How do you go coast-to-coast in the UAE without using any roads? You take a stone-cold-classic Toyota Land Cruiser. Obviously.
Caffeine&Machine has always had close ties to the United Arab Emirates. It’s where our founders Phil and Dan first met, when both were expats pursuing entirely different career paths. Before taking up permanent residence at the Houndshill in 2018, Caffeine&Machine was a series of car meets that took place in Dubai. A part of the world that’s so wildly embraced car culture in a relatively short period seemed the perfect place to test the waters of our big idea.
It’s been fascinating to go back since then, tracing our roots and watching that big, vibrant culture continually evolve. And it’s a part of the world with huge potential for adventure, as we sought out on a recent return trip.
The vehicle used was and remains a regional classic: a short-wheelbase J70-series Toyota Land Cruiser. Introduced in 1984, this was the last of the unapologetically rugged, spartan versions of Toyota’s long-running 4×4. It was such an effective recipe for plunging into the harshest terrain in the world that nearly 40 years on, it’s still sold new across much of Africa, the Middle East and Oceania.
This one is a development vehicle for a local firm, Motorsport Wheels, running beefed up tyres, wheels, and brakes, and a fire suppression system. Other than that, it’s equipped with nothing more than the Land Cruiser’s legendary reputation for toughness.
The plan: travel from Dubai, on the Persian Gulf coast, across the northward-pointing tip of the UAE, to the town of Khorfakkan on the Gulf of Oman, using as little tarmac as possible. In the way: a sizeable expanse of sand dunes, and the Hajar Mountains.
For a car like the J70, the dunes of the Empty Quarter are nothing. On the flatter portions, it barrels across the desert floor doing its best impression of a trophy truck, and makes short work of the bigger dunes with the help of its low range gearbox.
Traversing the Hajar Mountains off-road, the most obvious route is Wadi Shawka, a riverbed that remains dry unless there’s a period of heavy rain. It’s relatively easy going until the discovery that, since we were last in the UAE, the wadi has been blocked up and is no longer passable by car.
It looks like game over until we run into a bunch of friendly folks from various corners of the Middle East exploring the region on adventure bikes. They advise us on an alternative route, over the mountains and past farmsteads with herds of camels.
After making it to journey’s end at Khorfakkan, it’s time to head back, taking the considerably easier route through the mountains on the UAE’s incredible road network. We’re back in Dubai for sunset.
It’s adventures like these that are what the Cult of Machine is all about. Cars like this form the backbone of our Honour the Uplifted pillar, which celebrates the unparalleled joy of getting off the beaten track. It’s always nice to get back to your routes every now and then, too.