History of Astran

Astran was the first UK Company to operate long distance road freight to the Middle East.

The pioneering delivery by truck to Afghanistan was undertaken back in 1964 by the two founders of Asian Transport, later to become known as Astran. Adding the Gulf States, and in particular Qatar, to its regular destinations, Astran grew in stature in the early days of oil and gas discovery, servicing the UK plus the European and Asian Continents.

Such was the interest in the company that in 1978 the BBC made a documentary of the exploits of Astran trucks featuring the drivers and their adventures across the mountains of Iran and the deserts of Saudi Arabia to the burgeoning Gulf State of Qatar. Narrated by Benny Greene and forming part of “The World About Us” series, the 2 hour film entitled “Destination Doha” is still in demand today, and is now available in DVD format.

Much has been written about Astran over the years. The trucking press has taken the company to its heart, and regularly features the drivers, trucks and associated stories as the demand for nostalgia increases with time. Many of the drivers are part of trucking folklore. Indeed, there is now a group of Astran Supporters who communicate with each other and the company by way of collecting the amazingly accurate 1:50 scale models of the many trucks operated in the “golden years” of Middle East Trucking. Manufactured in limited quantities by Tekno in Holland, these models are dispatched to all corners of the globe and are highly prized items.

Always domiciled in Mid-Kent, Astran has been subjected to many influences over its long years of trading. Its ability to deliver to difficult destinations became legendary, as wars and conflict in the Middle East made overland transport more hazardous for the unwary. For many years Astran maintained an office in the Qatar capital of Doha, becoming the number one choice for the building industry that required high quality fittings and finishings from Europe for the Emir’s many properties. Today however, Astran’s presence in Doha is maintained and supported by our agents in the capital.

With the effects of globalization came the need for Astran to look for new markets and challenges. A change of ownership due to early retirement of the long-serving owner, Uwe Ploog in 2005, saw Astran increasing its portfolio of speciality services by taking over local forwarder Lema International, shipping regularly to Iceland, Malta and Cyprus very effectively. Further destinations including the African Continent are now serviced by recently acquired Express Point, completing the current group of “Astran companies” and able to ship goods to all parts of the world, by road, sea or air.

timeline_pre_loader

Those were the days

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An early Astran truck was a 1966 AEC specially manufactured for the arduous terrain to Tehran. A Mammoth Major with 205bhp, it incorporated many useful additions unheard of in those days, including a double-skinned roof to keep the cab cool and extra insulation to keep it warm in winter and at night in the deserts.

Telegraph Mag - November 1971

Telegraph-Magazine

Leading article in Telegraph Magazine dated November 1971 on the two man trip to Tehran in winter featuring drivers Gordon Pearce and John Frost.

Wall St Journal, October 1978

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Astran exploits hit front page of Wall St Journal

Truck and Driver Feb 2011

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Astran was voted 3rd by “Truck & Driver” in a readers poll on The Greatest British Haulier, behind (you have guessed it..Stobart and Pollock Scotrans) Quite an accolade as we had not run our own trucks for over 20 years!

Commercial Motor March 2011

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Front page and feature article about the documentary “Destination Doha” from 34 years previously. One of many written over the years. Nostalgia sells!

The Long Haul Pioneers

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Ashley Coghill’s account of the drivers and trucks involved with what most see as the last true adventure in trucking. Laden with photos and stories directly from the drivers of the day, it makes a formidable read for anyone interested in the world of extreme travel. Ashley says “The original Astran men, who I call long haul pioneers, were true adventurers. All they had in the early days was a compass, an atlas and a few tins of food. They travelled incredible distances in highly unsuitable machinery. They were the only ones doing it in the 60’s.” Having sold over 12,000 copies the book is currently out of print but can be obtained from the usual auction sources.

Queuing!

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The forerunner ofKent’s Operation Stack perhaps? It was not unusual for the trucks to be held up for 3 or 4 days at major border crossings. Formalities were conducted in a haphazard manner and Astran drivers found many different ways of speeding up the process.

Camels

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One of the many hazards encountered by Astran drivers when crossing the deserts of Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In most cases the animals came off worst in their encounters, their carcases being left for the birds to pick over and the remaining bones a timely reminder to other travellers to stay alert.

Job done, where next guv?

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The opportunity to reload from the developing areas in the Middle East was scarce. Loads were collected en route back to the UK from Italy as the need to get the trucks and drivers serviced and turned round was paramount.

A desert scene best left to the imagination

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Nearly there

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Electro chemicals were a regular cargo into Oman in the 70’s. Astran also had the distinction of carrying much of the lighting for the Sultan of Oman’s big birthday!