Polar Bug: When the Volkswagen Beetle Conquered Antarctica
In 1963, the humble Volkswagen Beetle became the first production car to explore the Antarctic under the auspices of ANARE, the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions. Dubbed Antarctica 1 and painted ruby red so as to stand out in the snow, the car was provided free of charge by VW’s marketing division—which was keen to demonstrate the vehicle’s capabilities in all weather conditions. It later starred in an ad campaign touting its admittedly impressive imperviousness to the elements, complete with fascinated penguins.
Transported via icebreaker, Antarctica 1 spent a year at ANARE’s remote Mawson Station, competing with dog teams and larger tracked vehicles, such as the Snowtrac, according to the book Knowing Australian Volkswagens: A Definitive History of the VW in Australia. “Subjected to smothering snows, bitter cold (-52°C) and knifing 200 km/h winds, it turned out to be excellent for running around the station and short traverses of the ice-bound country. Air-cooled, it never froze; tightly sealed, it was immune from drifting snow… The scientists called it their ‘Red Terror’.”
Fitted with snow chains, the car could do everything from “towing skiers at the Rumdoodle recreational facility, to driving glaciologists three or four kilometres on to the sea ice to test its thickness. Accounts of these excursions describe winds up to 100 mph, which more than once ‘turned the doors inside out, overriding the door check-rods and folding the doors against the front hub caps.’” Easily lifted out of deep drifts, the Bug “gave very good service with a minimum of worry to the mechanical section, who only had to service it and feed it petrol regularly.”
Upon its return to Australia after a year of service, Antarctica 1 went on to win the 1964 BP Rally after relatively minor repairs. Meanwhile, it was replaced by ANARE by a similar 1964 VW named “Antarctica 2” and painted International Orange which served a much longer stretch, staying in the frozen wasteland until 1969. Check out this awesome 1963 Australian cinema short of Antarctica 1 conquering the “bleakest continent on Earth”, and think about that next time you complain that it’s too cold to drive to the supermarket.