Weird Wednesday: Antarctic Snow Cruiser… a very big failure

ByDean MellorJuly 8, 2020
Weird Wednesday: Antarctic Snow Cruiser… a very big failure

When it comes to big, they don’t come much bigger than the Antarctic Snow Cruiser.

Looking at the massive scale of the Antarctic Snow Cruiser, I reckon this week’s Weird Wednesday would be more aptly titled Big Wednesday – with apologies to those involved in the creation of the most awesome (some might say cringeworthy) 1978 surfing movie of the same name, but I digress…

Back the the Antarctic Snow Cruiser. This thing is big… I mean bloody big! Sometimes called The Penguin (or Penguin 1 or Turtle), it was designed over a two-year period at the Chicago Institute of Technology as a vehicle to be used during the US Antarctic Service Expedition of 1939-1941.

The bloke in charge of the project, Thomas Poulter, had previously been to Antarctica – as second in command of a 1934 expedition – and he wanted to build something that would operate in the extreme conditions. Unfortunately the Antarctic Snow Cruiser was not it.

Snow Cruiser 1

A crew member uses a torch to thaw a wheel motor.

The vehicle’s massive treadless tyres didn’t work well in the conditions and they struggled for grip in snow, and The Penguin was eventually abandoned in Antarctica in 1940. It made a short comeback when it was rediscovered in the snow in 1958 but it disappeared again due to the ever-changing ice conditions.

The diesel-electric Snow Cruiser was powered by two Cummins 672c.i. (11-litre) inline six-cylinder diesel engines with drive to all four wheels via four 56kW electric motors. It measured a staggering 17m long by 6m wide and weighed in at a hefty 34 tonnes. Its Goodyear tyres measured 3m (120-inches) in diameter and were 850mm (33.5-inches) wide!

When running, the Snow Cruiser had a top speed of 48km/h. It carried up to 9500L of fuel and had a range of 8000km, but its longest trek was a mere 148km… in reverse, because the crew found the tyres had more traction in reverse.

Some conspiracy theorists reckon the Antarctic Snow Cruiser was appropriated by the Soviet Union during the Cold War but it’s most like still buried in the Antarctic… or at the bottom of the Southern Ocean.

This video of the massive vehicle shows just how big it was: