Sumatra 1981

Following the success of the 1980 event, applications flooded in for the ten positions on Camel Trophy 1981. Whilst still a German-only event, the five teams, consisting of eight men and two women, set out to tackle another ferocious expedition route through the forests of the Far East. The route selected, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, required the teams to drive 1,600 km across the equator from Medan in the north to Jambi in the south.

The organisers had learned well from the 1980 event and this time round selected Range Rover as being the only vehicle considered reliable and robust enough to withstand the unimaginable punishment inflicted on cars in the equatorial jungles. However, Sumatra confronted the teams with many other problems and difficulties, most notably a dramatic change in climate caused by the variety of terrain. Having started their journey in the comparatively cool volcanic mountain ranges of the north, the convoy of vehicles would then head into the tropical swamps of the south.

The competition began on 9th April 1981 in Berastegui, a small town in the north of the island. The first "bureaucratic" setback was encountered just two hours after departing when the convoy was held in Kabanhaje, the regional capital. Andreas Bender, the expedition director and his interpreter David, nicknamed King Kong, negotiated for four hours in the house of the local commander but they could not solve the problem.

Soldiers stood in front of and behind the caravan so as not to let anyone out, while children did not stop touching everything due to their curiosity. In the afternoon and only after a small "economic explanation" the convoy is allowed to continue on its way.

The second day begins with optimism with the prospect of 20 kilometres of good track. It was not to be. Forced to take an alternative route, full of carnivorous plants, the girls get stuck in a mud hole. After an hour of hard work the car is rescued under the direction of Hans Horst Fischer, who is nicknamed the "Bavarian Mountain".

The next day the convoy crossed a 500-metre wide river. After some difficulties all vehicles reached the other side. The roads are better but they have the problem of pedestrians. After overtaking a cyclist, the doctor's vehicle hangs a wheel over a 15-metre ravine. Again the Bavarian Mountain directs the rescue operation after which he asks the doctor for some medicine - whiskey!

The route crossed several semi-ruined bridges over the legendary Kwai River. The smallest mistake could have brought disaster. The crossing of an extensive quagmire presented another challenge, in which the powerful traction qualities of the vehicles were of little use, since sometimes they were completely embedded in the mud and had to resort to the use of rope and winch to advance.

The days became insufferable due to the heat. The crews are reluctant to open the windows for fear of mosquito attack.

On one road the convoy encountered a bus and a truck stuck in the middle of the track. The Bavarian Mountain asked the passengers of the bus to leave to facilitate the rescue, but the passengers refused for fear of losing their seats. In the end they are convinced and with the help of three Range Rover the monsters are released.

The participants cross the equator and the road becomes easier.

Despite the elements, all five teams finally made it through to the finish with victory going to Christian Swoboda and Knuth Mentel in what had been an extremely memorable second Camel Trophy. The idea was hatched to open Camel Trophy to international teams.


  • Team Vehicles: Range Rover V8 petrol 3-door
  • Support Vehicles: Range Rover V8 petrol 3-door
  • Distance: 1,600 km
  • Number of Teams: 5

Participating Countries

  • West Germany 1 - Christian Swoboda & Knuth Mentel (Camel Trophy)
  • West Germany 2 - Norbert Sudmann & Focke Hofmann
  • West Germany 3 - Hans Horst Fischer & Wolfgang Bays
  • West Germany 4 - Klaus J Beye & Hartwig Thees
  • West Germany 5 - Karin Stoppa & Anneliese Valldorf