Five years ago when I lived in Cairo I was part of a group of friends jokingly called the Sand Rovers. We all had Defenders, we all travelled into the Sahara most weekends and we otherwise all met up at a small workshop we rented to kick tyres, drink beer and talk nonsense. Our Land Rovers were generally parked up outside the workshop, and if we weren’t in the desert we would be servicing, fiddling, adding new bits and generally clucking over our desert-battered, travel-stained trucks like mother hens. There were usually around four Defenders there, including my own Stella, and a couple of Range Rover Classics – and next to the gate, waiting patiently, an old Series III 88” with no engine. This was Dusty. Dusty had been imported from France in the 80s by a big Paris-based engineering company who were building large pipelines under Cairo, and she had been a key part of the project, judging by various modifications we found – brackets on the side for a large mapping table and assorted other engineering paraphernalia. When the French engineers completed their job, Dusty was left behind, and for thirty years she lay abandoned at the roadside in Cairo, being cannibalised for parts and turning into a nest for street cats and dogs.
We adopted her, towed her to the Workshop and shelved her as a project to sort “one day” (you know the kind!). She needed an engine, gearbox, registration papers… and so on. Being based in Egypt however she had very little rust, and a sound bulkhead and chassis.
Time went on. Desert trips happened, in a period where, with hindsight, we had glorious open access to the largest wilderness in the world, unfettered by a need for guides, permits and bureaucracy. We were free to pack the Land Rovers and chase the desert horizon, able to drive for literally thousands of offroad miles without seeing tarmac, concrete, neon or humanity. We thought it would never end. Of course it did, in 2016, with the rise of Islamic State terrorism in rural Egypt and the closure of the “deep desert” after several violent deaths. As a result, most of us left Cairo (I came to the UAE, near Dubai). We either took our Land Rovers or sold them. Dusty, still a basket case, was sold to Ihab Magary, an Egyptian with a love of Land Rovers and great mechanical sympathy. Time moved on, but we stayed in touch.
Then late last year Ihab emailed me – Dusty was back on the road! Did I fancy a reunion? You bet! At the next possible opportunity, mid December 2021, I was on a flight to Cairo, looking forward to seeing this old warhorse and hopefully getting into the desert with her.
Ihab suggested a long desert test into Wadi Degla, a spectacular canyon system stretching into the Sahara east of Cairo. We met up and I saw Dusty for the first time in half a decade. Ihab had been busy. The old truck now sported a 2.5 petrol engine from an early 110, and an incongruous grey front wing among the rest of her desert-beige body panels. Ihab explained that her original wing had been badly cut up at some time in her history, reasons unknown, and he’d replaced it with an ’as new’ grey version. He decided not to paint the grey wing to show Dusty’s history, and he’d otherwise kept the old beast as she had been when with the French engineering teams.
I have to say I was impressed. The 2.5 petrol shifts the little wagon along as a healthy rate of knots and Ihab’s done a great job of restoring and rebuilding Dusty sympathetically but with obvious intent to keep her in daily use. She growled happily through the swirling madness that is Cairo traffic and carried us to where the hills begin to ramp up to the east of the massive ancient city, and then into the long winding desert valley that is Wadi Degla.
I’ve known the wadi for over twenty years and it’s a fascinating place. In the past I’ve explored huge unmapped cave complexes that burrow deep into the hillsides and which contain everything from prehistoric flint tools to 1940s wartime newspapers, and I’ve also found the remains of camps established by New Zealand troops in 1941 when they used it for desert training. On this trip we intended to push along a network of side valleys where flashfloods had opened up routes previously impassable – this would be a good workout for the suspension and low box!
Dusty, of course, coped without a worry. Sitting on newish Bridgestone Dueller road-biased ATs she scrabbled a bit on some of the rockier climbs but wasn’t really unsettled, dealing happily with ascents, descents and rocky steps. Her articulation was slightly better than standard, perhaps due to the care Ihab has taken with suspension and setup, and the torque in the tough old 2.5 was great at dealing with the difficult terrain. Large sections of the wadi complex (wadi is simply Arabic for “valley”) were carpeted in thick talcum-fine dust, but again this didn’t worry the tough old dog and she carried us through easily. Ihab had taken the door tops off for the trip, and as any Series owner knows this is a great way to travel offroad. This was especially true in this spectacular valley system which, geologists think, was a huge river network millions of years ago. It’s an amazing place of vast patterns of rock layers, enormous ancient waterfalls (long since dry) and weird wind-carved shapes of landscape. The desert-coloured Land Rover fitted in perfectly, and I reflected that trundling through the wilds of North Africa in a Series III was a timeless and wonderful memory to keep.
Sadly my days in Cairo passed too quickly and all too soon I had to return to the UAE – but Ihab is keen to plan a longer trip for us both and Dusty so watch this space. I have to say he’s done a superb job of bringing the lovely old Land Rover back to life and it was a real pleasure to see the “Ugly Duckling” of our little group finally grow into the beautiful swan she should be!
Thanks so much Ihab for making this happen 🙂