The answer to the future of everything lies in the middle of an Israeli desert some way south-east of Gaza and very south of Tel Aviv, in a naked scorch of badlands that might be a spur of the Negev, but might be somewhere else, I’m not quite sure. It’s the same colour as the yellow ochre rocks that surround it, blending its geometric surfacing gently with the natural backdrop. This morning I watched dawn break over the Jordanian border and the salty southern end of the Dead Sea as the sun burst past the horizon, breaking hard shadows across the windscreens. It has a turrety roof hatch, enough armour to stop pretty much anything short of a rocket-propelled grenade and handspan-thick glass. It’s called a Plasan SandCat. It’s probably not what you were expecting.
Then again, when I started a conversation with a man on Twitter six months ago, I didn’t actually expect to be driving his armoured car down a desert trade route previously used to ferry frankincense and myrrh overland from Petra to the port city of Gaza back in the seventh century BC, discussing how materials science is going to change the world forever. And yet here we are, happily chatting about possible applications of carbon nanotubes and aramid composites while driving a nine-tonne MRAP ATV (mine-resistant, ambush protected, all-terrain vehicle) across a desert that looks exactly like the pictures featured in illustrated Bibles. Weird doesn’t even come close.
Photography: Barry Hayden
This feature was originally published in issue 284 of Top Gear magazine