure since the end of the Camel Trophy,” says Iain, “and I’m very proud of how well it went. It’s nice that it remains the longest test drive in automotive history and it’s difficult to see any other manufacturer beating it. I do wonder whether such a drive would even be possible nowadays, or indeed seen as a good thing to do.

“It was obviously a very different kind of event to the Camel Trophy, but it still provided more than its fair share of hazards and challenges. Astonishingly, we were only stopped twice for speeding, firstly in Turkey when we were flagged down after going through a radar trap. Nick Dimbleby was accused of driving at 81.4 mph and Dutch journalist Marja Koster at 80 mph, despite the fact that she was driving the Td5 and towing the trailer. It was clearly nonsense, but there was nothing to be gained by arguing so we cheerfully paid the 12.4 million lire fine and continued on our way. After all, it did translate to only $20 each!

“The second time was when we were in Melbourne. We were stopped for doing 130 kph in a 100 kph limit, for which we received a stern telling-off and two speeding tickets. The Australian traffic cops seemed to enforce the 100 kph limit with religious zeal, but it did amuse us greatly when they tried to fine the passengers, having obviously not come across left-hand drive cars before.

One of several serious truck accidents, the aftermath of which were seen by the crew during their drive in India

“Generally speaking, border crossings were pretty painless but there were some notable exceptions. Travelling from Pakistan into India was not pleasant because the Indian border guards decided to use us for practice. They X-rayed every item of luggage in the vehicles as well as thoroughly searching them, including putting them on a ramp. Even the tyre pressures were checked. It took hours. We had similar hassles getting from El Salvador into Honduras.

“Getting across the border from the USA into Mexico was almost as difficult. We arrived at Laredo at 2pm and after changing money and refuelling, the hassles started. First, we had to purchase insurance, then we cleared US Customs and crossed the bridge over the Rio Grande into Mexico. It was now 5pm. We needed tourist cards, but the immigration officer wouldn’t issue them because we were travelling through Mexico rather than staying in it. A more friendly officer suggested we drive 20 miles to the next border crossing, so off we headed. After lengthy discussion an official there granted our wish, although it then took him three hours to type 12 visas. It was 10pm before we finally crossed the border.

“By far and away the most dangerous roads were in India, and we soon got used to seeing the most appalling carnage everywhere. On our first day we saw at least a dozen serious traffic accidents that had just been left beside the road: a bus with a crushed tractor underneath; a lorry on its side with a dead buffalo in front. Near misses were frequent no matter how careful and attentive we were. On our second day we saw at least 15 trucks on their sides, either as a result of their loads shifting or head-on collisions. Black humour took over as a coping mechanism by day four, and we had a sweepstake on how many truck wrecks we would see. It was won by Mark Dugmore who placed his bet on 25, which turned out to be exactly correct.

Land Rover technician Mark Dugmore repairs the diesel after a coming together in Pakistan

“We only had one really close shave, when one of the journalists hit an oncoming Toyota Hilux pick-up on a single-carriageway road between Quetta and Zhob in Pakistan. The Discovery V8 had a dented front wing and a cracked indicator, but it would have been a lot worse if the Toyota had been two inches further to the left.

“Since I was navigating and writing our daily journal, I ended up gathering together all sorts of information relating to the Trek. When we were in the Northern Territory in Australia, where there is no speed limit, we achieved our fastest recorded speeds for the trip, with the V8 reaching 105 mph and the Td5 93 mph. In Guatemala we achieved our highest altitude, which was 10,500 feet, while our lowest was minus 164 feet in the depths of the Channel Tunnel! Coldest recorded temperature was minus 5˚C in Warburton, Australia while the highest was 52˚C near Derra Ismail Khan in Pakistan. Our longest daily drive was 776 miles from Wytheville, Virginia to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Bill Baker (left) and Iain Chapman go over the route in Central America

“I had a huge amount of respect for Bill Baker, and we got on really well. He was absolutely brilliant at so many things and would come up with a perpetual stream of ideas and suggestions. It was just that while most of them were inspiring, there were one or two that weren’t. When we were driving the leg through Romania, for example, he came up with a spur of the moment idea that we should divert off the planned route and head up an alpine track because he thought it would provide us with some good photographic opportunities. After driving for over 50 miles, we hit a wall of snow, it was late and getting dark, and by the time we had re-traced our steps and got back on our planned route, we arrived at our hotel too late for dinner and the bar was closed. Our media guests weren’t best pleased, and neither were the crew, but it gave us plenty to laugh about.

Journey’s end in Paris, where both vehicles were delivered for the global reveal at the 1998 Paris Motor Show

“In many ways, Tempest Trek was far more of an adventure than the Camel Trophy, which was a rather choreographed affair and was very well supported with medical teams, engineers and technicians, specialised recovery teams and everything else that was required to make the event safe as well as successful. On Tempest Trek, Mark and I were on our own with our media guests, there was no back-up and you really didn’t know what was around the next corner.”

 

New Discovery Trek dates and destinations

• 1-7 Jun : Autocar offices, Teddington to Istanbul, Turkey
• 8-13 Jun : Istanbul to Tehran, Iran
• 14-20 Jun : Tehran to Islamabad, Pakistan
• 21-25 Jun : Islamabad to Calcutta, India. Transit by sea, Calcutta to Perth
• 25 Jul - 3 Aug: Perth to Sydney, Australia. Transit by air, Sydney to Seoul to New York
• 14-17 Aug : New York City to Houston, Texas
• 21-29 Aug : Houston to San Jose, Costa Rica. Transit by sea, San Jose to Valencia
• 22-28 Sep : Valencia to Paris
• 29 Sep : Paris Motor Show premiere
• 30 Sep: Paris to Gaydon

 

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