The early days of the automotive industry were wild and exciting. Hope and optimism were in abundance during this age of mechanical engineering. Automakers had cool ideas and tried them. Exhibit A: the 1939 Antarctic Snow Cruiser. This thing was a cartoonishly huge RV and the ultimate overland rig, but it went missing on its only Antarctic mission.
The Antarctic Snow Cruiser was the ultimate overland rig
According to CarScoops, in the late 30s and early 40s, there was a lot of interest in Antarctica. To prove its zeal for the icy continent, America did what Americans do best, build a massive RV to conquer this new land with steel and diesel.
The idea was to make a massive RV that could house the researchers as they traveled. The Snow Cruiser could house five people and tons of gear. It was designed to house these five researchers for up to a year in extreme temperatures.
How big was the biggest RV?
Chicago’s Armour Institute of Technology designed the Snow Cruiser overland rig. When they said it was big, they meant big big. The Antarctic Snow Cruiser rolled on 10-ft tall wheels that rode on nearly indestructible tires and could absorb nearly anything the rough terrain could throw at them.
One of the most noticeable features of the early overland rig is the massive body overhangs. However silly they may look now, these actually were designed to work with the massive hydraulic suspension and make the ride more manageable and keep the wheel-base a bit more manageable. This body and suspension style allowed the ASC to cross crevasses up to 14 ft across. The overall length of the ASC topped 40 feet, and it weighed 37 tons.
If the monster RV Snow Cruiser wasn’t big and insane enough, it also carried its own by plane. This plane makes the dirt bike we carry on our overlanders look like a child’s plaything.
This massive RV had a futuristic engine
Believe it or not, the ASC had a surprisingly modern engine for 1939. The ASC was powered by a diesel-electric hybrid system. The engines were designed to operate solely as range extenders, while electric motors in the wheels actually moved the thing. The drivetrain was designed to be both fuel-efficient and to open more of the interior up to people rather than driveshafts. Stop me when this starts sounding familiar.
As CarScoops notes, the idea was right on, but the production was rushed, and the 74-hp electric motors weren’t strong enough to move the colossal weight of the ultimate overland rig. On its drive from Chicago to Boston, it caused a 70,000-car traffic jam right outside of Boston. This was the worst traffic jam in history at the time.
Did the massive overland rig ever make it to Antarctica?
It did! Unfortunately, the mission was a failure. In order to make the most of the massive RV flop, the ASC was parked and used a sort of field lab. The ASC failed in almost every conceivable way. The tires couldn’t grip the icy ground, the low speeds made meaningful travel impossible, and its lack of testing caught up with it in regards to reliability.
What’s really crazy is for something so large and noteworthy as the ASC, no one knows where it is, now. The massive RV has disappeared and no one knows where it could have gone.