In 1951, we took a Land Rover from Calcutta to Calais, crossing countries and continents on a 6000-mile road trip
29 January 2016

With the current Land Rover Defender's time on this Earth now at a close, we remember one of our epic road trips - taking an original Land Rover all the way from Calcutta to Calais.

Land-Roving from India

This article first appeared in Autocar on 14 September 1951, words by W.P. Mitchell

Our trip took 26 days overland from Calcutta to Calais in a Land Rover lent by a Calcutta garage. With Jimmy Mandle, the co-driver, and myself, the outfit left for Delhi on April 21 this year.

There had been next to no planning, and our only map was one to a scale of one in five million, of U.S. Air Corp origin. Equipment included a heater and an extra fuel tank - total capacity with some Jerricans 38 gallons.

The extra range proved necessary! By way of the Grand Trunk road, we got to Delhi on April 24 by a route including Benares, Allahabad and Kanpur. The first real stop was at Lorelai, in Pakistan, after 1,000 miles. 

No water or fuel was available on the desert road to Iran, and at night warm flying jackets were required, after the midday 106 deg F.

Even inhabitants were scarce, and the half-dozen we did see seemed to have come from nowhere. High spots on the route to Teheran, which we made by May 2, were a 16-hour wait for a police permit at Duzdap, and 80 miles of road crossed by foot-deep watercourses on the way to Meshed. On the whole, Persia have the dampers and springs about as bad a time as can be imagined.  

In a Persian Black Market 

Anything can happen in this region, and when we needed money the bank at Teheran advised us to try the black market. "A much better rate", it was explained to us. In fact, the black market was installed in the bank's main hall. There was a charming Englishman who dealt in opium, too... "Men are unwise, and curiously planned," in the words of Hassan, and with the polite but awkward police we did not leave until May 3. 

After Tabriz, an unplanned detour took us almost into the arms of Mother Russia, for Julfa - and we were within three miles of it - is on the border. Hill roads, at night, and with thunderstorms for full measure, conducted us to Khoi, on the Turkish border.

Military posts in Persia had delayed us; usually the officer was lonely and we took tea with him, but in Turkey everyone was friendly, and the roads were good. We enjoyed a glimpse of the first real green vegetation since India; 6,273 miles were on the clock by Istanbul, and 1½ pints of oil had consumed. We had crossed the Bosphorus by ferry and enjoyed a Turkish bath.  

High Danger 

Then Greece; and the route from the frontier at Orestias was memorably rough. We were nearly arrested on a mountain by a Greek corporal (he borrowed a rifle for the purpose) en route for the Yugoslav border town of Idomenhe.

A guard with dismantled Sten gun escorted us over a road which (quite understandably) no one used. The route to Belgrade, once we were in, was fast, and from Belgrade to Zagreb we averaged 46mph. On May 14 we touched three countries, Yugoslavia, Italy, which we entered briefly, and then Austria. The Rover's low gear was required on some of the mountain roads here. 

At Mozart's birthplace, Salzburg, a pass from the U.S. authorities allowed us to go on to Munich. The strain was beginning to tell by now, and we were somewhat drastically assisted into France by benzedrine. We came by Metz, Lille, and then to Calais. 

A puncture occurred, after a puncture-proof trip, only fifty miles from Calais, and this was the only mechanical trouble of the whole trip. We came into the port on May 17, and by now the mileage was 8,825.

Apart from customs delays, and about four hours pleasantly spent in Salzburg, we had come without a real halt, and the average consumption worked out at between 21 and 27mpg, according to the cruising speed chosen. The Land Rover had used less than a gallon of water.

Read more:

Land Rover Defender Special - the four most extreme Defenders ever made

Our Verdict

Land Rover Defender
The chassis and body are hugely strong and should last a lifetime. The detailing, such as the interior trim, is dreadful

The Land Rover Defender is an institution and unbeatable off road, if crude on it

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