Video: the 1989 Camel Trophy winning Land Rover

Joe and Bob Ives are legends in the Land Rover world for their exploits during 1989's Camel Trophy event – and we've driven their winning One Ten!

The mere mention of the Camel Trophy sends any seasoned Land Rover enthusiast into a fit of excitement, overloaded with admiration for what is widely recognised as ‘the driving Olympics’ and the toughest automotive event ever to have graced the planet.

Dumping teams of two people into the wilderness with the task of navigating through relentless environments, squalid heat and impossible terrain no other vehicle has before traversed, the first event took place in 1980 – a group of Americans taking on the Trans-Amazonian Highway in several Jeep CJ5s.

Although the trip didn’t prove the greatest success, it did capture the imagination of adventure-starved public and explorers at heart. The teams returned home to a heroes' welcome – the Camel Trophy was born.

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And so, the organisers turned to Land Rover – stuck in their tenure under British Leyland. Despite the unfriendly reputation, BL was happy to supply vehicles; first the Range Rover Classic then the Series III 88in. Although BL collapsed and died, the Land Rover brand survived to ensure an iconic relationship with the Camel Trophy organisers remained – seeing Ninety, One-Ten, Discovery, Defender and Freelander models employed as each year’s event grew in size.

Although the challenge rapidly became popular enough for millions of hopefuls from across the globe apply for only a handful of places, parent company BMW felt that attention was being drawn away from the vehicles, and decided to sever ties with the competition. This spelled the end of the Camel Trophy as the world knew it, and while attempts were made to revive the brand, they were to no avail. The event now lives on as a subject of legend, with a thriving fan club celebrating all things 'CT'.

This love for the Camel Trophy is set to be demonstrated this month during Land Rover Legends at Bicester Heritage - courtesy of Historic Promotions.

Bob and Joe Ives

By 1989, 14 countries were represented by two drivers sharing one vehicle. Competition over the course of previous events had been fierce but, unlike Formula 1, comradeship was key to surviving. Teams had to support each other, with special awards given out at the finish line for camaraderie. Yet, as humbling as these awards may have been, there was one that everyone was after: the winner’s trophy.

Although every event suffered trials and tribulations, the 1989 Amazonian trek remains worshipped as the most difficult of them all. You would imagine, therefore, that the victors of such an event would showboat and revel in one-upmanship; but you would be wrong.

Plucky brothers Joe and Bob Ives represent the last of a dying breed of gentlemanly explorers obsessed with adventure, rather than glory. Men who set the foundations for a generation that has since tried to follow in their footsteps – and that includes myself. As a 19-year-old I cracked open the sump on my Series III trying to replicate their manoeuvres over one of 1989’s timed courses. Technically, they owe me a new one.

It’s odd respecting somebody you have never met before, but standing in Bob Ives' courtyard as he strolls across the concrete to greet me, I find myself dumbstruck. This was Bob Ives; Camel Trophy winner 1989. A bona fide legend to those who appreciate adventure. And Joe Ives was en route!

Once Joe had arrived in his Land Rover Discovery, the pair of them introduced me to the actual One Ten responsible for such triumph. Battered and bruised, their Land Rover is the closest to Indiana Jones in automotive form possible.

The Land Rover One Ten

Their Land Rover is no show pony – despite an emotional and historic connection for the Ives brothers, their One Ten remains on the farm for demanding tasks, not to mention ferrying Joe’s children to school. Equipment from the Amazonian trial still resides inside the cabin, and the chassis is amazingly original. Sadly, the engine isn’t, having died long before Joe and Bob managed to acquire the One Ten from Land Rover.

Regardless of what’s original and what’s ‘new’, the fact this vehicle still survives is testament to Land Rover’s indestructible design and Joe and Bob’s dedication. The thought that I'm to jump into the cabin and tackle their demanding off-road course with them sends a shiver of excitement down my spine.

Clambering onto the rear bench seats, I can almost smell the sour, red Amazonian mud. Surrounded by exposed metal and sharp edges, mated to the refinement of a cement mixer, the cabin wears 30 years of use with pride. To be frank, I'm so happy to be present in a vehicle idolised on screen that it could have been on fire and I wouldn't care. As the diesel unit clatters into life on a plume of black from the exhaust, we set off for their off-road course. Today is going to be a good day.

Off-road with Joe and Bob Ives

I'm suddenly back in 1989, watching over the shoulders of the winning pair as they communicate back and forth about the best angles of approach. Their tact and dexterity radiates confidence, the off-road track weaving between trees and undergrowth peppered with deep troughs, bogs and ruts. Sat behind the wheel, Bob makes it look oh-so easy, cresting the cross-axles and sudden undulations with relaxed pace.

Approaching the mother of all muddy inclines came a moment that will live with me forever. They look back and ask if I want a stab at the course. They didn’t have to ask twice.

The off-roading manta practised by those trained by an instructor is simply thus; as slow as possible, as fast as necessary. For these guys the process is far different. I’m asked to stop (with mandatory brake squeal) at the bottom of an almost impossible gradient. The only reason I know the vertical ascent can be accomplished is the tyre tracks visible beyond the bonnet, and Bob’s steely cool upon talking me through the procedure.

‘What would you say is the best plan of action?’ he asks me. ‘Second gear, low range?’

In the presence of greatness, I simply nod and agree. He shakes his head. ‘You want to be in third gear by the time you tackle the bottom of the slope. You’ll need as much speed as possible to get up and over. You might take off a little, but keep the wheels straight and you should be fine.’

On paper, this sounds easy. But when sat in a vibrating cabin, the well-being of three inhabitants at the mercy of your abilities and surrounded by differing controls all requiring undivided attention, the task feels monumental. Blipping the throttle to select first gear brings home what could potentially go wrong – the One Ten could slide or roll or the world could end.

Bob’s confidence feels ill-placed. However, it’s not my skills his certainty rests with; but rather the Land Rover’s surefooted ability. The indefatigable drivetrain paired with chunky off-road tyres offers a lot more grip than Donald Trump has on reality. Having watched the footage countless times, now is my time to experience a taste of the Camel Trophy.

The steering wheel flicks from side to side as the front-end scrambles in the thick mud, both engine and transmission battling it out for audible supremacy. Catching as fast and smooth a gearchange as I can muster with the accelerator hard down, slamming the spindly gearlever into third, the bonnet line shoots upwards before we are pressed hard into our seats.

Progress is rapid enough to crest the summit, but not before momentum is reduced to a crawl. Any slower and it would have been a tricky reverse manoeuvre back to the starting point.

Keep scrolling! We aren't done with the Land Rover yet...

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'Inglorious mud'

It’s not quite over yet, however. Atop the gradient lurks a bog of thick density, plunging the axles into deep sludge and burying the sills beneath the surface. The smell of foliage on the hot exhaust fast becomes intoxicating, the diesel engine bellowing like Brian Blessed in full battle cry.

Tyre grooves already packed with filth struggle to maintain grip, but the sheer grunt spewed out by the drivetrain sees us through, giant rooster tails of earthy clay spraying from the wheelarches like demented vines.

Sharp noises from beyond the bulkhead results in a compulsory lift-off from the throttle, revs screaming louder still as slow progress is made through the ooze. I’m immediately told to get back on to full power. ‘You can never over rev a diesel,’ Bob hollers above the engine’s upheaval. As the ground levels out immediate pace quickens, the odour of hot engine oil wafting through to the cabin.

Winding the engine down to tickover after reaching a level plateau of lush, damp grass I’m told to point the Land Rover’s stunted snout towards a miniscule clearing between several trees. Besides fearing what obstacle Mr Ives has lined up for me next, I can clock Joe watching from the side lines.

If I’m finding this a tad daunting, goodness knows how tense Joe must be feeling as I feed his shared and beloved machine from pillar to post; regardless of his gentlemanly tact and broad smile as the trickier tasks are completed before him.

‘Line the wheels up and take your feet off the pedals as we go down the hill, let the engine braking take you down the slope.’ It sounds like the advice of a madman, but having been in this situation before I understand this to be the truth. My Converse trainers hover over the pedals as the vehicle nosedives towards the undergrowth below. My stomach churns in that split second before engine braking kicks in to keep the speedometer below 7mph.

What previously kept me pinned against the headrest now lurches me forward, the seatbelt hugging my chest in the same fashion that the front arches embrace the slowly rotating tyres, the descent so steep that the rear end of the vehicle feels light, almost unstable. Every undulation leaves the distinct impression that the rear wheels are lifting, the low range gearbox whinnying as we clamber upwards from the hill’s trough towards yet another mud bath.

'Go, Go, Go!'

The ruts before us leave little choice in the way of direction, dictating our route of travel like a stern mistress. The Land Rover’s hull rises and falls over the pitted furrows and grooves, its bulk lumbering with undying tenacity over yawning crinkles masked by the course’s abundant slurry. We need to keep the revs up again, as there's another incline ahead.

The wheel is almost whipped from beneath my palms as tyre walls and differentials grind the trenches and fortifications veiling chunks of rock and tree root. I can’t help but remain fixated by the terrain visible ahead. We turn down a gentle track towards the finishing point, hedges and greenery draping themselves over the roof rack, lights illuminating the branches within.

‘Go, Go, Go!’ Bob cries out, in the same tone I've heard during the 1989 event footage. The spotlamps reflect back against pools of water so dense that sunlight bends around them. Snapping into fourth gear with that charismatic clunk from the drivetrain, the force of the water on the underside seems to resonate against my ribs – lunging tarns of water-logged soil spraying over the bonnet and upwards towards the door tops.

We draw to a halt with soak dripping from every body panel. The temperature needle hasn’t budged from its stance in the middle of the gauge – but the One Ten smells hot, even though the powerplant sounds content.

I don’t dare ask how I performed, certainly not with an actual Camel Trophy winner in the passenger seat, although his smirk tells me I haven’t presented my abilities as truly unspeakable. The driver’s door clicks open as Joe announces ‘Bloody good! Some excellent driving!’

They were being sympathetic to the cause. There was no plan to be coy and fish for compliments, but with the Land Rover still in one piece and our limbs intact, the feeling of accomplishment tickles the heart with delicate fingers.

As we spoke over mugs of tea beside their mud-spattered Land Rover One Ten, it slowly hit home what had happened. I, completely unworthy, had received tutorial from legitimate Camel Trophy winners. The very men I had worshipped as a boy infatuated with videos showcasing Joe and Bob’s outstanding talent in the toughest part of the world.

Laughing about deadly hornet stings and being cut open by winching cables, the overwhelming admiration for these casual pioneers in off-road prowess left me very humble indeed; for what I had undertaken was small fry to the challenges the 1989 Camel Trophy presented the Ives brothers with.

Departing in the decadent ambiance of my battered P38 Range Rover after tales of lunacy and triumph out in the Amazon’s most treacherous territory, the tarmac felt somewhat tedious. With the One Ten fading from view, I had met my idols. Regardless of what the ‘never meet your heroes’ mantra may infer, mine were truly amazing.

Photography by Gillian Carmoodie, videography by Ollie Whittaker

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