Pan-American Highway Land Rover team returns to complete 1961 voyage

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Media captionThe original trip in 1960 was filmed by Mike Andrews

More than 50 years after they came agonisingly close to completing "the ultimate road trip", three adventurers are set to return to Alaska in a bid to finish the last leg of the 40,000-mile journey in the same battered Land Rover which almost took them across the Americas.

By December 1961, a small team of Cambridge graduates, squashed into a Series 2 model, had travelled for 15 months along the Pan-American Highway.

Starting at the southern tip of Argentina, the group travelled through 17 different countries until they finally reached the most northerly US state.

But just 500 miles short of the Arctic Circle, the road came to an end at Fairbanks, Alaska, and they were beaten back by the harsh winter.

Mike Andrews, Ben Mackworth-Praed and Martin Hugh-Jones had to admit defeat and sold their Land Rover to a car dealer in Anchorage to cover their fares home.

Image copyright Mike Andrews
Image caption Martin Hugh-Jones, Andy Bacon, Mike Andrews and Ben Mackworth-Praed in front of the Darwin Cordillera mountains

Mr Mackworth-Praed chronicled the moment in his book, Year with Three Summers: "Even for $1,850, we were sorry to part with it; we knew every bolt in the frame, every rattle, and could interpret its noises like an oracle. But we had to get home, and there was a heavy bill coming for air tickets."

The vehicle had certainly been put through its paces on the route, which would have been largely off-road at the time.

The "Cambridge TransAmerican Expedition" set out from Buenos Aires in September 1960, travelled throughout Argentina down to Tierra Del Fuego, then up through South America, the US and Canada up to Alaska.

Image copyright Mike Andrews
Image caption The Pan-American Highway was largely unpaved in 1960

Mr Andrews and Mr Mackworth-Praed were engineering graduates, invited to help with car maintenance, while vets Andy Bacon and Martin Hugh-Jones carried out epidemiological studies of cattle and sheep throughout Latin America.

Their adventures included crossing the Andes 15 times, searching out new animal populations and archaeological sites, a week with the Welsh colony in Patagonia and negotiating treacherous conditions during an Alaskan ice storm.

Image copyright Mike Andrews
Image caption There were no bridges across this river in Costa Rica and the team had to be pulled through by oxen

The Land Rover was pulled by oxen through a river in Costa Rica, driven along railway tracks to stop it sinking on salt flats between Chile and Bolivia and had the paint sand-blasted off it by strong winds as they drove into Patagonia. It had carried them across mountains, deserts, forests, rivers and salt flats,

"The sheer difficulty of travel was considerable. The Land Rover basically disintegrated en route - we broke practically every part of it. We got to Alaska and it had to have major rebuilds because the roads were appalling," Mr Andrews said.

"The roads were so bad that our heads were constantly banging on the roof."

While the vehicle had been put through its paces - springs, shock absorbers and other parts were constantly replaced on the trip - its aluminium bodywork did not rust.

Image copyright Mike Andrews
Image caption It was the icy roads in Alaska that ended the original 1961 expedition

On the 50th anniversary of the trip, Mr Andrews wrote a piece for Land Rover Owner International magazine.

To his astonishment, the vehicle's current owner, based in Anchorage, Alaska, recognised the expedition's logo, which had survived on its side since.

The Pan-American Highway - the "world's ultimate road trip"

  • At 48,000km (30,000 miles) , it is the world's longest driveable road
  • Travel guide Lonely Planet describes the journey as the "mother of all road trips"
  • It stretches from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska to Ushuaia on Tierra Del Fuego, an island off the tip of Argentina
  • The Darien Gap - an area of mountains and jungle between Panama and Colombia - is the only section that cannot be driven through

"It was pretty derelict at the time," Mr Andrews said, "but in the five years since the vehicle has been renovated by [Land Rover enthusiast] Eddie Angel and, amazingly, all three of us who drove it to Alaska in 1961 are all going out there again."

Mr Andrews, 76, from Bristol, a retired executive producer with the BBC's Natural History Unit, and his fellow adventurers Mr Mackworth-Praed, 79, and Prof Martin Hugh-Jones, 79, will join a small convoy of vintage Land Rovers for the journey from Fairbanks, Alaska, to Prudhoe Bay, on the Arctic Coast in August. Sadly, their teammate Mr Bacon has since died.

The trip has been organised by Mr Angel and photo-journalist Michael Rudd, who will be documenting the journey.

They have been documenting the Land Rover's repair on Facebook and say it will "retain all its battle scars and bruises". They say the vehicle, despite its vast mileage, is "very solid and will need just basic maintenance to drive the rest of the voyage".

While road conditions have generally improved, Mr Andrews is not expecting a smooth ride.

The Dalton Highway is essentially a huge dirt track, which featured in the first episode of the BBC series "World's Most Dangerous Roads".

Image copyright Mike Andrews
Image caption Mike Andrews is looking forward to the trip

They will have to dodge oil tankers and mosquitoes, and avoid skidding on the gravel road in a 55-year-old Land Rover that has not had an easy life.

Mr Andrews said he was a bit anxious he might get to Alaska and find the 4x4 "won't move." But he said its owner, Mr Angel, is a Land Rover enthusiast, so they are in "good hands".

"I think it will be brilliant," he said.

"You could call it the trip of a lifetime.

"I was the baby of the team - I'm 76 now, the other two are 79 - the challenge I think will be to stay awake on those endless gravel roads," he said.

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