Hyundai Santa Fe: the first car to drive across Antarctica
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Hyundai has made history when a near-standard 2.2-litre diesel Santa Fe became the first passenger vehicle to be driven across the continent of Antarctica from Union Camp to McMurdo and back again.
The Santa Fe was driven by Patrick Bergel, the Great Grandson of legendary polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.
The journey which took place in December 2016 was timed to commemorate the centenary of Shackleton’s heroic Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914-16.
“I think the fact that we were the first to cross the Antarctic in a wheeled vehicle meant that it wasn’t easily achievable and the fact that we were the first definitely added something to the expedition and made it much more meaningful,” said Bergel.
Bergel had grown up with the legacy Ernest Shackleton, but never expected to follow in his footsteps. Still less to see parts of the Pole that his ancestor never reached and make his own mark in Polar history.
The team’s Hyundai Santa Fe was adapted by expedition leader Gísli Jónsson, one of the most experienced Antarctic explorers of the 21st Century.
“Simply driving a showroom vehicle out onto the ice is not an option,” said Jónsson.
“People have a lot of mechanical problems with vehicles out there. Even the big machines crack up and break apart, skis fall off, tracks snap and gearboxes fail.”
Modifications to the Santa Fe included fitting giant heavy duty low pressure tyres fitted to make it float over the icy rugged surface.
The car’s body had to be 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.
“Other than that it was a pretty standard Santa Fe,” says Jónsson.
“The engine, the management system, the transmission, front differential and driveshaft were all completely standard. We increased the fuel tank capacity to 230 litres, ran on Jet A-1 fuel and installed an engine pre-heater to help in the extreme cold.”
Setting off through the Drake Icefall and Patriot Hills, the team of four vehicles – the Santa Fe and three support trucks – took three days to cross a featureless landscape, delicately picking their way around crevasse fields they had been warned about.
In temperatures down to minus 28 degrees Celsius, the convoy kept moving, refuelling at aviation fuel dumps en-route.
Crossing the Leverett Glacier to the Traverse, they passed the Trans-Antarctic Mountains and then skirted Mount Erebus volcano, which Shackleton had been the first man to climb in 1908.
The expedition broke new ground as they drove onto the Ross Ice Shelf.
This glacier, hundreds of feet deep, lies beyond the continental land mass – and the Hyundai became the first wheeled passenger vehicle to drive across its unique hazards.
In all, the team endured 30 days of pummeling terrain, driving up to 20 hours a day in the extremes of climate and terrain before the record-making Santa Fe made it back to base - mission accomplished.