An almost bone stock Santa Fe did a hell of a job across the South Pole at -18ºF for an entire month.
When I say remarkably stock, I’m not joking. Standard engine, software and gearbox, front driveshaft and interior. Just some added lubrication for using Jet A instead of diesel.
The 38-inch tires were designed by Arctic Trucks for exactly this job. They cost around $800 a piece. What may looks small on the map is still a huge area, and speeds are low, with an average of 16.7 mph throughout this expedition.
The cold breaks everything in Antarctica eventually, but this Santa Fe survived it’s first month there without any major issues.
There’s an established route to the South Pole, but like most roads made of snow and ice, it’s changing constantly. There are crevasses all over the Antarctic, so the team at the Union Glacier briefs travelers about their locations using up-to-date satellite imagery.
Union Glacier Camp is operated by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions LLC (ALE). It is situated near Union Glacier Blue-Ice Runway SCGC a rare, naturally occurring, blue ice runway, home to Il-76 cargo planes. The Santa Fes in your area are definitely not this cool. Signed by the ancestors of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition crew, the car will go back to Antarctica to help with scientific work.
I drove it, and those wheels still rub. But so did the Defender I had in Iceland, also running on 38s. It’s just a thing to keep in mind, and hardly an issue across the frozen land. The aim of the lift is to make the car “glide” above the snow instead of plowing through it.
A tenth of the normal air pressure is in those tires. That maximizes the contact patch and minimizes damage to the surface. Their treads were gone by the time they were heading back. Jet A. The only available fuel that diesels can use all the way down to -72ºF. After all, it’s cold above the clouds.
he empty whiteness is an issue. There’s no visual stimulus and your brain’s not being fed enough information, so it goes a bit haywire. You also start to make up things. From ice to deep snow, then compacted snow and more ice. The important thing is not to sink too deep into any of it. Reduction gears in the wheel hubs provide an increase in torque to spin those huge flotation tires.
The Ilyushin Il-76 is a multi-purpose four-engine turbofan strategic airlifter designed to be a replacement for the Antonov An-12. It’s the best at taking heavy machinery to remote, poorly served and hostile areas. Everybody wants to go to the bottom of the planet. Or the top, depending on how you look at it. The longest pit stop was 45 minutes, triggered by a loose bolt. The car did well.
When 12V isn’t enough, you go higher. And for the onboard air compressor, it certainly wasn’t enough. A 60 gallon fuel tank and one spare tire instead of rear seats. It’s a fair trade. It this configuration, crossovers finally start to make sense. One thing that’s great about the Antarctic: the cars stay clean. The first car ever to cross the most southern continent had hill descent. That’s something I’ll never forget.