Land Rover's First Overland Went On for Six Months, Showed Students Had Immense Courage

The First Overland 8 photos
Photo: landrover.classic on Instagram
Series I Land Rover next to the 2020 DefenderSeries I Land Rover next to the 2020 DefenderThe first OverlandThe first OverlandThe first OverlandThe first OverlandThe first Overland
You’d think carmakers would try all sorts of stunts to promote their cars, but not many are doing it like Land Rover. The Overland adventure was something that could’ve found its own little space in the history books, as car travel got with this unexpectedly long and courageous trip another important confirmation – yes, you can go everywhere. That is if you have a Land Rover, of course.
In 1955, six blokes found themselves in a pickle. Five of them finished college, and another was in his last year of study before graduation. They were faced with a strong need for travel and exploration. These guys wanted to do something that would follow them throughout their lives as a vivid memory before embarking on their professional life. Their desire would eventually find a way to become a reality.

On the other side of the aisle was Land Rover, which at that time was known simply as the Rover Company. The entity was hoping to find a proper way for promoting their Series I, a vehicle that drew inspiration from the Willys Jeep used in World War II. They looked kind of similar, but the British engineers and product managers made sure this car would fit the needs of the people in search of transportation on almost any type of surface that’s not water or lava. It kept the simple, rugged recipe but added a couple of important features that transformed the vehicle into a versatile car.

The Series I Land Rover used a fully box-welded frame and had treated aluminum alloy bodies. This idea came as a way of avoiding the steel shortage. It proved itself a genius one, since even today, we see cars from over 70 years ago that still look like it’s their first day out of the factory gates.

The First Overland

The British carmaker came with the idea to do something similar to Adrian Cowell’s Trans-Africa Expedition, which took place only a year before. With that in mind, they found the Cambridge graduates and had a serious talk with them. Cowell being the experienced one, helped Land Rover make the right decisions when it came to setting up the route for what was going to be The Oxford and Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition. He was appointed business manager, and together with Antony Barrington Brown, Patrick Murphy, Henry Nott, Tim Slessor, and the only Oxford student still in school, Nigel Newberry began to put everything together.

They received two 1955 Series I vehicles and had to travel with them all the way to Singapore. They were flown into France and from there had to travel over 18,000 miles (29,000 km) through Monaco, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. The trip was a success. They proved that the Land Rover can travel through all kinds of terrains and face every weather possible. It took them six months and six days, but they made a memory for themselves and showed the world an important aspect about the British automaker: its cars can take you almost everywhere.

It was the First Overland.

The first Overland
Photo: The Last Overland 2019 on YouTube
One car was destroyed at the journey’s end and was abandoned in Singapore, but it was recovered with the help of a passionate Land Rover and Tim Slessor's fan. It was used as motivation to make the trip again!

But before rushing to the present, you have to know that after the Overland event was made public, Land Rover enjoyed every bit of what it brought back as a business. So, naturally, they decided to do it again. This time, they went to South America.

Unfortunately, these kinds of trips didn’t eventually turn into an annual event. After all, it’s hard to find people that are keen on traveling for six months and are also able to fully respect a contract.

The Last Overland

But the story still echoes in today’s world. Two years ago, in 2019, the First Overland was reenacted as the Last Overland. The teams followed the same route and reached Singapore after what can only be considered as the adventure of a lifetime.

Series I Land Rover next to the 2020 Defender
Photo: thelastoverland on Instagram
Tim Slessor, now 87 years old, lived to see it done all over again and said with almost teary eyes that he remembers what they felt then: “Nobody had done it before. (…) We wanted to give it a go. In today’s world, it is impossible to do it.”

Land Rover is no stranger to these kinds of impressive and unusual stunts. Just four years ago, we saw the Range Rover Sport doing the Dragon Challenge. Given today’s economic outlook, the British carmaker has kept its borderline insane initiatives on the quiet side. They are still involved in adventures like the Overland, but these contemporary ones are not that inspiring. The company is focusing more on what clients want, and people today want to relax and keep their adventures as private as possible.

Finally, we should feel obligated to remind ourselves from time to time about the First Overland. It was a strange moment in which youngsters decided it was their time to shine. Land Rover believed in them, seized the opportunity, and managed to create a story that could be passed from generation to generation.
If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram

Editor's note: Gallery shows pictures of the Land Rover Series I and the 2020 Defender from Instagram and YouTube.

About the author: Florin Amariei
Florin Amariei profile photo

Car shows on TV and his father's Fiat Tempra may have been Florin's early influences, but nowadays he favors different things, like the power of an F-150 Raptor. He'll never be able to ignore the shape of a Ferrari though, especially a yellow one.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories