87-year-old Brit to repeat historic 1955 Overland journey between London and Singapore

Teng Yong Ping
Lifestyle Editor
Crew members of The Last Overland expedition with the "Oxford" Land Rover (from left): Larry Leong, Marcus Allender, Dr Silverius Purba, Tim Slessor, Therese-Marie Becker and Alex Bescoby. (PHOTO: Teng Yong Ping/Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

In 1955, a team of six British men began their historic journey to drive 16,000km from London to Singapore. Their Oxford & Cambridge Far Eastern Expedition successfully ended six months later in 1956.

Now, 64 years later, a member from the expedition, 87-year-old Tim Slessor, will join filmmaker Alex Bescoby, 31, and take one of two of the original Land Rovers, the “Oxford” Land Rover Series I, on a road trip to recreate the epic journey.

And he will have a Singaporean on board: 51-year-old Larry Leong. Slessor and Leong will be part of a seven-member team including a woman.

This time, the team will make the journey in reverse, from Singapore to London. The route will bring them across three continents and over twenty countries. It will take them through the jungles of Malaysia and Myanmar, the mountains of the Himalayas and northern Turkey, the deserts of the Middle East, Nepal, China, Uzbekistan, Iran, Bulgaria and other stops.

The team aims to arrive in London within 100 days of setting out from Singapore. Grammar Productions, which will film the journey as a TV documentary series, unveiled the restored original 1955 “Oxford” Land Rover at the Jaguar Land Rover showroom in Singapore on Thursday (30 May).

The other Rover in the previous expedition was named Cambridge. Both cars were named after the universities that the original team members hailed from.

Slessor, a retiree who is a former BBC filmmaker, spoke about the first historic trip, when he and his team made the longest possible overland route in the world.

“The last time I seriously drove this old thing was a long time ago. So, as you might imagine, to see the old thing again today is quite moving. After all, before we had set out, the experts had told us that we were geographically ignorant and politically naive; the journey couldn’t be done. All that did was to make us more determined. Six months later, we pulled in to Champion Motors on Singapore’s Orchard Road,” he said.

Tim Slessor speaking at The Last Overland expedition press conference at the Jaguar Land Rover showroom. (PHOTO: Teng Yong Ping/Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore)

The successful 1955-1956 journey made headlines around the world and was featured in three BBC films produced by renowned naturalist David Attenborough.

As to why Slessor is repeating this arduous journey at his ripe old age, he said, “As I get older, I have been bothered by a recurring and nagging whisper: ‘Go for it – before it’s too late.’ I am 87, and if I don’t do it now, I may never get another chance.”

Leong has made the Overland journey from Singapore to London twice before, including once with his wife and then-5-year-old daughter. He looks forward to making his third trip with Slessor, whom he considered as his idol.

The IT consultant is in charge of IT and communications support for the team, which includes a doctor and other filmmakers.

He told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, “I visited Tim in London in 2015 when I reached the UK from Singapore after a three-month journey. I told him then that should he ever attempt the Overland trip again, I wanted to join him. Our chance came when the original Oxford car was found and restored in 2017.”

After the historic Overland drive, the “Oxford” car was later used by another group in an expedition to the South Atlantic Ascension Island. The car was hidden and decaying on the island for decades before it was found and restored in 2017.

The Last Overland expedition, as the team is calling it, will flag off on 25 August 2019 at the F1 Pit in Marina Bay. The trip is supported by Singapore Tourism Board, AKE Group, Jaguar Land Rover Asia Pacific, and Klareco Communications.

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