LONDON, 19 DECEMBER 2019 – The Last Overland Expedition, after a 19,000 km road journey across the globe, has reached its final destination in the United Kingdom. Having crossed 23 countries from Singapore to London, the eight-member expedition team has successfully recreated one of the most historic automotive events of the 20th century – The Oxford & Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition (The First Overland), undertaken from 1955-6. The Last Overland traversed the jungles of Malaysia and Myanmar, the frozen plateaus of the Himalayas and Tibet, as well as many other countries, including Nepal, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and across the Bosphorous into Europe. (They even briefly crossed the border from Tajikistan into Afghanistan.)
The expedition team – comprising members from UK, France, USA, Belgium, Indonesia and Singapore – was warmly welcomed at their arrival party in Folkestone, the point of entry for The Last Overland Team into UK. The Arrival Party, hosted by Goodyear, marked the penultimate stage of the journey to bring home the original 1955 ‘Oxford’ Series One Land Rover that was used in The First Overland. Led by award-winning film-maker Alex Bescoby and Expedition Manager Marcus Allender, the team of eight also included Singaporean Larry Leong and Brit, Nat George, grandson of Tim Slessor (a member of The First Overland). In attendance to receive ‘Oxford’ and the team back to the UK was one of the three surviving members of The First Overland: Tim Slessor, now 88. Alongside him were also the Expedition’s key supporters, Singapore Tourism Board, Jaguar Land Rover, Opihr Gin and AKE Group, and members of the public.
An historic gathering of Land Rovers assembled from across UK and Europe was also present to welcome ‘Oxford’ to Folkestone at the Folkestone Harbour Arm. This momentous occasion was a celebration of a global love affair between Land Rover and the motoring world. In an exciting first, Land Rover’s newest model – the New Defender – was waiting to greet Oxford and the team in a specially designed one-off Oxford & Cambridge Expedition livery.
After the welcome party in Folkestone, the team set off for their final destination – The Hilton Park Lane in London. The finish line was symbolic as it was just yards from the start line of the First Overland Expedition in 1956. The contingent was welcomed by the High Commissioner of Singapore, Her Excellency Ms. Foo Chi Hsia.
Alex Bescoby recounts, “This journey was definitely an action packed one, filled with many ups and downs, and I can’t believe how quickly the eighteen months that went into planning this journey has brought us here, all in one piece! We’ve managed to drive this incredible 64-year-old car once more, to so many remote and fascinating parts of the world, through tropical monsoons, -20 C temperatures and at more than 5000m above sea level. Oxford took it all in stride. From Nagaland to Tibet, from Turkmenistan to Serbia, the welcome we’ve received has been unbelievable. We definitely missed having Tim around; without him this whole expedition would not have happened in the first place, and we’re happy he joins us in our homecoming now that he’s had the time to recover. We’re glad to be back on home turf, but now it’s time plan the next adventure! We’ve only just begun.”
Ms. Carrie Kwik, Regional Director, Europe, Singapore Tourism Board, was also present at the homecoming ceremony. She shares, “‘Oxford’s’ return to the UK is a wonderful closure to the First Overland journey from London to Singapore and an apt way to conclude the commemoration of the Singapore Bicentennial this year. We hope this inspiring journey featuring the team of determined and adventurous explorers will allow British travelers to better understand what Singapore stands for – a place where explorers meet, and most importantly, where your passions are made possible – and visit Singapore for their own adventure.”
The Last Overland expedition a test of strength and grit
After the flag off from Singapore on August 25 and the journey through Southeast Asia, the expedition moved through Nepal, China and the Stans to the border with Turkey. Apart from veteran Singaporean overlander Larry, it was the team’s first time in this part of the world. Like any major expedition, especially one crossing so many international borders in such an old car, The Last Overland was not one without problems. One particularly memorable incident was a major mechanical mishap where ‘Oxford’s’ back wheel fell off while Alex & Nat were driving at 70kmph in Turkmenistan, severing their brakes entirely. Thankfully no one was hurt, and after some major repair work, Oxford was soon back on the road.
Despite the challenges, ‘Oxford’ managed to complete the journey back to UK, helped by the expertise of the team, including the team’s Indonesian doctor and mechanic Dr. Silverius Purba, as well as from remote support of Adam Bennett, ‘Oxford’s’ restorer, who delivered replacement parts through post.
The humans on the journey were also put to the test. The team was presented with a different set of challenges, including when extreme altitude, temperatures and various diets took a toll on their bodies. These involved the occasional food poisoning episodes, frigid temperatures and even needing to rely on supplementary oxygen while coping with altitude sickness at certain points of the journey.
The expedition continues
While ‘Oxford’ and the team of eight have safely made it back to UK, the expedition does not end here. In the pipeline to tell the incredible story of The Last Overland are a TV documentary series in the making, aimed for broadcast in 2020, and a book written by Alex Bescoby.
“It’s been described by one motoring journalist as “the mother of all road trips”, and I’d have to agree! I can’t wait to share the inside story of an adventure I will never forget. It will be endearing and insightful to contrast The First Overland and The Last Overland, exploring how our world has evolved over 64 years. We want to be able to immortalise our experience, including the places we visited, many them for the first time; and remember the friendships with one another and people from around the world,” recounted Alex on the documentary he has plans to produce with his team from Grammar Productions.