Jose Maria Rubio is an automotive journalist who’s always kept a keen eye on the world of motorsport, and especially the disciplines that don’t require smooth tarmac. He began covering the half-expedition, half-endurance race called the Camel Trophy back in 1987 with the Spanish teams, and subsequently traveled through the world’s harshest and most remote terrain for the next decade while calling it his day job. Enthralled with what Africa had to offer in particular, Jose Maria also followed the infamous Dakar Rally, but among the ruggedly high-tech rally cars, workhorse 4x4s, and sand dune slicing motorcycles, a Camel Trophy-spec Land Rover was the vehicle he’d long hoped to call his own.
There are more exotic machines out there, but not many as rare as the purpose-built Brit trucks that the company modified specifically for the once-a-year Camel Trophy event. As Jose Maria plainly states—and as we can easily imagine—a great many of these Land Rovers ended up totaled in the course of the event. The rest were all-but-totaled or otherwise retained by the teams or drivers who’d managed to successfully shepherd their rigs across Siberia, the Amazon, Madagascar, and the like.
The turbodiesel Discovery that Jose Maria owns today was originally brought to Spain by Victor Muntané, who won the Team Spirit Award in the 1987 Camel Trophy—the first year that Jose Maria reported on the race. The sentimental value is clear. It didn’t come directly from the wheelman to the journo though, and the man Victor sold it to first, Estanis, wasn’t interested in letting it go. As Jose Maria puts it, he engaged in a bit of friendly blackmail to attain it—Estanis wanted to host a series of trials on the Circuito de Navarra to kick off an enduro event, so Jose Maria, being the president of the course, told him it was only possible if he would him sell the Land Rover first.
Jose Maria got to work on the turbodiesel truck, performing a restoration of the mechanical elements while leaving the bodywork as it was; the scuffs, scabs, scrapes, dents, gouges, and even the dirt from the truck’s campaign in the African Camel Trophy remain. Don’t think that this was done to save any time or money though, as the mechanical elements were plenty expensive and tricky to get hold of. Jose Maria says that all of the parts are new old stock pieces, with even the shock absorbers sporting the original Camel Trophy labeling. See, these trucks were not just taken from the showroom to the sand dunes. Land Rover added a host of Camel-specific parts to prepare the vehicles, and though the engines were left all but stock, the modifications were not just limited to a bash bar and a winch.
There’s a second spare in the trunk, a massive rack on the roof (the lights of which necessitate the second battery that Camel trucks received), a Terratrip timer on the dash, tow ropes to keep tree branches from impaling the windshield (and those behind it), a snorkel intake to keep water out of the motor (though it often still went into the cabin, which is why there are factory-drilled drain holes in the floorboards), and of course a robust cage tying it all but literally together. The underbelly got a bit of armor and reinforcement too, but otherwise it’s a standard Land Rover.
Jose Maria admits that the 115hp output of the 2.5L turbodiesel wasn’t a lot even in period, but he’s not about to mess with the history of this semi-retired off-roader. The Camel Trophy was never about outright speed anyway, but more so on-the-fly engineering work that saw the teams (and the people like Jose Maria covering their progress) building makeshift bridges, performing “road”-side repairs in the mud, and generally employing ingenuity of a type only necessitated by racing through deserts and jungles. Near his home in Madrid, Jose Maria still puts this Disco through its all-terrain dance routines.