First Overland’s ‘Oxford’ is coming home… again!

This week has seen the emotional start of a very special expedition, with one of the most famous Land Rovers on the planet leading the way.

The ‘Last Overland’ team is recreating the nostalgia of the famous 1955-56 ‘First Overland’ expedition, beginning in Singapore and heading for London. Stealing the limelight is one of the two Series Is used in the original First Overland expedition.

‘Oxford’ leads the expedition past Singapore’s National Gallery during the official ‘flag-off’ day.

‘Oxford’ leads the expedition past Singapore’s National Gallery during the official ‘flag-off’ day.

Original crew members Nigel Newbury and Patrick Murphy were in Singapore to wave the expedition off, together with 87-year old Tim Slessor, fellow expeditioner and author of the legendary book ‘First Overland’. Along with his grandson Nat George, Tim was due to join the eight-strong team, until suddenly becoming unwell at the eleventh hour – though he hopes to rejoin the convoy as soon as possible. The team offered to wait for him; ‘Don’t you dare!’ was his reply.

Tim’s sudden turn was a huge shock to us all - he’s the rock on which this expedition was built. Thankfully he’s making a good recovery in Singapore, there are definitely worse places to be hospitalised. He’s been getting first class treatment, and a steady queue of adoring fans visiting him. We’re all focusing now on getting him back home to London to rest and recuperate, but knowing that man as I do he’ll be back out to join us as soon as it’s physically possible. He’s the most determined man I’ve ever met.
— Alex Bescoby, film maker and expedition member

An overland icon

SNX 891 has become powerfully symbolic of the adventurous spirit that so many overland expeditions have sought to capture.

Affectionately known simply as ‘Oxford’, SNX 891 first departed London alongside ‘Cambridge’ SNX 761 in 1955, and the two Series I Land Rovers arrived back in Pall Mall together at noon precisely on 21st August 1956. More expeditions followed until Oxford was eventually laid up, partially dismantled and abandoned on a remote island in the southern Atlantic, 5000 miles from home. (Cambridge was lost in Iran and has never been seen since.)

Land Rover enthusiast Adam Bennet went to enormous lengths to retrieve Oxford, and entrusted its rebuild to Series I restoration specialist Ben Stowe in Yorkshire. (Read the full story of Oxford’s rescue and restoration in LRO’s July 2018 issue)  

Last Overland route map
We (The First Overland) team embarked on this journey when we were in our early twenties, and at that age, you make the impossible, possible. Now, 64 years later, I am elated to be part of the team driving her (‘Oxford’) from Singapore back to the UK – overland once more. As I get older, I have been bothered by a recurring and nagging whisper telling me that you’re only here once so go for it – before it’s too late! It is the reason why I am here today – I am 87, and if I don’t do it now, I may never get another chance. To finally see this expedition come to fruition after many months of planning and anticipation, brings me great joy. If you like, it’s a case of ‘the Old Man helps take the Old Lady home.’
— Tim Slessor, author of 'First Overland'

On the road again

The team aims to average 100 miles a day, taking 100 days to complete their 10,000-mile (16,000km) journey home.

A record-breaking convoy of 90 local Land Rovers, more than Singapore has ever gathered in one place, accompanied the expedition from its commemorative ‘flag-off’ at Singapore’s F1 Pit building in Marina Bay to the Malaysian border.

For the twisty drive through Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands (a region known for its old, working Land Rovers) Tim Slessor’s grandson Nat took the wheel of Oxford for the first time – an experience he describes as ‘sweaty, very sweaty.’ At the time of writing, the expedition had recently crossed into Thailand.

Supporters of the expedition include Singapore Tourism Board, Jaguar Land Rover Asia Pacific, Opihr Gin and AKE Group.

We wish the Last Overland team every possible success, and hope Tim is back on his feet soon. Follow their exploits on social media @thelastoverland and with hashtag #thelastoverland.