The story of a humble Land Rover Series I named “Grizzly Torque” is a story of two young men who wanted to see the world. They were able to complete their journey of 60,000 kilometers and fourteen months by driving where ordinary cars could not go, and they personalized their Land Rover as they traveled from country to country with vignettes that adorned her sides.
Their story was told in the Toronto Telegram and they became known as “The Rover Boys.”
Fast Facts – The Grizzly Torque
- When Bristol Forster graduated from the University of Toronto, Canada in 1957 he wanted to have an adventure – as many young men of that era did.
- Bristol wanted to do a once in a lifetime adventure by driving around the world: he had a Biology Master’s degree and he wanted to experience nature in wild and exotic places.
- Bristol had a friend of many years named Robert Bateman. Robert’s passion was art and when Bristol suggested he could come on a drive-yourself around the world adventure the artist in him jumped at the opportunity.
- The plan was to pick up a Land Rover customized for the journey from the Solihull factory and then take it to Africa to drive across to Dar Es Salaam and then put the Land Rover on a ship to India, drive through India and South East Asia to Singapore, then by ship to Australia, across Australia, and then home to Canada by ship with their by that time slightly grubby and travel worn Land Rover, to which they’d become a bit attached at that stage.
Escape From School
Bristol Forster graduated from the University of Toronto, Canada, in 1957 and it came to him that he had spent most of his life in schools of one kind or another and that he had not yet really tried to explore the world.
Bristol’s close friend Robert Bateman had likewise graduated and then obtained a teaching job – he too had effectively graduated from schooling, and then gone back into school as a teacher.
Bristol decided that it could be made possible for a couple of young men with a bit of guts and some cash behind them to make an around the world journey with a decent chance of surviving it. He put his idea to Robert who agreed and so the germ of an idea was turned into reality by careful planning and some assistance from Bristol’s businessman father.
There were others in that post-war period who had the idea of making major around the world journeys: arguably the most mad having been Ben Carlin’s effort to go around the world in an amphibious Ford GPA “Jeep”. Ben Carlin’s Ford GPA which he called “Half-Safe” nowadays takes pride of place in the foyer of Western Australia’s Guildford Grammar school, presumably to serve as both an inspiration for students to try to bring their dreams into reality, and also to serve as a warning that some dreams might just try to kill you – hence the name “Half-Safe”.
Bristol and Robert wanted to be able to enjoy a safe journey and did not attempt a circumnavigation like Ben Carlin’s but took sensible advice about where to go and how to get there.
The decision was made to use a Land Rover for their journey, and to do the sea crossings on board cargo/passenger ships which are a lot more seaworthy than a Ford GPA.
Grizzly Torque Takes Shape
The Land Rover Series I was a vehicle that had been designed from the ground up to be a vehicle for travel to remote places. It had been designed to be owner repairable regardless of where you were, in fact it was possible to do an engine overhaul with the cylinder block still in the vehicle. Some repairs required ingenuity, but by and large it was a vehicle that presented the least level of difficulty to repair.
Bristol’s father offered to support the journey but required both Bristol and Robert to raise $2,000 each to contribute. This was a lot of money back in 1957 but both were able to accomplish it.
The other requirement was that Bristol and Robert would document their travels, with written accounts, photography and film. These were of course the days before digital technology and so these tasks had to be accomplished on a manual typewriter, film camera, and 16 mm movie film camera: and the fruits of their efforts had to be sent by “snail mail” back to Canada, where their stories would be published by the Toronto Telegram as a series about “The Rover Boys”.
The vehicle for the journey was ordered from Land Rover complete with a custom modified ambulance body made by coachbuilder Pilchers. Optional extras on the vehicle included an aluminium gear tray on the roof, heater/demister, windscreen sun-visor, sliding roof hatch over the passenger seat, wind-up side windows, storage compartments, front mounted fuel can brackets, and a capstan style winch.
The capstan winch for the Series 1 Land Rover was different to the winches typical of modern four-wheel-drives. It rotated horizontally and required the operator to wrap the rope around it and maintain a pull on it as it drew the vehicle towards the rope’s anchor point.
Interestingly Land Rover only charged for the base Land Rover and not for the custom modifications, so they injected some sponsorship into the expedition.
Bristol also did the Land Rover course which taught him what he needed to know about off-road driving, and how to strip the Land Rover apart and put it back together again, so he was capable and confidently able to do any repairs that were needed on the journey.
Bristol and Robert picked up their new Land Rover Series I from the factory in Solihull, England, and first took it for a bit of a “shake-down” journey up into Scotland to make sure they were both confident with it before they put the vehicle onto a ship and sailed away to Africa.
Robert had not been comfortable with driving the Land Rover because it was a vehicle he did not own and he wanted to avoid any problems that might have occurred if he damaged it. So he and Bristol had agreed that Bristol would do the driving and Robert would do the cooking and camp chores. It was to be an arrangement that would work out well.
On To Africa
The expedition began in earnest in Ghana on Africa’s west coast. Then on to Nigeria, the Cameroons, French Equatorial Africa, the Belgian Congo, Ruandaurundi, Uganda, Kenya, and ended at the port city of Dar es Salaam in Tanganyika (modern Tanzania).
It was a time for Robert and Bristol to experience the magic of Africa, her wildlife, and her people. In their journey traversing “MMBA” (Miles And Miles of Beautiful Africa) the memory that seems to stand out is of time with the Mbuti forest pygmies of French Equatorial Africa. Between two and three dozen Mbuti decided to go on a bit of a road trip with Robert and Bristol so they piled into onto the Land Rover and were duly taken on a drive.
In Africa activities are often reason for singing and that was the case with the Land Rover’s springs sagging a bit under the weight as it bounced along and the Mbuti singing happily. When Africans sing the harmonies seem to be spontaneous and beautiful – no wonder it was a memorable experience.
Then To Asia
The boys put Grizzly Torque onto a ship at Dar es Salaam and sailed the warm and peaceful Indian Ocean to India. Their plan was to traverse India taking in Nepal, and then travel south through Burma (modern Myanmar), Thailand, Malaya (Malaysia), and then Singapore.
In India Grizzly Torque almost came to grief when a cyclist blithely rode in front of the car and Bristol had to brake hard and swerve in order to preserve the cyclists life.
Series I Land Rovers have a bit of a high centre of gravity and do not take kindly to such violent combinations of brakes and hard steering, with the result that Grizzly Torque “fell over” landing on her left side.
Happily the damage was minimal although the left side driver’s door window was broken.
Getting Grizzly Torque to stand up vertical as she is supposed to took some effort, but a passing bus stopped to help and it was loaded with passengers who all worked together using muscle power to lift her up and stand her on her four tyres again.
Rather than attempting to get a piece of glass cut and installed the boys decided to use Perspex/plexiglass. It had the advantage that it was much easier to cut to shape and size, but there was more to it than that. Vehicle glass back then was of the “toughened glass” type which was heat treated so it would shatter into tiny pieces if broken. If a piece of ordinary glass was used to replace that broken side window it would have been a piece of plain glass such as used in house windows, and in the event of an accident such glass breaks into large sharp pieces which can do a great deal of nastiness to the car’s occupants and/or bystanders.
So plexiglass was a much better alternative. At Singapore Grizzly Torque was again loaded onto a ship for her cruise down to “The Great Southland,” Australia.
Over To Australia
Landing in Australia Robert and Bristol were treated to seeing her unique wildlife including kangaroos, kookaburras and wombats. Grizzly Torque acquired a bit of Australian bush vehicle style in the form of a water-bag hung on the Jerry can at the front left side. Back in the 1950’s and later a water-bag was hung on the front of a vehicle and it used evaporation to keep the drinking water cool.
The Australian journey took the boys across the continent and included a trip up into the Snowy Mountains around the area of Jindabyne, and areas where the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme was under construction.
At that time Land Rovers were a backbone vehicle for work crews working on the Snowy scheme although a few Toyota Land Cruisers were undergoing trials to assess their suitability.
Grizzly Torque faithfully carried Bristol and Robert all the way to Sydney in the state of New South Wales, the city that is home to the “Rusty Coathanger” as the Sydney Harbour Bridge is colloquially called.
From there it was time to load her onto a ship for the long voyage across the Pacific Ocean all the way to Vancouver, Canada.
Grizzly Torque in Canada
Once back in Canada Robert and Bristol had to leave behind the un-harassed freedom they had been enjoying for the previous fourteen months and 60,000 km, and had to return to work and all the exigencies of normal life.
Bristol initially kept Grizzly Torque and used her has his daily driver, but she wasn’t really at home in suburbia and Bristol found that her slow pace was not quite suitable for Canadian city traffic – even in the 1950’s. But at the university where he was studying for his doctorate there was a young biology student who was doing his studies on the peccary, the small pig of the southern United States, and he was interested in acquiring Grizzly Torque for a study trip to Texas.
The young student was a colourful character who was raising a juvenile eagle and it seemed rather happy to perch on the back of Grizzly Torque’s front seats.
So Bristol bit the bullet of practicality, and casting sentiment aside sold Grizzly Torque to the student and bid her farewell, expecting that she was driving out of his life and going onto new wild adventures.
At that stage Robert and Bristol had their photographs, movie film footage, and Robert’s paintings along with their written accounts of their journey. No doubt they did not expect to encounter Grizzly Torque ever again. But life often presents us with some unexpected twists.
Restored and For Sale
Grizzly Torque was sold by the biology student and for a period of decades she was lost. Her artistic paintwork with all the vignettes painted by Robert Bateman to commemorate the countries they had visited were all scrubbed off and she was painted plain boring light blue. Eventually she finished up parked behind a Canadian farmer’s barn along with three other Series I Land Rovers, and there she might have rotted away neglected and forgotten.
But things were going to work out much better than that for Grizzly Torque.
The saving of Grizzly Torque happened when a Land Rover aficionado named Stuart Longair was looking for a Series I Land Rover to restore and he came across the four stashed behind the farmer’s shed. Stuart only wanted one of the Land Rovers and certainly not the one that looked like an ambulance. But the farmer was determined that it was to be all or none, and all was a better prospect than none, so Stuart took the lot and left the three he wasn’t at that time interested on the farm owned by a Land Rover restorer friend Alan Simpson.
Grizzly Torque would continue to sit out in the weather for another ten years until Stuart Longair stumbled across an account of the around the world expedition done by Forster and Bateman.
Stuart began to wonder if he might just have that very Land Rover sitting out in Alan Simpson’s yard.
Eventually Stuart managed to persuade Bristol Forster to come and look at the faded blue Land Rover “ambulance” to see if he could positively identify whether it was or wasn’t Grizzly Torque.
It took Bristol very little time to say with certainty that it was indeed Grizzly Torque – the dents and damage were certain marks, and the fact that the driver’s door still had the plexiglass substitute window he’d installed in India was a clincher: Grizzly Torque had been found, but she was in a pretty sad state.
Stuart decided that Grizzly Torque was too important a historic Land Rover to allow it to be broken up and forgotten, so he commissioned a full restoration.
In order to complete that restoration there were many difficulties to overcome, some replacement parts had to be made from scratch, and repairing the aluminium alloy “Birmabright” bodywork required specialist skills and knowledge. The bodywork of Grizzly Torque was made of the same Birmabright alloy that was used for Aston Martin sports cars.
Robert Bateman was involved in the re-creation of the vignettes that adorned the sides of Grizzly Torque and the vehicle name, and “Gin & Tonic” jerry cans.
Once complete Grizzly Torque was used by Land Rover for their 70th Anniversary, and she was exhibited around Canada, including at the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria, with displays to tell the story of Bristol and Robert’s adventure.
Now its time for Grizzly Torque to go to adorn a new home. She’s to be auctioned by RM Sotheby’s at their Monterey auction on 19th August 2023.
Hopefully she will be placed where many will be able to see her and appreciate the spirit of adventure that led Bristol Forster and Robert Batemen to leave the stresses and comforts of a “normal” life and experience the freedom of adventure and travel.
Picture Credits: All pictures of the restored Grizzly Torque courtesy@ RM Sotheby’s.
Jon Branch has written countless official automobile Buying Guides for eBay Motors over the years, he’s also written for Hagerty, he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome and the official SSAA Magazine, and he’s the founder and senior editor of Revivaler.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine, and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China, and Hong Kong. The fastest thing he’s ever driven was a Bolwell Nagari, the slowest was a Caterpillar D9, and the most challenging was a 1950’s MAN semi-trailer with unexpected brake failure.