The Dubai Road Express
In the late 1960s and into the 70s, a few daring men drove what became legendary truck routes – the Bandar Abbas Express and the Dubai Road Express, transporting parts to ships stuck in the Gulf due to conflict and unrest in the Middle East.
From snow-covered mountain passes to the scorching desert heat, it was a small band of intrepid drivers that chose to venture into the unknown, driving across unpaved desert and relying at times on handmade maps that they filled in as they went along.
Revisiting the 1976 Dubai Road Express film produced for Scania, we take a trip down memory lane with some of these brave and now legendary truck drivers, looking back at a unique moment in the history of trucking.
This is the story of a handful of tough, ground-breaking drivers behind the wheel of some of the most reliable trucks ever made; vehicles that served as their trusted companions, transporting them thousands of kilometres from home.
Living Two Lives
Meet Jan Dabrowski as he begins the ultimate long-distance truck route: 9,000 km between Norway and Dubai.
In 1976, Scania commissioned a film to document the maiden trucking journey between Norway and Dubai on a route called the Dubai Road Express. More than four decades later, this film has become a piece of history.
The year prior, Norwegian trucking company Johan Evensen & Sønner had completed its last of 106 journeys to Bandar Abbas on the southern coast of Iran, and was looking for new opportunities.
It was the next year, when the tanker Serpens Constellation had an unexpected breakdown in the middle of the Atlantic, that Jan was given the mission of a lifetime. A necessary spare part, made in Norway, needed to be delivered to Dubai, where the ship could pick it up while en route into the Persian Gulf.
For the drivers of such routes, leaving home meant being away from their families for weeks at a time, often without knowing exactly when they would be back or what challenges they would encounter along the way.
“We were living two lives,” says Mick Dunstan, who completed numerous trips between Europe and the Middle East, driving as far as Pakistan at one point, during the 1970s and 80s.
While this will be Jan’s first trip to Dubai, it’s not his first long-haulage trip to the Middle East. He has previously driven the Bandar Abbas Express route four years earlier.
2000 Miles to Doha
For Jan, and all the drivers travelling between Europe and Asia, Istanbul and the Bosporus Strait are where the real adventure begins.
Away from family and home for a month, often reliant on their own creativity and courage, the drivers’ life on the road is both repetitive and full of surprises. Borders, paperwork, relentless heat, sand, and more paperwork.
“Everyone wanted money out of you,” says Mick.
While navigating could be a challenge, towns and overturned cars serve as landmarks for the drivers.
The end of the road
With no map or no road signs, there’s a very good chance that a truck driver might get lost in the desert. And there´s little chance of help if something should happen.
Because here, between Doha, Qatar, and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, even the local drivers got lost. “Fourteen people are said to have simply vanished out there in less than a year. I´m not scared, but you have to admit, it´s quite a challenge,” Jan says.
The major cities of the Gulf – Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi – are today filled with ultramodern highways and towering skyscrapers. It’s hard to imagine now, but when Jan made his journey in 1976, there was no paved road connecting Doha and Dubai.
Three feet at a time
“Really, I should have turned back and bought some new tyres. But I didn´t give it that much thought. If you´re an explorer, you´re an explorer. And there´s only one way – forward.”
Stuck in the desert sand, two flat tyres and only two spares, there’s no margin if another tyre goes flat. In the days before mobile phones – and there would be no signal here anyway – Jan’s decision has life or death consequences.
“I saw men abandoning their trucks. I saw a grown man cry, lots stronger and tougher than me. You know, do I want to go any further?” says Mick.
Alone in the desert and with a Robson Drive that did not work in the heat, Jan’s only choice is to drive a little, dig himself out of the sand with a shovel, and drive a little more.
For the sake of adventure
“He seemed to be one of those people who liked challenges and doing new things,” says veteran driver Ole Johnny Evensen when asked about Jan.
Having faced the desert head on, Jan is almost back on solid ground and nearly in Dubai. Once his cargo, a spare part for the Serpens Constellation, is on board the ship, all he has to do is drive back home, 9,000 km in the other direction.
“Turning into that yard was a terrific feeling of achievement. It made it all worth it,” says Mick.
Jan got his cargo to Dubai on time and made it home safely, but the Dubai Road Express turned out to be short-lived. Once the inaugural trip was over, transport company Johan Evensen & Sønner made the decision to cancel the route. The loose sand between Doha and Dubai, accompanied by relentless heat that disabled important support systems, meant the route was just not worth the trouble.
In the end, Evensen & Sønner’s trucks and drivers drove more than 1.7 million kilometres between Europe and the Middle East in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The two trucking routes have earned their place among the most legendary and difficult in history.
“I would have gladly carried on driving down there until today,” says Tore Sam Sorensen, who was on the inaugural Bandar Abbas Express trip in 1969. “I really would.”
A special thanks to drivers Tore Sam Sørensen, Ole Johnny Evensen, Mick Dunstan and Peter Hamer for their participation in this project. This project also would not have been possible without the support of Johan Evensen & Sønner, whose book Bandar Abbas Express, written by Jørgen Seemann Berg, provides an in-depth history of the route and has been an invaluable resource.
All archive video material comes from Scania’s own collection, and still images featured in the videos have been provided courtesy of Mick Dunstan and Johan Evensen & Sønner.