Hyundai has made the history books after a Hyundai Santa Fe became the first passenger vehicle to cross Antarctica.
The modified 2.2-litre diesel SUV was driven from Union Camp to McMurdo and back again – a distance of 5800km.
At the wheel, Patrick Bergel, the Great Grandson of legendary polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.
The drive which took place in December was timed to commemorate the centenary of Shackleton’s heroic Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914-16 and has been made into a short film.
The 30-day expedition saw the Santa Fe, fitted with giant low-pressure tyres, take on almost 5800km of icy terrain in bitter conditions.
It not only had to cover extreme distances at temperatures down to minus 28-degrees Celsius but it had to plot new paths on floating ice caps that have never been travelled by wheeled vehicle before.
Patrick Bergel said the drive and the journey were incredible.
“Sometimes it felt less like driving and more like sailing across the snow,” he said.
“It was a proper expedition with a challenge to accomplish that nobody else had done before. It was about endurance not speed – we only averaged only 27km/h – and success was about how we and the car handled it.
“I’m very reluctant to make direct comparisons between what my great grandfather did and what we’ve done recently. But it is quite something to have been the first to do this in a wheeled vehicle.”
Hyundai called on one of Antarctica’s most experienced driving experts, Gisli Jónsson, from the Iceland-based Arctic Trucks, who was tasked with managing the vehicle’s preparation and leading led the expedition.
Although Hyundai describes the modifications to the Santa Fe as only minor, there’s a bit more to it than that.
We know, because we’ve been to Arctic Trucks’ workshop in Reykjavík to see the work they do first hand – in fact we’ve driven some of their conversions.
Jónsson said the engine, engine management system, transmission, front differential and driveshaft were all completely standard.
“We did have to fit big, low-pressure tyres though. They are important as it’s all about getting the vehicle up on top of the snow rather than ploughing through it.
“We were running on one-tenth of a normal road tyre pressure – it’s so soft you can drive over someone’s hand and it won’t hurt them! The car trod so lightly that all our tyre tracks were gone by the time we came back.”
The bodywork had to be modified to fit the huge tyres, raised with new sub-frames and suspension and gears were fitted inside the wheel hubs to cope with the different forces and the need to turn more slowly to run at the same speed.
The only other modifications were to increase the fuel tank capacity and convert the car to run on Jet A-1 fuel – the only fuel available on the continent and to install a pre-heater for the cold.
“People who have a lot of experience of Antarctica know what it does to machinery: basically, anything and everything falls apart,” Jónsson said.
“Even the big machines crack up and break apart. This was the first time this full traverse has ever been attempted, let alone doing it there and back.
“A lot of people thought we would never ever make it and when we returned they couldn’t believe we’d actually done it!”