Britain’s big freeze has come earlier than normal this year and so many are being caught cold – literally – by the weather. But be thankful that we don’t live in some Trans-Siberian snow-land and rely on some of these vehicles to get us from A to B…it’s doubtful that you’d even be able to get car insurance online that would cover you for a hydro-planning, turbine-powered people carrier!
Antarctic Snow Cruiser
Designed under the direction of Thomas Poulter, a creative research scientist and arctic explorer, the Antarctic Snow Cruiser arrived in Antarctica in January 1940…and was beset with problems before it even touched the snow!
One of the vehicle’s wheels broke through the wooden ramp that was being used to unload it from it’s carrier ship and, when it was eventually freed, not only did it fail to move on the icy terrain it actually sank three feet into the snow!
The crew freed the vehicle and attached snow chains but found that traction was still a problem…unless the vehicle was driven backwards! And so the snow cruiser embarked upon it’s longest trek, all 92 miles of it, in reverse whilst the scientists on board carried out seismologic experiments, carried out cosmic-ray measurements and took ice-core samples.
Funding was pulled as the United States entered World War II and the Antarctic Snow Cruiser was abandoned and it is now thought to be at rest under deep layers of snow and ice else at the bottom of the Southern Ocean!
Bombardier Snow Coach
After spending a number of years designing snowplanes, Armand Bombardier decided to turn his hand to land based vehicles and embarked upon producing a series of truck based vehicles powered by caterpillar tracks and steered by skis.
This design was to become the basis of the modern day snowmobile and the Bombardier Company were the market leaders in snowmobile production from the 1940s to the 1970s. Their 12-seater B12 model and the 18-seater C18 were capable of speeds over 30mph – no mean feat considering most modern snowcats have a top speed of 20mph – and were used as school buses and emergency vehicles across Canada and the Northern States.
The major design flaw was the front-mounted skis were only suitable for use on frozen lakes or flat, frozen or snow covered roads and this lack of versatility was to lead to the vehicle’s eventual demise. The advent of widespread snow-ploughing meant that there was less demand for the Snow Coach on United States’ and Canadian roads and so dual-track and quad-track versions that could handle rougher terrain eventually took the place of the B12 and C18 models.
The vehicle’s most long-lasting legacy though was as the template for the modern day ‘Ski-Doo’, which itself was designed by Bombardier, and would’ve been called the ‘Ski-Dog’ had a sign writer not misinterpreted the name!
Due to the country’s harsh winters and the Soviet government’s support for new technologies, Russia blazed a trail in snowmobile design during the early part of the last century.
They were initially developed to deliver mail and transport explorers and researchers’ equipment across the harsh wintery landscape but were also deployed in war time to manoeuvre soldiers through deep snow to gain the upper hand on their enemies.
One of the most striking designs was the Sever-2 which looks, and is to all intents and purposes, a car on skis. The Soviet designers literally stuck a huge 260 hp aircraft on the back of a Pobeda, a popular Russian automobile not dissimilar to a Morris Minor, and replaced the wheels with huge skis! The car could also be modified to run on wheels for the months when the snow wasn’t so severe.
Tucker Snow Cats
Tucker Sno-Cats have been the preferred model of Arctic and Antarctic explorer vehicles since the middle of last century and are recognisable by their distinctive 4-track design which enables better manoeuvrability than it’s 2-track counterparts.
But one of the most striking Sno-Cats produced by Tucker was the Sno-Kitten, a revolutionary two-track designed for use on snow, mud and swamp mud. The tracks were state-of-the-art design that transferred the weight from the pontoon bottom to the tracks to eliminate clogging and were also designed for traction and climbing agility.
And, as the aluminium body was primed and finished in orange enamel they also had the added benefit of looking like Terence the Tractor from the Thomas the Tank Engine series!
KA-30 Soviet snowmobile
Described as “dream of the Soviet youth from the polar regions” – and so squashing the myth that vodka was the dream of the Soviet youth – the KA-30 is possibly the most remarkable snowmobile ever created.
A precursor to today’s SUVs the KA-30 could be used as a passenger vehicle, a business vehicle or even an ambulance and, far from just dashing through the snow, this snowmobile could also be modified to take on rivers and waterways.
By attaching floating equipment to it’s skis it could be turned into an air-boat whilst fitting hydro-planing equipment meant that it could be used as a hovercraft, making it pretty much unstoppable…unless there was a sudden thaw!