Land Rover Legends: Part Three
After winning the 1989 Camel Trophy, Bob Ives went on to join the event’s management team and compete in various other international off-road driving events before becoming an independent consultant responsible for vehicle projects around the world. This
After winning the most gruelling Camel Trophy event of all, Bob Ives went on to do some remarkable things
In 1930, the Royal Automobile Club awarded the Segrave Trophy to Sir Charles Kingsford Smith for his east-west solo air crossing of the Atlantic from Ireland to Newfoundland, and for his victory in the England to Australia Air Race, in which he also flew alone. The trophy had been established that year to commemorate the life and achievements of Sir Henry Segrave, who was the first person to hold both the land and water speed records simultaneously, and also the first person to travel at over 200 mph in a land vehicle. The trophy is still awarded to this day, just as it always has been, for Outstanding Skill, Courage and Initiative on Land, Water and in the Air: the Spirit of Adventure.
Since that inaugural award in 1930, the Segrave Trophy has been presented a further 63 times, occasionally posthumously, and the list of its recipients reads like a Who’s Who of the most successful, daring and brave men and woman ever to have raced a car or motorcycle, or set new speed records, and any number of other remarkable motorised achievements on land, water and in the air: Amy Johnson, Sir Malcolm Campbell, Donald Campbell, Sir Stirling Moss, Wing Commander Ken Wallis, Sir Jackie Stewart, Barry Sheene, Andy Green and Lewis Hamilton, to name but a few.
So Bob Ives and his brother, Joe, are in very exclusive and prestigious company, because the Segrave Trophy was awarded to them in 1989 “for victory in the off-road marathon the Camel Trophy, with its 1062-mile route through the Brazilian rainforest from Alta Floresta to Manaus”. They were the only UK team ever to win this legendary event.
Where the love for 4x4 all began
Bob and Joe Ives grew up on the family farm in Hampshire, but this did not provide the introduction to 4x4 driving that we might expect. Instead, Bob’s taste for offroad adventures started in 1979 when, at the age of 19, he had spent a year working his way around Australia.
“My father knew a farmer in Western Australia,” Bob recalls, “and I decided to go out there to work, basically to
broaden my knowledge of farming. After a while I thought it would be a good idea to extend the experience, so I bought an old petrol Land Cruiser FJ tray-back, lashed on a 45-gallon oil drum as an additional fuel tank, and set off for Queensland. It was this that got me hooked on off-road driving and fourwheel drives.”
In 1982 he spent a further year touring Australia on a Suzuki DR400 motorcycle, and on his return to the UK he bought his first Land Rover, a Series IIA, and immediately started trialling with it. He was soon immersed in the offroad trials scene with the All-wheel Drive Club, competing in Land Rovers and Range Rovers.
As an experienced long-distance off-road and trials driver and competitor, it was logical that Bob found the idea of entering the Camel Trophy an appealing one, and so began what he describes as a personal crusade to represent his country in this amazing and challenging event. In 1985 he applied and went through the selection process for the 1986 event, and was nominated as a reserve to the chosen team. He applied again in 1986 for the 1987 event, and by this time brother Joe had returned from travelling and working in the USA. Joe entered too, and made it through to the reserve list, whereas Bob did not. “I didn’t talk to Joe for months!” Bob laughs. Entering again for the 1988 event, both made it to the reserve list. So at least some progress was being made.
They entered for a fourth time and on this occasion it was Bob who made it to the final four, together with David Walkley, Duncan Mansfield and Simon Day. The final selections for all the national teams were held in Tenerife and the four Brits did what you do in Tenerife – they had a day off so they hired a Mini Moke and set off to explore the island. Sadly, it resulted in a head-on collision with a bus that left David, Duncan and Simon in hospital, and Bob walking wounded.
The event organisers immediately brought in Joe. Although not selected as a finalist that year, Joe had been a finalist and reservist in the two previous years, so he was the obvious person to step in. An unfortunate incident with a bus on a twisty mountain road had therefore decided who would represent the UK in the 1989 Camel Trophy and created the first team of brothers in the event’s history. “After four years of trying, I almost missed my chance,” says Bob.
Conquering the famously-gruelling Camel Trophy
By now, the Camel had become firmly established as the world’s toughest off-road driving challenge, and the organisers decided to mark the anniversary with a return to the dense forests and tough jungle trails of the Amazon, the location of the very first event in 1980, although one important difference was that the 1989 event was timed to coincide with the height of the rainy season.
The chosen route was to start at Alta Floresta in the Mato Grosso and head east to join the BR163, then head north to the junction with the Trans-amazonica highway, following this eastwards for some 50 km before rejoining the BR163 for the run north to the town of Santarém on the Amazon river. From here, the teams would take a barge westwards to Itapiranga on the northern bank of the Amazon, and then follow jungle trails to the finish at Manaus, a total journey of over 1900 km, of which 500 km would be by river boat.
These dust-covered Amazonian highways present few challenges during the dry season when they are used by huge Brazilian lorries, but when the rains come they are turned into glutinous, slippery, bottomless mud, which often strands the trucks for months on end.
There had been over a million applicants to join that year’s Camel Trophy, all hoping to secure one of the 28 seats in the 14 teams that would take part that year, representing Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canary Islands, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, UK, and Yugoslavia. History would later decide that the 1989 event was the toughest-ever Camel Trophy.
In late March 1989, Bob, Joe and the other competitors and support crew flew into Alta Floresta in a Boeing 737, which was quite a big deal for the locals, who were used to rather smaller aeroplanes at their local landing strip. They showed their delight at the arrival of the Camel Trophy team with a fanfare welcome.
Once they heard what the convoy intended to do in 12 days, they were rather blunt in their views as to its achievability. Many made bets on the outcome and there were not many takers for success – not in 12 days, not even in 60, seemed to be the prevailing opinion. But they had clearly not allowed for the determination of a Camel Trophy convoy.
Leaving Alta Floresta at 9.00 am the following morning,
“History would later decide the 1989 event was the toughest”
the teams faced the first of three special tasks to be completed that day, all timed against the clock, as well as a long drive of 140 km to the first fuel stop and a further 100 km to the planned campsite. Many of the competitors would drive too fast in those initial trials or fail to pay attention to the route markers, but Bob and Joe’s experience in All-wheel Drive Club trials stood them in good stead and by the end of the first day the British team was leading the pack on points.
It was Bob’s 29th birthday, and he commented at the time: “Originally we wanted to get on the trip just for the adventure, but now we just want to win the damn thing. It’s been a great first day and the best birthday present I’ve ever had.”
The convoy never reached its intended destination for the night, due to one of the leading vehicles breaking a trailing arm bracket that had to be welded before the convoy could continue. Twenty-three hours after leaving Alta Floresta, and in pitch darkness, they finally stopped to make camp. They were 65 km short of their intended destination.
The following day introduced them to the real challenges of the Amazon in the rainy season, as the convoy picked its way through a twisting track with wash-outs dropping down 50 feet. One misplaced wheel would have led to disaster. Soon, they reached the first section of deep, flooded mud. Every team had their own opinions as to how to approach the challenge and many got stuck. There was no sign yet of the “all for one, and one for all” team spirit that would need to be established if the group as a whole was to succeed.
Again, the convoy did not reach its planned destination that evening. Ahead, over a dozen heavy trucks were stuck and attempting to get through this section would require daylight. A makeshift camp was established for the night.
“We’d thought about our sleeping arrangements and brought a huge mosquito net with us, which we rigged over the roof-rack and the whole front end of the car each night. This meant we could climb onto the bonnet and take off our muddy boots and clothes before getting into the roof tent. Other competitors were not quite so organised. One night, the Italians rigged-up their hammocks between our vehicle and theirs. In the middle of the night, we heard the twang as one of their hammock cords snapped, followed by a thud as the occupant was dumped in the mud!”
After breaking camp the following morning, the convoy found itself facing a morass of seemingly-impassable mud stretching more than a kilometre ahead. Flooded ruts that would topple a One Ten stretched ahead and within no time three of the teams, including Bob and Joe, and one of the support vehicles were hopelessly embedded in the bog. It took over four hours to recover them. Heavy tractors with winches and recovery chains that were accompanying the convoys of trucks were called in to help. The rainy season was big business for them anyway, with plenty of trucks to recover, and the lengthy Camel convoy was a bonus. Some could apparently earn $20,000 dollars a month putting their tractors and their recovery skills to good use.
For up to 20 hours a day, the teams fought to get through the endless mud. For several days, the convoy managed only a few kilometres per day, and on one unbelievable day covered just 800 metres in 24 hours, and only then with the assistance of a huge, winch-equipped tractor.
The average of four hours sleep per night was already taking its toll and the physical and mental strain was immense. But, gradually, bonds of friendship and teamwork were formed and the much-vaunted Camel spirit began to take shape. Alongside being the outright winner of the Camel Trophy, the Team Spirit Award was highly-coveted. Voted on by all the teams at the end of the event, the award went to the team that the competitors themselves thought had contributed most to the overall success of the event. Many would try very hard to win it, but as the event leader said: “You cannot win it if you try. It has to come from the heart.”
With each team were two journalists from their home country, most of whom realised that their role was much more than being passive observers and commentators. They would have to throw themselves into the challenge to help their team get through. One, an Argentinian, did not, and was considered by the organisers to be cracking-up under the strain. When the support helicopter met them on the route later that day to pick up the media teams’ film and reportage, it left with an unexpected passenger. The event leader had deemed it better for everyone if the journalist concerned was airlifted out.
“With us we had Mike Calvin from the Daily Telegraph and photographer Marc Payne, whose day job was industrial pipe freezing,” recalls Bob. “Both where really committed to Team UK and happily mucked in to do whatever needed to be done. It was really a team of four and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and had a ball!
“We spent a lot of time in training and preparation before we left the UK. We mapped-out circuits on the local lanes and tracks near the farm, and practised driving them against the clock, day and night. The off-road trialling skills were also a great help. We also spent a lot of time thinking about the details; the little things that end up making a big difference in the middle of the jungle. We kept the high-lift jack ready and accessible on the floor, for example, instead of secured on the roof-rack, and two wheelbraces handy, and the four of us had a well-rehearsed plan for changing wheels that stood us in good stead.”
The convoy reached Santarém and faced a further battery of timed tests. The UK and Spain shared pole position upon their conclusion, with 59 points each. The Spanish achievement was all the more remarkable because they had rebuilt their One Ten after a dramatic high-speed roll-over, and completed the tests without a windscreen and with driver and co-pilot wearing goggles and encased in mud.
After the intensity and exhaustion of the past few days, there was now a chance for relaxation and introspection, as the team embarked on a river cruiser for the 36-hour, 500 km journey upstream to Itapiranga, with the vehicles shackled to a barge that was towed alongside. Ever-focussed, Bob and Joe spent the time replacing the shocks on their One Ten.
Once back on the track, the teams faced further timed
“For up to 20 hours the teams fought to get through mud”
tests that continued into the night, but fate dealt a cruel blow to the Spanish team who blew a tyre, taking them out of contention. Bob and Joe consolidated their lead, and the Brits were now ten points clear on the leaderboard. They were able to maintain their lead and, at the end of the event in Manaus, Bob and Joe were announced as the overall winners of the 1989 Camel Trophy. The coveted Team Spirit Award went to the Belgians. But as event organiser Iain Chapman commented: “At the end there are no losers. You cannot measure a sense of personal satisfaction.”
Life after the Camel Trophy
The British victory was headline news across the country, and auto sport magazine concluded in its report on the event: “It was an epic, international event and four fine Englishmen won it in a manner of which we can all be proud’.
And Michael Calvin, who had been filing regular reports back home for the Dailytelegraph, commented: “These past 17 days, with their problems and moments of supreme selfsatisfaction, have welded us into a true team.”
Camel Trophy rules did not allow competitors to enter the event again, but the Camel bug had bitten and Bob joined the event management team as convoy co-ordinator, with responsibility for the overall safety of the teams from up to 20 competing countries. He travelled to Siberia, South America, Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia, completing a further seven Camel Trophies.
In 1997 he turned his sights elsewhere, and took part in the FIA World Cup Cross Country Rally Championships in Spain, the so-called Baja España. Bob had acquired the perfect vehicle for the event, a Defender 110 equipped with a TVR V8 churning out some 300 bhp, with Kevlar body panels. It had originally been prepared for the Paris-dakar, but not used.
“Unfortunately we had a series of very annoying electrical problems,” says Bob, “and we didn’t finish.”
In 1998 he entered the UAE Desert Challenge in the same 110, rising to sixth place by the start of the final day but, as Bob remembers: “We broke a universal joint in the front prop shaft, and finally finished in 24th place running in two-wheel drive only.”
During his years with the Camel Trophy, Bob had met many like-minded individuals, including Duncan Barbour and Andy Dacey, and in the early 1990s they formed Wildtrackers, which organises vehicle events in various remote locations around the world. The following years were filled with many off-road incentive trips and 4x4 vehicle launches for manufacturers including Land Rover, Jeep and Mercedes, in countries such as Jordan, the USA, Turkey, the UAE, Oman, Canada, Zambia, Botswana, Romania, Japan, Poland, South Africa and Morocco.
As well as these events, which Bob is still involved in organising and managing today, since 2009 he has also been involved with the BBC Topgear show, and now its Amazon successor Thegrandtour, where he is responsible for route recces and GPS route logging, as well as providing advice to the production team on the art of the possible.
During the filming of the programmes, Bob drives the lead camera tracking car and he is also, together with Duncan Barbour and Karl Trunk, responsible for keeping the participating vehicles going over a variety of terrains, as well as general vehicle maintenance.
“Organising these events is like a mini- Camel Trophy,” Bob says. “It was great fun to do the Death Road show in Bolivia, and we have also done the show’s Christmas specials. We are also called on to do film work, using Duncan Barbour’s BATT Land Rover tracking vehicles, including Harrypotter
and Sleepy Hollow, and we’ve been involved with the Discworld films based on Terry Pratchett’s books. It’s hard work and it takes me away for several months a year’.
For five years, he and co-founder David Parker ran the Camel Trophy UK Off-road Centre, offering team-building and leadership development training to industry, all conducted in Camel Trophy vehicles and involving off-road driving and exercises such as bridge building.
Bob also organises events in the UK, including off-road driver training, local dealer hospitality events and the mini Camel Trophy for owners of ex-event vehicles, known as Bob’s Bashes. He is a staunch supporter of the Camel Trophy Owners’ Club and believes the Club and the events they organise help to keep the Camel Trophy spirit alive. Many of these events are hosted on the family arable and dairy farm in Hampshire, which he and Joe manage.
Bob and Joe still own the One Ten in which they won the Camel Trophy in 1989, having purchased it after the event. Original Camel vehicles are highly sought-after by enthusiasts and collectors and to any UK collector, none is more desirable than this particular One Ten. “I’ve owned more Land Rover vehicles than I can remember,” says Bob, “but this is the one that Joe and I will keep forever.”
“Bob has also been involved with the BBC Top Gear Show”
Yet another river crossing
A very clean One Ten as team UK prepares for the start
Victorious UK team celebrate in style
The 1989 Camel Trophy is considered to be the toughest ever
Another interesting recovery challenge Bob Ives, second from left and brother Joe, right Team UK rechristened Team Gringo Camel One Tens on the river barge with support helicopter