The Land Rover Defender & the Camel Trophy

There is just something about the Land Rover Defender 110 that attracts specialization. Aficionados rank the best Defenders not just by year produced, but by the specific reason that this truck was created. Near the top of many of those lists is the version of the Defender created in various years of the  Camel Trophy history from 1980-2000.

The original Camel Trophy off-road race took place along the Trans-Amazonian highway in 1980. From there, the highly popular and incredibly grueling adventure swung around the globe to places like Papua New Guinea, Zaire, Borneo, Madagascar, Australia, and Sumatra. Eventually, it returned to its roots in the Amazon in 1989, and for two decades, it was pointed to as an off-road challenge that was the very vanguard of such a concept. Part endurance challenge, part adventure, part swashbuckling global competition, the Camel Trophy perfectly encapsulated the ethos of Land Rover Defenders 110s in a singular race.

Land Rover was not only the sponsor of these worldwide events, but the supplier of highly-modified versions of their trucks sent to tackle some of the most difficult courses ever attempted. In the 1980s, only versions of the Land Rover Defender were used, with Land Rover Discovery 200tdi’s taking over in the 90s (including a 1996 Camel Trophy when the island of Kalimantan was crossed for the first time).

  • 1985 featured the 90 series in Borneo.
  • 1988’s epic Sulawesi race ran with the 110 series.
  • Zaire in 1983 used the Land Rover Series III 88″ (first and only time this edition was run).
  • The Amazon in 1989, truly one of the Camel Trophy’s most infamous versions, was run with Defender 110s.

The Camel Trophy held it’s final edition in the year 2000, as Land Rover no longer felt the event signified what the original concept had set out to showcase (later races of the 1990s had begun to incorporate everything from kayaking to alpine skiing).

But the epic races of the 1980s and early 90s still hold the imagination of Land Rover Defender 110 fans worldwide. The trucks that were built for it are considered the holy grail of Defender design by some. All were made with an eye-popping sand glow yellow paint coating, prominent Camel Trophy insignia (if you could see it through the mud), snorkels, huge steel front grills, and so many roof-rack accessories it made the trucks look feet taller. These 90 and 110 series Defenders tackled the off-road courses of the planet, and the feats they accomplished will never be forgotten.

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