The Desert Detectives.

The Desert Detectives. Discovering the identity of an old 109 abandoned in Morocco, with additional information by Ian Cornwall.

For the last four years I have been running Photo Safaris’ in Morocco.  Small groups of us leave Marrakech and are driven over the Atlas Mountains and south through Zagora and M’hamid to the northern edge of Algeria.  From here we head west skirting along the edge of the mighty Chegaga Dunes staying the night in a Berber Camp and eating supper under the stars.  It is all the stuff of dreams, but every year, as we leave tarmac in M’Hamid I have noticed a derelict Series 2a Land Rover 109 pick-upon the edge of the Oum Lâalag Oasis, about 12 miles into the desert.  I have always wondered what the story was.  It is certain that any other overland tourists in Morocco would also have seen it as it’s familiar image often pops up on shared photo web sites. As if it is some kind of attraction to be ticked of the list of things to see in Morocco!

The trip we made this Spring was slightly different to previous years though, in that us Land Rover fans outnumbered those to whom a Land Rover was just something occasionally seen on farms.  I had in the group Ian Cornwall, a Classic Land Rover Magazine subscriber and his wife Kathy who shares his passion for their LWB Series 3 Station Wagon and their 1952 80 inch, as well as tolerating Ian’s many other interests in such things as BSA Motor Cycles and Ceramic Insulation on overhead pylons.  Our other guest, Neil Emmott was far wiser on all things Land Rover related at the end of his week, that when we first all met in Marrakech. I like to think that all of their photography skills had improved as well.

Cruising through the soft sand, for the first time ever I asked our driver to stop at the Oasis so that Ian and I could have a really good look at the old Land Rover.  It had a certain fascination that I know readers of this magazine will share. Obviously it was a 109 Pick up, but what more could we learn? The identification plate on the inside of the bulkhead had been sand blasted away over the years so we drew a blank there and began to look for the chassis number.  Ian knew it should be on one of the front spring hangers, but they were encrusted with rust, hard sand and mud. Undeterred, we scraped away with a penknife and revealed 28504200 (or maybe 28004200).  We found out later on the very informative web site that  it was a Series 2A - 109.  The first, second and third digits refer to the model and it sits neatly in the range described on as - ‘260 to 324  Series 2a 88 inch and 109 inch’. the last 5 numbers, 04200, refer to it’s sequential number rolling off the production line sometime between 1962 and 1979.

Having established the chassis number we turned out detective skills to the engine.  This really was a challenge, for although Ian knew where it should be - stamped on a flat part of the block under the exhaust manifold, this really was like some old barnacle encrusted ships hull, but with sand and mud.  It took rather a long time to reveal it’s secrets, but Kathy and Neil were enjoying taking photographs around the Oasis, so we were not under any great pressure.  Finally, with a few skinned knuckles and smart phone torch batteries beginning to fail we agreed it was 90671073C, making it a three bearing Series 3, 2286cc diesel engine.  There were other unique features we noticed as well. A very nice and original factory fitted tropical roof on the truck cab to keep the driver and passenger a little cooler in the baking Moroccan summers. A hand throttle was fitted, so maybe it had been used to run some machinery, or a lazy driver set it to just chug through the sand. It did not have the home market dual circuit brakes, but a simple single circuit system, possibly to make field repairs easier.

Where it had been abandoned was perhaps easier to guess.  The route we use is very popular with both overlanders and tourists who are taken on excursions into the dunes for a day, or two if they camp over.  There are several small camps spread out along the Draa Valley in the lee of the dunes offering overnight camping in comfortable Berber style tents, camel rides and an opportunity to eat outside under the stars.  These camps are serviced by various 4x4s and this 109 was probably one of them until it gasped it’s last breath a few years ago. Prior to that it was probably imported as one of many ‘Rest of the World’ spec. 109s to work in construction, farming, or industry.

The Oum Lâalag  Oasis itself has a fascinating history of its own predating all 4x4’s as it lies on the Caravan route linking Timbuktu with Northern Morocco. 10 miles to the south, on the border with Algeria, is a natural pass through the mountain ridge that forms a barrier separating the two countries. 


The Camel trains, often comprising 1000 camels that had been travelling north for weeks, would stop at the Oasis to drink from the reliable water supply and trade with the inhabitants of the area.  As the 19th Century Explorer, Rohlfs said:

“and when one sees, after days of walking in the hot desert, rocky and without vegetation, a lovely greenery that grows under the protective roof of slender palms, then you almost forget the fatigue and discomfort of walking through the desert because is believed to have arrived in one of the Fortunate Isles”

Refreshed, they would continue north through Zagora, over the Atlas Mountains and to Marrakech, still the biggest Berber market in North Africa and retaining a remarkably authentic tradition of trading and street entertainment. Once their deals were done and their camels either sold, or fed, they would head back taking wares from Marrakech back down to Mali and beyond.
You can find the Land Rover at Oum Lâalag Oasis on Google Earth at N 29º52’59.8’  W 6º07’07.3”. It’s still there with a rust free chassis! If any readers can expand on this information CLR would love to hear from you.

Box out

Toby Savage runs 7 day Photo Safari’s in Morocco catering for all levels of expertise and staying in comfortable Riads throughout with the one exception of a night in a Berber tent.  It also represents a great opportunity to take a look at the country with a view to driving there yourself one day, as Ian Cornwall found. More details at


Graffiti covered and something of an overland tourist attraction, but just what secrets could this old 109 reveal to Ian Cornwall and Toby Savage

Many decades ago this route was one of many key trade routes between Mali and the Mediterranean coast. 1000’s of camels would pass through the Oum Lâalag Oasis

Some interesting features on this export model. Tropical truck cab roof and home made roll over bar

Ian Cornwall wondering how he can get this rust free chassis and bulkhead back to the UK

Clearly a long time since this 2286cc diesel engine last ran and many useful parts been taken to keep others running

After much scraping Ian and Toby found the chassis number on the front spring hanger. 28504200 confirmed it was a Series 2A.

The engine number , 90671073C, confirmed it was a 3 bearing 2286cc, diesel engine

A hand throttle was fitted and looked to be an original factory fitted part, possibly to run machinery, or used as a makeshift cruise control

Home made rubber panel presumably helped deflect dust by keeping it below the front bumper

The identity plate that could have revealed the original owner/user was sand blasted over years of standing out and had no information left to read

The brake system was only single circuit, not duel circuit, as fitted to home market versions.

Toby Savage August 2016