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The following article came from “Knowing Australian Volkswagens”, by Dave Long and Phil Matthews, with thanks to Club VeeDub Sydney.

The Antarctic Volkswagens 

The first "passenger car" to the Antarctic was a Arrol-Johnston 12-15 hp four cylinder vehicle which formed equipment of Lieutenant Ernest Shackleton's expedition of 1907.  This car was an open two-seater with a utility tray-back, and fitted with skis under the wooden front wheels. It proved perfectly useless, since in the fine snow, the vehicle constantly bogged to the axles. 

According to an article in the Autocar of October 19th, 1907, "Shackleton (the Commander of the British Antarctic Expedition) has provided himself with a real live motor car with which he hopes to reach his goal and hoist the Union Jack".  That may have involved some poetic licence, but Shackleton must nonetheless have been disappointed.  In the Christchurch City Council museum in New Zealand resides another Arrol Johnston appliance, a twin cylinder purpose built device.  It has a roller at the rear, about 70cm wide for propulsion, and skis in lieu of front wheels.  This contrivance accompanied a later Shackleton expedition, and probably evolved in the light of experience with the original vehicle. 

The next Antarctic passenger car was a Baby Austin 7, which travelled down with Sir Hubert Wilkins in 1927.

Then came Volkswagen Beetle "Antarctica 1" in 1963 - "the first production car in the Antarctic".  Better late than never!  In 1962 ANARE, the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition, were looking for cheap motorised transport to complement the costly heavy tracked vehicles at their scientific research base at Mawson, on the lonely windswept coast of MacRobertson Land.  In November of that year, the incoming (1963) Expedition leader, Ray McMahon, exercised his initiative to request, from VW Australasia, the loan of a new Beetle to operate as general transport at Mawson.  As the result of a recent directive from Wolfsburg to world markets to concentrate publicity effort on the VW in arctic conditions, the opportunity was welcomed enthusiastically by the Australian manufacturer. Ray McMahon says the sales person he made contact with, named Graham Maslen, scored the promotional coup of his life.  After some minor modifications, the 1962½ model Beetle was shipped aboard Arctic supply ship 'Nella Dan'. The colour ruby red was chosen so that the car would stand out from the snowscape.

Official VW co-operation was thorough;  the car was delivered with a box of general spares, spare wheels etc., as well as a quality Bolex cine camera with a generous stock of movie film.  Ray McMahon sent a regular monthly radio telegram detailing 'Antarctica 1' progress.




Copyright B. Samways 2000-10