Modified Hyundai Santa Fe bravely takes on Antarctica expedition

Article by Christian A., on April 26, 2017

A specifically altered Hyundai Santa Fe had recently set a new record for being the first ever passenger car to bravely drive across the freezing Antarctica and back again, travelling from Union Camp to McMurdo and heading back to Union Camp. Also the Santa Fe is the first wheeled passenger vehicle to make it across the Ross Ice Shelf, which officially makes the South Korean vehicle the coolest car out there.

Hyundai, the South Korean automaker, recently released a short reel showing the Antarctic quest of its Santa Fe equipped with a 2.2 L diesel engine. The quest happened in December last year and the team traveled over 3,600 miles (around 5,800 km) of icy territories in grueling conditions.

They were in for a long haul as the expedition team averaged a speed of only 17 miles per hour. They had to take it slow and steady, considering the dire need to check for weak points in the ice every now and then, not mentioning other obstacles they faced in the cold continent. They concluded the quest in 30 days.

Hyundai revealed that the SUV not only traveled in maximal distances at temperatures reaching minus 28 degrees Celsius, but it also paved new paths on floating ice caps that have never been traversed by an wheeled vehicle before.

Gisli Jonsson from Arctic Trucks was the one who prepped the SUV for the expedition, and only needed minimal modifications to complete the task. The only modified parts made to the vehicle were the slightly altered suspension and wheel arches, which can accommodate the low pressure tires. The South Korean automaker indicated that the SUV was functioning on one-tenth of a standard road tire pressure, for the purpose of rendering it so soft that you can literally drive over somebody's hand and it won't break the body part.

The vehicle's body has been duly elevated with sub frames, and other alterations were done to increase the fuel tank's maximum capacity. All other parts of the SUV like its engine, management system, transmission, front differential and driveshaft were mostly stock parts and not in any way altered, which is rather impressive.

The Hyundai Santa Fe was mainly handled by Patrick Bergel, the great grandson of the legendary polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. This Antarctic expedition was not a coincidence, but a timely centenary commemoration of Sir Schackleton's Trans-Antarctic's expedition from 1914-16.

Scott Noh, Head of Overseas Marketing Group at Hyundai, commented that they were made aware of Sir Ernest Shackleton's story and the Hyundai company felt his courage and pioneering spirit. Moreover he further expressed that their film celebrates this pioneering spirit and through Sir Ernest's grandson, Patrick, achieves his dream to conquer Antarctica- just a hundred years later.

Does this change your perspective regarding the South Korean automaker? Whether it impressed you or not, this is a such a large feat for Hyundai and serves as an ultimate challenge to the other automotive company. What a bad-ass vehicle, this one earns our utmost respect.

Press Release

Shackleton Returns: Hyundai Santa Fe conquers the Antarctic driven by Great Grandson of Sir Ernest Shackleton

Hyundai Motor 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 and has been made into a short film by Hyundai which will be shown for the first time tonight at an event at the Hospital Club, London.

Scott Noh, Head of Overseas Marketing Group, Hyundai Motor Company said: “We were aware of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s story and as a Company felt a resonance with his courage and pioneering spirit. Our film celebrates this spirit and through Patrick, his Great Grandson, completes his dream to cross Antarctica – just a hundred years later. We hope that it showcases Hyundai as brand that that is more than just a means of transportation.”

The 30-day expedition saw the Santa Fe production vehicle, which was modified only slightly to fit giant low-pressure tyres, take on almost 5,800km 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 journey was incredible and the car was a pleasure to drive. Sometimes it felt less like driving and more like sailing across the snow. 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.”

One of Antarctica’s most experienced driving experts, Gisli Jónsson from Arctic Trucks was tasked with managing the vehicle’s preparation before the event and then led the expedition out in the Antarctic.

Jónsson explained: “It was a pretty standard Santa Fe. The engine, the management system, the 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.”

To fit the tyres, 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.

The only other modifications were to increase the fuel tank capacity, to 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,” said Jónsson. “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!”

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