Range Rovers in Algeria

From the beginning, Range Rovers, tended to be used on the road. They may have been the most capable vehicle off the road but they rarely ventured anywhere more exciting than a golf club car park. No Chelsea tractors doing school runs in those days! To use one for a hard-core trip, the advantages of axle articulation and a comfortable ride outweighed the cost and unavailability of a diesel option. The cost meant that you could only afford an old one. The petrol V8 was great on the road but 15 mpg meant too short a range when you went further afield. The answer was to fit a Perkins diesel engine from a Dodge 50 series lorry. This was heavy and awkward. The conversion was challenging, involving raising the ride height at the front and changing the transfer gears. It now gave about 30 mpg and 80 mph top speed. Most of the off-road ability remained; it was probably better in this respect than many of the alternatives out there at the time.
The Sahara Dust one here (RGV 294J) was early: I cannot remember if it had been registered as a VELAR. It was converted to Perkins 4236 power and did two trips to Algeria. In 1985/86 and 1990 we went as far as Tamenrasset. The second trip took longer and was more arduous, going via Hassi Massoud, Illizi and Djanet. We took two cars for safety. The blue car (CUE 966J) was similar but not quite as old.
Was this any way to use such old and rare cars?
If anyone has seen either since, was there sand anywhere?
Range Rovers: Everything but the kitchen sink

Range Rovers: Everything but the kitchen sink

Range Rover attacking a dune

Range Rover attacking a dune

As good as it gets: a smooth

As good as it gets: a smooth “road”.


Originally published in Classic and Sportscar, July 2016


Mike  Atkinson and I had made a trip in 1985. He had bought RVG 294J a few years earlier when he was a student. It still had its original V8. Even with a overdrive, it had never bettered 16 mpg. It was always the plan to drive it in Africa. The v8 had to go. After a lot of research he decided to fit a Perkins 4.236 diesel engine. This unit was cumbersome and made 82 bhp. It didn’t have a turbo (only a few diesels did in those days). The conversion came from a firm called Milner and was somewhat involved. It included a new sump, engine mounts and a bell housing converter. In addition you had to fit high transfer gears to the gearbox and heavy duty springs to support the considerable weight and to make the sump clear the front axle. I can’t remember what you had to do with the exhaust and throttle.

Michael and I both worked for the same employer. We added remaining holiday to the Christmas and the New Year. That gave us three weeks in total. Before we left, We decided to service the car. We set into changing all the fluids. When we came to the main gearbox, we found metal fragments in the filter. The gearbox had to be repaired. By the time we had the gearbox done up and put it back in, we only had two weeks left. 

We left my parents’ after dinner having spent the whole day working on the car. We went to Dover, Algergiras, Ceuta, through Morocco, into Algeria, Ain Sefra, Reggane, over to In Saleh down to Tamanrassett and back. It was all a bit of a rush. The challenge was about the long hours of driving, rather than the difficulty of the route. We swore, that if ever we went again, we would take longer and do something more challenging.

In 1990, Mike was working in Switzerland. I was working in Kuwait, but nearing the end of the project. My phone rang. It was Mike. Would I like to drive in Sahara with two cars?”Not really: I had had enough of deserts, driving and heat. Eventually Mike persuaded me, but we needed another car the same as his.

My brother had the blue one. It wasn’t as nice as the cream one, but had the same engine conversion. I would buy it from him, not least so the documents would match the travelers.

I left Kuwait in March, after the project was finished. Just as well, as it turned out, but that’s another story!

Four of us travelled in 1990: Mike, Mike’s fiancee, Jacqueline, Paul O’Reilly and I. The original plan was that we would do lots of preparation work on CUE 966J. This would include repairing and strengthening any rusty steel structural parts, against the beating the car would get. We’d had to repair RVG 294J after we had returned last time, so that one didn’t need doing again, and we knew how important strength was. In the end all we did was to to fit an oil-bath air cleaner and take out the back seat.

After a few weeks, we set off: Dover, Marseilles, Tunis, Algeria, Touggourt, Hassi Messaoud, In Amenas, Illizi, Djanet, Tamanrassett and home via Bern. This time, the trip was challenging. The road between Illizi and Djanet proved particularly hard going. It wasn’t surfaced and went over part of the Tassili Mountain range. The road is hilly, twisty and remote. The surface is rutted basalt (or some other nasty hard black rock). Whatever we set the tyre pressures to, we had punctures. We had read somewhere to take two spare tyres each, which we did. Each evening, after dinner, we had four tyres to repair. And that wasn’t all. The cars themselves took a real beating. The battery failed, the alternator failed, the starter motor failed. The structure of the blue car failed and we ended up tying the body onto the chassis and the doors on with rope. 

Both cars were repaired and sold after the trip. If anyone knows what happened to either, please get in touch!

If you plan to go, have a look at the Sahara Handbook, (This is the latest edition. We took an earlier one), feel free to contact me, and good luck!