I’m taking my cap off to salute these two men as I type. Tim Slessor, 87, and award-winning film-maker, Alex Bescoby, 31, are making a 10,000 mile journey from Singapore to London in a 1955 ‘Oxford’ Land Rover Series I, and they made a pit-stop in KL earlier this week.
The journey, or rather adventure, is to recreate one of the 20th century’s most iconic and challenging road trips – the very first expedition by the 1955 Oxford Land Rover from London to Singapore. Between 1955 and 1956, a team of six young men embarked on The Oxford & Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition (The First Overland), and made history by successfully completing the journey.
Now, 64 years later, a member from that first expedition (Slessor) is doing it all again, with the original machine, but with the start and finish cities reversed. As before, they will travel across three continents.
The Last Overland route will be from Peninsular Malaysia north towards Thailand and Myanmar, before hitting the Himalayas, northern Turkey, the deserts of the Middle East, as well as over twenty countries, including Nepal, China, Uzbekistan, Iran and Bulgaria. The aim is to arrive in London within approximately 100 days of setting out from Singapore.
Slessor spoke about the thrill of being reunited with his old Oxford. “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. After all, before we had set out, the experts had told us that we were geographically ignorant and politically naive; the journey couldn’t be done. All that did was to make us more determined.
“Six months later, we pulled in to Champion Motors on Singapore’s Orchard Road. I can tell you, the champagne and flash-bulbs really popped that day. We’d made it. As the man from America’s Time magazine put it, I guess you boys have run plumb outta road,” he said.
And for all of us wanting to do something, but are fearful, take it from the wise old man. “As I get older, I have been bothered by a recurring and nagging whisper: ‘Go for it – before it’s too late’. Which is why I am here today. 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,” Slessor said. Remember guys, YOLO.
Slessor and Bescoby were flagged off from Singapore’s F1 pit straight in Marina Bay on August 25. The perfect send off had them escorted through the city’s streets all the way to the Malaysian border by a parade of Land Rovers driven by local enthusiasts, including members Land Rover Owners Singapore. Upon entering Malaysia, the duo made their way to Cameron Highlands, where Series I to III Land Rovers are still alive and well.
Inspired by the 1954 Oxford and Cambridge Trans-Africa expedition, six Oxford and Cambridge university students travelled in two Land Rovers named Oxford and Cambridge. The team traversed the deserts of Iran, passed through northern India (the previous limit of any overland journey from London heading east), forded treacherous streams and rivers through Burma (now Myanmar) and down through what was then called the Federation of Malaya. Upon reaching Singapore in 1956, the expedition made headlines around the world.