Having never actually given the vehicle a test drive on snow—its August-November development timeline didn’t allow for that—the crew began the journey of just two miles to the Little America exploration base. The Snow Cruiser was immediately out of its depth. It lacked power and traction. It was far too heavy, and its smooth tires were next to useless on the ice even with the addition of chains. (Winter tire tech was still in its infancy then, and it had been tested on the dunes of Indiana, where those massive balloon tires were actually of use.) The envisioned cruising speed of 30 mph was laughably ambitious.
They weren’t going to make it to the South Pole; the Snow Cruiser could barely make it across the Ross Ice Shelf where it landed. The thing reportedly had better grip in reverse, so the expedition’s crew resorted to driving around backwards when they needed to move. Remember, these scientists had work to do and this was both their only shelter and mode of transportation apart from dogsleds and the plane—which eventually suffered engine failure and needed to be shipped out for repairs.
After months of struggling with the Snow Cruiser, including an ambitious attempt to attach the spare tires to the front wheels for a proto-reverse-dually setup, the crew parked it and turned it into a stationary base in early 1941, the exact opposite of Poulter’s intentions. The furthest it had managed to travel in a single shot was 92 miles. That’s hardly 5,000. Soon after, the expedition was forced to pack up and abandon the Cruiser as the U.S. called back its personnel from the remote outpost at the onset of World War II. They left a few wooden poles sticking up around it to help mark its location given the constant snowfall.
The mighty Snow Cruiser was found in 1946 by a U.S. Navy expedition, at which point it supposedly only needed air in its tires and a little tune-up to run. In 1958, the behemoth was again uncovered by chance—the international team that spotted its signal poles dug through feet of snow and discovered its weatherproofing had held up and the interior was just as the original crew had left it, cigarette butts and all. Seeing as it definitely wasn’t going anywhere now, they left. That was the last time anyone saw it.
Antarctica’s ice is forever shifting, and several years after that final Snow Cruiser sighting, a large chunk of the Ross Ice Shelf broke off near where it had been parked. Whether the vehicle is still entombed on the landbound side or lost at sea is unknown. Ironically, Poulter’s belief that the Antarctic could be seen by car wasn’t totally off base—in 2017, Hyundai sent a Santa Fe crossover to the South Pole as a publicity stunt.
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