To the desert with Series Twos

I’m lucky enough to have the friendship of Mark Woodward, a Rhodesian living in Dubai, and, through him, that of Khalifa Al-Ghafli, an Emirati who lives in Umm Al Qawain. Khalifa has an enviable collection of over 100 Land Rovers, ranging from Series Ones to Defenders, with all kinds of variants within – including two he has built himself, a half track Series 2a and a fully-tracked Series 2.

Periodically Khalifa encourages us to take his trucks out to the desert, and give them a run out. Such was the case this last weekend (Feb 2020) when Mark and I, together with Johno, another friend, took three old Land Rovers from the collection out into the Umm Al Qawaini desert for a bit of dune exploration.

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The first two we borrowed – a 1960 Series 2, ex-Saudi Army, and a grey Series 2a which has been built from brand new “old stock” parts. Here Johno and Mark are airing the tyres down before we head into the sand dunes.

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There’s little to beat an open-topped Land Rover and a clear open desert sky – bliss

The trouble was, the Series 2a, thought technically a “new” vehicle, hadn’t been properly screwed together by the Indian mechanics who’d built her. Most of the bolts in the engine were loose. It didn’t take long before a huge BANG under the bonnet announced a radiator hose popping off – the jubilee clip had been very loose. Mark delves under the lid…..

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It turns out that since other bolts and fittings are loose, the water from the exploding hose has got into the electrics. We can’t get her started. Two hours of stripping components, faffing, coaxing her to rough idle, cursing mechanics…… no joy

So Johno and I headed back in “my” 88 to roust out one of the mechanics who built her. We left Mark into the desert. Mistake – I hadn’t brought my GPS – it was still in my Discovery, left at Khalifa’s yard. However Johno felt sure he could find Mark’s location again but using an App on his phone – so off we went.

Khalifa’s mechanic – at least, the one we could wake from his Friday siesta, wasn’t interested in accepting any sort of responsibility – or indeed coming to help us. So we took a third Land Rover – an ex-Trucial Scouts desert patrol Series 2 109″ – the plan was to carry on the trip and let the mechanics sort the dead vehicle.

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That 109 was ferocious! It seemed ready to climb anything and go anywhere. This was just as well because the GPS phone App on Johno’s phone wasn’t able to give us Mark’s location….. so we had to find him by trial and error

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This meant we diverted from established tracks through the dunes which were used by local farmers, and we had to break a fresh trail towards Mark through unknown and untraveled dune country. Frankly I love this stuff – exploring dunes and scouting a route through them. Johno, a newcomer to dune driving, was a bit intimidated by the place, so I led and broke down the trip into easily-travelled legs – we navigate from *here* to *here*, stop and take stock, then plot the next leg – from *here* to *here*, and so on. Typically I’d scout a route in the 109 to a point we could see, Johno would then follow in the 88, we’d pause there and get a fix on Mark’s location using WhatsApp (!), then I’d scout another leg, Johno would follow, and so on.

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It was good fun. The 109 was constantly surprising in its ability – nominally underpowered with a simple 2.25 litre 4 cylinder, but drop it into low 2nd or 3rd and it would climb dunes that almost seemed vertical. Tyres pressures lowered substantially helped a heck of a lot (no tyres gauge so I simply let a minute of air out of each) – and she was riding on Michelin XS desert tyres – the best desert tyres in the world ? I think so. Nevertheless – what a car!

However. In the end we found Mark, faffed with the sick 88 a little more to no avail, and made camp

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The next morning was a stunning desert day – not too hot, but clear and crisp with huge visibility

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Before long another 109 turned up with three mechanics on board. They had set out early, and found us by blind luck! After several failed attempts they took the sick 88 in tow with “our” 109, left us “their” 109, and headed back to base to clear out the contaminated electrics of the 88.

Our time in the desert that weekend was coming to an end – but we still had a little time so were able to spend a morning exploring another area of the dunes before having to return the borrowed Land Rovers to their stables…..

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And finally I got to play with this…….. but that’s another story!

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