Perk of the job.
A phone call secures a job with an Oil Company - in Libya.
The thing I enjoy most about my job, as a photographer, is that you never quite know where the next job will be. A call from an oil company to ask me to fly out to southern Morocco for a week and photograph their operation was met with polite acceptance over the phone, whilst inside I was biting their hand off. What could be better than a spot of late summer heat in North Africa and a final glimpse of Saharan sand before the long winter months set in.
I was met at the airport by a company driver in a newish, white, 110 crew cab which sported a Safety Devices roll cage and Mantec snorkel. The driver spoke little English, but managed to convey the usual North African attitude to our favourite 4x4 ‘Good car.... strong’ a statement reinforced by a clenched fist and a great deal of nodding and smiling. We arrived at the camp, 6 tedious hours later, (I had listened with diplomatic interest to a tape of local music continuously) and through the gloom of a dust filled night, saw that the company fleet seemed to consist almost entirely of similar 110’s with a sprinkling of Toyota Land Cruisers and Hilux pick ups.
Quizzing my English contact there he confirmed the company had bought 150 new Land Rovers, all to the same spec., the previous year. All were powered by the venerable 300 Tdi, the Td5 being too sophisticated for the skills of their in house repair shop. For me it was going to be interesting to see just how new Land Rovers faired in desert conditions piloted by local drivers who had driven on sand since they first wobbled along on a bicycle and were now in command of £30,000 worth of Land Rover! This could be a real life, back to back, comparison of three leading desert trucks.
For the first day’s work I was assigned a young driver in a Toyota Hilux. As Hasan twirled the steering wheel and shifted gears, negotiating small dunes and wadis with the same ease we would attach to entering a supermarket car park, I hung on and came to the conclusion that the Hilux felt a bit underpowered and not very comfortable. When he floored the accelerator, not much happened and he had to play the gearbox with enthusiasm.
For the next two days I was out with an older, more experienced driver in a 110. Ibrahim spoke a fair smattering of pigeon English and liked the Land Rover. He said it felt light to drive and this gave it an advantage over the Land Cruiser. He was a very smooth driver and the 110 seemed to just glide over the sand on it’s 9.00 x 15 inch sand tyres. It was odd for me to travel in a ‘new’ Land Rover, both of my own being ancient. There were no familiar rattles and most of the dust stayed outside. Whatever next! As I am usually driving it was good to sample the passenger experience and the 110 was more relaxed than the Hilux. The big coil springs soaked up the bumps and the engine had adequate power to pull it through most situations.
Back at base I went along to the workshops to chat to the guys who maintained the entire fleet. Head mechanic, Maltese Steve, ran the show out of a well equipped portacabin. All the servicing work was done outside as the chance of rain was almost zero. I asked him what the typical faults were with all the 4x4s. He replied that all of them were pretty reliable and the main problems were caused by inexperienced drivers. Burnt out clutches were a favourite. Roll overs were far more common than he would like, hence the cages. These were always as a result of driving too fast in unsuitable places. The oddest bit of routine maintenance was having to annually change both headlights and the windscreen due to the sand storms etching them to such an extent that they became opaque!
My return journey to the Airport was by Land Cruiser and the first 2 hours across sand gave me a chance to form an opinion on this, the local’s favourite. 4.5 litres certainly kicks up some dust and it was supremely comfortable, especially for back seat passengers with a legroom advantage over the Land Rover, but I have to say that I felt it’s ability to traverse the desert was no better, merely equal to that of the 110. It was when he rejoined the highway and cruised at a very sedate 95 mph that the difference was more pronounced.