In the fall of 1956, Bristol Foster was itching to get out and explore the world. He had recently finished his masters degree in biology at the University of Toronto. Foster immediately thought of his friend, Robert Bateman as an ideal travel companion. The two men mapped out a trip that involved crossing four continents. They only needed a vehicle.
“… it had to be a Land Rover,” says Bristol Foster. So they ordered a 1957 Series I with an ambulance body. Foster went to Solihull to pick up the Rover, and get trained on their off road course. Bateman arrived later and they took the Series I on a shake down trip through Scotland.
Foster & Bateman set off for Africa with the newly christened Grizzly Torque. They had agreed to send regular articles and illustrations documenting their trip back to the Toronto Telegram, where they became known as The Rover Boys.
The Rover Boys had a very loose schedule. There was a general direction they meant the trip to follow, but the route taken from Point A to Point B was by no means a straight line. They were free to do as they wished, at a time when this type of travel was ideal. Today, it would be virtually impossible to make the same trek. Not only due to safety concerns, but the difficulty of getting visas throughout the area.
In the Belgian Congo, the little four cylinder engine whined from the excessive load. Some thirty members of the Mbuti tribe were crammed into and onto the Land Rover along with the two Canadians up front. They bounced along a forest track, with the tribe members laughing and singing traditional hunting songs. Foster and Bateman were in Africa, on an adventure of a lifetime. Robert Bateman, thinking back on that time said, “One of the greatest senses of freedom I think we’ve ever had.”
Bateman, now a renown Canadian artist and naturalist, painted small murals along the body of the Grizzly Torque, documenting the places they traveled through. The artwork is stunning, and no doubt caused some excitement with the people they met along the way.
The trip was not without unexpected “adventures”. The Grizzly Torque was flipped over on its side in India, after swerving to avoid a bicyclist. A window was lost in the crash, and was replaced with plexiglass.
In total, The Rover Boys traveled over 60,000 kms, through 19 countries, on 4 continents over 14 months with their Grizzly Torque. The trip ended in Australia with the Land Rover being shipped back to Vancouver after traveling throughout the Australian Outback. From there, the Grizzly Torque continued to be well traveled.
Foster used it on what was then known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, as he pursued his doctorate. It was eventually sold to a student studying peccaries in Texas. The student was raising a juvenile eagle at the time, and the raptor learned to perch up front between the seats. As an adult, the eagle rode happily along, all across the state of Texas, on various expeditions. The student returned to British Columbia with the Land Rover, where he sold the Grizzly Torque to a rancher. Things become murky after that. At some point, the well traveled Land Rover gets sand blasted down to bare metal, painted light blue, losing the wonderful murals, and its identity. The old Rover then spends decades out of the public view.
Stuart Longair now enters the story. A rancher has four old Land Rovers out in a field, and he wants them gone. Longair, has been a Land Rover cult member from an early age, since riding along with his father in a Series I as a young boy. He buys all four Rovers, sight unseen. The now, faded blue Grizzly Torque, spends the next decade out in another field. Then Longair comes across an old picture of Foster & Bateman with the Grizzly Torque, and he starts to wonder about the neglected Rover he purchased over a decade ago. Longair gets a hold of Bristol Foster, and convinces him to come out and look over the blue Rover. Foster immediately recognized the Grizzly Torque under all of the neglect, but to make sure he went over to the driver’s side door, and found that it was still fitted with the replacement plexiglass from India.
Now that Longair knew that he had a piece of not only Land Rover history, but Canadian history too, he went about restoring the Grizzly Torque. Working off of old photos, Robert Bateman himself, repainted the Rover’s murals along the flat sides.
Photos credit: Bristol Foster & Robert Bateman; Video credit: Land Rover