Camel Trophy began in 1980 with three German teams driving Jeeps along the infamous Transamazonica Highway from Belem to Santarem in Brazil. Planned as a one-off promotional event, Camel Trophy caught the imagination of all those who saw the images from this first journey. Subsequent events were held every year until 1998. A final waterborne Camel Trophy event was held in 2000.
The Camel Trophy grew from humble beginnings to become the most famous event of its kind in the world, a unique combination of adventure, expedition and competition. It spawned a "brand" inspired by the powerful "Camel Trophy Spirit" shown by those who participated in the events.
Camel Trophy often defies definition. Asked to describe Camel Trophy, the Event Director for ten years, Iain Chapman, used these words:
"Neither a race nor a rally, Camel Trophy was first and foremost an adventurous expedition. It did include an element of competition where participating teams could test their 4x4 driving and mechanical skills, endurance, courage, stamina, perseverance and resilience against the worst that nature could offer."
"The main emphasis of Camel Trophy was more toward testing human endurance and adaptability than pure competition. All participants were amateur and anyone, over the age of 21 from a participating nation could apply to take part – provided they did not hold a competition driving license or were full-time serving members of the military. The essentials were fitness, common sense and an adventurous spirit."
As the event developed over the years, thousands of hopeful candidates applied each year for the much sought after places. Each country had the responsibility of reducing national applicants to a final short-list of four. This was generally done along the lines of regional, district and national selection events lasting, variously, from one day to a week depending on the country concerned.
The four finalists from each participating country were eventually brought together to take part in the final international selections, a week of intense physical and mental scrutiny by an expert team of assessors, to decide which two national representatives were destined to take part in the forthcoming Camel Trophy.
"The beautifully shot stills and videos in the ad campaigns sold us on the idea that there was more to life than the daily grind, that there was a big, wide world out there that we could go explore, even in the late 20th century."
"The reality was even better. Gather the fittest and brightest young men and women from around the world, give them identical vehicles and equipment, and let them loose on the wildest and toughest terrain out there. Mud and sand, bogs and dunes, giant trees or not a blade of green at all, the organisers went out of their way, literally, to scout the world’s most inhospitable places. The Amazon, the Congo, Borneo, Patagonia, Siberia, the Maya heartland, all locales whose names alone would excite Indiana Jones as well as wannabes."
"And the best, really best part, was the teamwork that got everyone and every car through each seemingly impassable obstacle. Russians working alongside French helping Japanese and Portuguese, all communicating with some English and a shared love of adventure. When the finale was over and the trophies handed out, what really remained for the participants and fans was not who won or did not win, but the extraordinary experiences they had shared along the way."
Paul Si, Malaysian journalist, Camel Trophy '93
The history of Camel Trophy is gathered together here for the first time. Some of the most authoritative information comes from Iain Chapman, former Director of Sponsorship & Special Events for WBI Inc., the main sponsor of Camel Trophy. For ten years, Iain held the prestigious but responsible position of "Event Director" of Camel Trophy. In 2015 Iain was awarded Honorary Membership of Camel Trophy Club in recognition of the pivotal role he played.