Zaire 1983

Camel Trophy moved to Africa for the first time in 1983 to the huge 900,000 square kilometre country of Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country's dictatorial president, Mobutu Sese Seko, hosted the event with the aim of bringing prominence to the beleaguered region.

This year saw a change in vehicle type, but not manufacturer, with the Land Rover Series III 88" making its debut and replacing Range Rover on the event. Support was provided by a number of Series III 109" vehicles. The 2.25l diesel-engined vehicles were fairly standard. The engines were fitted with "hot climate packs" from the options list, consisting of 8-bladed fans, twin fan belts, an oil cooler and cooling fan shrouds. They were fully kitted out with roof-racks, winches, bridging ladders, steering guards, jerry-can mounts and additional lighting.

The USA was not represented in 1983 but their place was eagerly snapped up by new entries from Portugal and Hong Kong. With this increase in the number of national teams participating, it was deemed preferable to restrict the numbers of teams per country to one. So seven international crews took part in the event.

Conditions on the 1,600 km drive from Kinshasa to Kisangani were extremely diverse, with terrain varying from deep mud to desert sand. However, the conditions on the ground paled in comparison with the searing temperatures that topped 48 degrees C with a suffocating 95% humidity. The conditions eventually took their toll on the seven teams as they drove their painstaking and challenging course towards Kisangani and the finish line.

On the eleventh day, Italian journalists destroyed their support 109" when they knocked over an oil stove which they were using inside the rear of the vehicle. The fire spread to the jerry cans strapped to the Land Rover. The resulting fireball caused the roof to fly off the Land Rover to a height of several feet. Luckily all those involved escaped without major injury. Amazingly, despite being gutted by fire, the engine of the vehicle still ran! The vehicle was recovered to flat ground and left be rescued.

Despite being small in comparison with some of the later events, the Camel Trophy machine was already a sizeable operation. At one point, the convoy was running low on diesel so the competitors pushed through into the night to reach a refueling point, only to find that the fuel transporter was stranded fourteen miles away through the jungle. Three of the team vehicles spent the rest of the night ferrying barrels of diesel from the stricken tanker to the camp. Later on in the event, having successfully made their way out of the jungle, the participants' Land Rovers and axes were used to lengthen a runway to allow a supply 'plane to land with much needed food and fuel.

The Camel Trophy doctor proved to be a valuable asset not just to the teams, but also to the local villagers as he administered medical aid and held clinics in small villages along the route, the first recorded incidence of what was to become a fairly normal Camel Trophy procedure in the coming years.

16 days after leaving the Zaire capital, the expedition reach Kisangani. The group had spent the early morning setting up a wildlife monitoring post in the light of headlamps.

Camel Trophy 1983 was won in spectacular fashion by the team of Henk Bont and Franz Heij from Holland, with Portugal and Hong Kong as runners-up

Only the burnt-out 109" failed to make it to the finish line, once again proving the Land Rover's toughness and reliability over the toughest conditions the world has to offer. As was the practice in the early days of the Camel Trophy, none of the vehicles were returned to the UK. Some were sold off through the African Land Rover dealer network but most were donated to charities and wildlife reserves. Some were broken up for spares. It is not known if any survive.


  • Team vehicles: Land Rover Series III 88"
  • Support vehicles: Land Rover Series III 109"
  • Distance: 1,640 km
  • Number of Teams: 7

Participating Countries

  • West Germany - Joachim Haessler & Dieter Geng
  • Holland - Henk Bont & Franz Heij (Camel Trophy)
  • Hong Kong - Sau-Hing Lai & Kam-Chuen Au
  • Italy - Paolo Contegiancomo & Aurelio Girelli
  • Portugal - Manuel Marques Pinto & Pedro Vilas-Boas
  • Spain - Juan de los Monteros & Manuel Rodriguez Bautista
  • Switzerland - Charles Botta & Jurg Luthi