Journey to Djebel Tembaine

Djebel Tembaine (N 32° 52.372' E 09° 06.884') is a small “table-top” hill in the southern region of Tunisia. It lay approximately 70 kilometers due south of the oasis of Douz. This hill was the objective of our 2015 journey with the Ford model A whilst the actual target was to find out if we could really cross the two dune ridges just north of that hill.

Djebel Tembaine is one of the famous “meeting points” in the Tunisian desert, target for many desert-tourist and a picturesque view amongst the surrounding dunes.

In fact we know that the Ford model A never was confronted with the tricky small dunes of Tunisia and that even in the Desert Campaign of WW2 the famous LRDG considered these dunes as impassable for vehicles… we wanted to proof them wrong:

New single brace between radiator and bulkhead
New single brace between radiator and bulkhead

Since the initial testing in the desert in October 2013 the Ford A was more or less resting in a dry and warm place, only taken out for some short distance driving and presented at a few events throughout 2014. Since the car did actually not suffer any damage during the desert-testing, no repairs were required at all.

All modifications done on the car had proven to be working well. However; we had to apply a single further modification – similar to what Almasy had done already in the 1930ies: The “v-shaped” original braces between the radiator and the bulkhead had to be replaced by a single one in the axis of the vehicle to aviod damage due to the torsion of the frame in rough driving conditions.

During the preparation phase we were joined by a colleague with a 42 years old Volkswagen Typ 181 who was keen to gain some desert experience with his car and unfortunately a terroristic attack in Tunis by end of March brought in some security concerns. However; after observing and evaluating the situation we decided to go ahead with our plans.

Journey to Tunisia and into the desert

Four vehicles were assembled for the planned journey to Tunisia on 10. April 2015: Beside the Ford model A (carried on a trailer) we had the already mentioned VW Typ 181 which was driving the long approach in its own wheels, Toyota Landcruiser 105 and a Land Cruiser HZJ 78 for support and supply.

The journey to Genova, where we embarked the car ferry “Carthage” of the Tunisian CTN went uneventful as well as the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. The entry procedures for Tunisia were already started on the ferry-ship and did not cause any hassle – nobody of the Customs bothered about the old car of 1930 but we were through all procedures very quickly.

Only after we had left the harbour a police checkpoint gave us some difficulties regarding an (in their opinion) missing insurance policy for the trailer… the issue could be solved by us paying a “fine”. We thought that this is not really a good way for the Tunisian police to gain a good reputation but finally it was still way cheaper than what one can experience on European roads and amongst them in particular on the Swiss ones where in certain areas the budgeted income from speed fines has just been doubled in certain regions for 2015…

The journey continued on the Tunisian motorway from Tunis to Hammamet where we stayed for one night in a hotel at the beach. The hotel was surprisingly full of tourists but this may be caused by the fact that many other hotels in the region were closed.

From Hammamet we continied the next day to the desert oasis of Douz – a 550 kilometers trip. First very comfortable on the motorway but then for 150 kilometers on a two lane road full of heavy traffic and fast & weird driving Libyans heading either to Sfax or back to Tripoli. Since we were limited in our speed to approximately 90 km/h this leg of our journey took quite some time.
Note: We have tried to obtain the “missing” insurance paper for the trailer as requested by the police the day before – at the insurance company we were told that such is not required and not available…

Below photos illustrate the first stage of our joureny

Arrived in Douz we pitched our tents at the Camping Desert Club. This camp ground is just next to the old city placed in the palm groves. It is the traditional place for desert travelers to prepare for the southern part – but these day only a few cars find its way to that location and we had plenty of space for unloading of the Ford and the last preparations.

Heading south!

We spent a day scouting the conditions with the two Land Cruisers before we decided that all was fine to head to the desert with our two old cars. From Douz we were following the established tracks which were often overblown with soft sand. The most important thing when driving in the sand was and still is: Reduce the tire pressure!

We had planned to complete the trip to the Djebel Tembaine and back to Douz within four days and considered another day as spare. Accordingly fuel and water was obtained and carried by the two support vehicles. The original expeditions in the 1930ies were only relying on the Ford A – all supplies for several weeks expeditions had to be carried by the small vehicles in these days.

We decided not to load all these supplies on our old cars. Not only considering their age (85 and 42 years) but also recognizing the fact the Bagnold, Almasy and others using the Model A never had to cross such tricky dunes as those ahead of us…

Progress was very good and we camped just in front of the first dune ridge where we spent a quiet night.

To the Djebel Tembaine

Although we had a quite smooth driving there was one problem with the Ford: Two bolts fixing the rear spring were obviously too long and hitting the casing of the rear differential at nearly every bump – this was not only a “not so nice” sound but the bolts started to damage the casing of the differential. Obviously the person restoring the vehicle had not paid enough attention when choosing these bolts – we needed a solution and the only one we found was to simply shorten the bolts by using of a saw.

This second day of the journey should bring us into the dunes and two serious dune ridges lay ahead of us…

The Tunisian Army is on alert and patroling the remote areas. Not as the police, the army keeps its high reputation amongst the Tunisian people. The patrol we met was equipped with an american HMVEE and a german UNIMOG. They were rather surprised to see such old cars in the region, asked us where we intended to go and left with a friendly “good bye and good luck”.

And what we rather hoped than actually expected became true: The 85 years old car was able to cross the demanding sand dunes. It was in fact easier than expected and we made very good progress. Also our colleague with the Volkswagen managed to cross the obstacles although the car was only equipped with the small normal road-tyres.

Target in sight!

All of a sudden the dark flat topped Djebel Tembain came into sight. WE became confident that we would reach the target already this day.

…but we were not yet there…

Target reached!

It was only shortly after noon time when we finally reached our target:Djebel Tembaine.

What we originally thought would take us at least two full driving days was achieved in only about one and a half day – and without any exhausting exercises at all.

The detailed map and the satellite photographs show where we were driving:

After a nice midday's rest we decided not to stay longer amongst the hills but to head back into the dunes and to stay there for the night.

Return to Douz

The third day was intended to return to Douz. At first we had to cross the dune barriers again – which we were no confident to do. But then we realized that the temperatures up to 40 degree centigrade on that particular day may let the engine heat up too much. We had no oil thermometer installed (since originally there was none) but thought now that this would definitely have been a valuable addition…

We had decided to stay for another night in the dunes – just because of the atmosphere and continued towards Douz the next morning. However; heat was again intense and we became increasingly worried about our engine. At one point we decided that since we had achieved all what we actually wanted we should not put the engine at risk – and we stopped. For the last few kilometers we towed the Ford and then loaded it again onto the trailer.

After our successful trip we decided to spend a night in a hotel – where the well deserved shower was waiting for us.

The journey continues

For the remaining time of our vacation in Tunisia we decided to leave the old cars behind in Douz and spend some days doing more serious dune-driving with the two Toyotas in the sand dunes…

Return to Europe

Too soon it was time to return to Europe…

Note: Whilst our event was generally positively received by people seeing us there was a single German motorbike rider who expressed that it is a crime to drive such old cars through the desert. He shall keep his opinion – but ours is definitely a different one.

Herny Ford has designed his vehicles for one single purpose: Driving. In particular the Model A had (and still has) the reputation of being a sturdy and robust vehicle. And exactly in line with this we are using our Ford A. About 4 million Ford A were built and many of them are still driving… or have you seen them standing in museums?

More about our experience with the Frod Model A in the Desert can be found in our recently published little book

> LINK: Desert Vehicles – Almasy's Ford A