Rediscovery: An Italian Adventurer Who’s Reunited With His 1991 Camel Trophy Land Rover
Story by Alex Byles
Photography by Marco Annunziata
The 1991 edition of the Camel Trophy (held between 1980 and 2000) saw the off-road event return to the African mainland after eight years in other parts of the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. Covering 1600km from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to the finish in Bujumbura, Burundi, the route for the 1991 Trophy followed challenging yet spectacular scenery. Retracing the epic adventure of Scottish explorer David Livingstone who set out in 1866 to discover the source of the Nile, a record 17 teams participated, carried in their respective exploration by the Land Rover Discovery 200Tdi Series 1.
1991 was also Carlo Rinaldi’s first attempt, driving (and climbing and crawling) for Italy alongside his compatriot Emilio Previtali.
“Participating in the Camel Trophy was the dream of many off-road enthusiasts of that era,” says Carlo, who had been preparing for such a trial for many years. Beginning with a scrambler motorcycle, Carlo learned to drive at the age of 16 in his father’s Fiat 600, but by then was already tackling his share of off-road excursions in a Fiat Campagnola AR59.
“My experience of off-road driving also included military service, where I also used the same legendary Fiat 4×4 when I was posted with the glorious Tuscania Battalion of the Carabinieri Paratroopers, a famous unit within the Italian army,” Carlo explains.
But moving to Australia afterwards to work in the oil and gas industry presented him with the opportunity for his first serious, long-distance off-road adventure. Driving alone, Carlo traveled from Adelaide to Alice Spring to a natural gas extraction area not far from the Uluru monolith—Ayers Rock—in a journey that spanned nearly 1500km of terrain.
These experiences primed Carlo’s ambition, and he began applying for entry to the Camel Trophy, trying no less than five times before he was accepted on his sixth attempt. Impressively, Carlo’s appearance at the 1991 Camel Trophy was one of his first major competitive 4×4 events.
“I had previously competed in motorbike events,” he elaborates, “but in 1986 I participated in the Titan Rally and I trained to compete in the Pharaohs Rally but unfortunately because of work commitments I had to temporarily abandon the dream.”
His preparation for the 1991 Camel Trophy rested on a solid foundation and great ambition, and by the start of the event he had also driven off-road throughout Nigeria, Turkey, Morocco, and Tunisia.
“During the winter I trained on the beach for hours,” Carlo recalls, “I drove on dirt roads between Tuscany and its neighboring rural and hilly regions, Umbria, Marche, and Lazio. To recreate the conditions I knew I would face in the event in Africa, I made sure that I tired myself out during the day and then by night practiced driving in the dark, dead tired.”
Meanwhile, Carlo was familiarizing himself with the Land Rover Discovery along with the exhausted version of himself that would be piloting it, and in 1990 purchased his first example, a two-door model that he used for work. It was the beginning of his love affair with the Discovery.
“At the 1991 Camel Trophy itself, I remember the feeling of pride with which I was called to represent Italy in a world event. Alongside the driving, I have strong memories of nature and all of Africa’s animals which I saw along the way—bathing with hippos, for example.”
Camel Trophy enthusiasts of the day also rated Carlo and Emilio’s chances highly—as did fellow crew members, as Carlo explains, “Earlier on in the event we reached some heavily flooded areas. But after reading the maps I was able to navigate the route around, and the other crews followed my directions.”
Unfortunately, the Rinaldi-Previtali pairing didn’t have the same fortunes throughout the remainder of the route.
“Emilio and I were certainly very strong contenders, but unfortunately because of some errors due to the bad translation of English we made some irreconcilable mistakes,” Carlo remembers. “With the cancellation of some special tests later in the event, we had even less of a chance of recovery in the standings, and unfortunately we were unable to rank among the first finishers.”
Carlo explains that he and Emilio developed a good rapport with the teams from Greece and Switzerland, but the arduous nature (literally and figuratively) of the Trophy made relaxed moments an impossibility after the initial days.
“After five consecutive days, I think I had slept maybe five hours combined, and we didn’t have time to do anything leisurely. We had been far behind since the first vehicles had destroyed the track that crossed the savannah.”
Ultimately, the Turkish crew of Menderes Utku and Bülent Özler took both the Camel Trophy and Team Spirit Award, meanwhile the inaugural presentation of the Special Tasks Award went to the Austrian duo of Joseph Altman and Peter Widhalm.
Despite the rigors of 1600km of challenging African topography, Carlo’s Discovery remained in good condition, and was one of the best preserved at the close of the event, not least because of Carlo’s sympathetic driving style, as he explains, “I had treated it very carefully. I am always very attentive to driving when I am in nature because I depend on the car, and if it’s seriously damaged, it’s not possible to continue at any speed.”
On reaching an obstacle, Carlo’s cautious approach was always evident to those around him. “I always moved first on foot to understand if there were obstacles that could damage the car, and only then did I continue. Furthermore, let’s not forget that we are guests on this wonderful planet, and as guests we must first of all be respectful. To minimize the damage to nature when traveling off-road, you must always try and drive without letting the tires slip by studying the terrain to understand the preferable route. For this reason, reconnaissance on foot or by motorbike is fundamental to how I drive.”
Following the event, R.J. Reynolds—the parent owner of the Camel brand—wanted today’s equivalent of around €30,000 for purchase of the Land Rovers after the event, and as such, Carlo’s Discovery was purchased by a private buyer in 1995, and five years later Carlo began to realize that he needed it back in his life.
“I had been in contact with the previous owner via Facebook since 2011, and in 2012 I made him an unsuccessful offer. Then, in December 2014 after two months of negotiations, we finally concluded the deal.”
Carlo explains that the previous owner had also been an avid traveler, and had modified the luggage rack to house a roof tent to use during his adventures in typical overlanding, globetrotting style. And it wasn’t just for a quick Instagram photo of the tent deployed in the nearest state park, either. “When I got it back, the odometer read about 200,000km!”
When I ask Carlo how his Discovery is different today compared to its original condition nearly 30 years ago, he is quick with the answer, and a story.
“It is exactly the same as it appears in the photos taken in the 1991 Camel Trophy, identical. I replaced the luggage rack with its original dimensions and removed the double shock absorbers on the rear deck, which had also been added by the previous owner. I changed a door that had rusted, the headlights, the muffler, the springs, the wood from the luggage rack and the luggage compartment as well. I repositioned my original Pelican suitcases and an aluminum case, then had it repainted in the original Sandglow yellow—but as if 25 years had passed. Finally, I reapplied all the Camel Trophy and various sponsor stickers to bring it back to the state I first met it in.”
Could the original design have been improved in any way?
“I would only have lightened it, because it behaved excellently on the various routes we faced in Tanzania and Burundi,” Carlo continues, “The elasticity of the chassis really is one of the Discovery’s strong points.”
He also notes some other features specific to the Trophy spec setup, which included an anti-reflective matte black bonnet, bull bar with Hella headlights, Superwinch electric winch, sump guard, two tow hooks on the front bumper, a suction snorkel, and an internal roll bar.
Though his memories—and his garage—were most impacted by the 1991 Camel Trophy, it was not Carlo’s only participation. He was invited back for the 1992 event, that time as a support driver for the Italian team in a Defender 110. The ’92 event was held in Brazil and Guyana, and was an eventful journey in its own right. “I was stopped by a tree branch that wanted to get on board without opening the doors, but instead by spearing itself through the front windscreen to end up in the back seat!”
Carlo has since made a long off-road tour of Spain in his beloved Discovery, and he’s also keen to return to Africa to tour Namibia where he says he’s more likely to hire a 4×4 rather than take his Land Rover back for a second round.
“How about hiring a modern Land Rover?” I ask him.
“I would like to try the new Defender in my own way and see how it compares, although I’ve already seen a lot of plastic and too many electronics, and I know I won’t be able to get to grips with it, unless in the meantime I get a degree in electronic engineering! Essential for me on an off-road vehicle are very little electronics, excellent mobility on any type of terrain, and a tireless engine.” I agree that it’s hard to argue with or improve on that formula.
Livingstone never did find the source of the Nile on his quest in the 19th century, however, his endeavors showed that the significance of the journey is often greater than its originally intended destination. Carlo didn’t win the 1991 Camel Trophy either, but the memory of his experiences, and the fact that he still enjoys making new ones today in the very same Discovery are worth more than any trophies in the proverbial case.