When the going gets tough, the tough get massive wheels and ski-doo tracks. These are the world's most extreme snow cars…
Heavy snow is very rarely a problem for drivers in the UK, but when there’s significant snowfall, transport disruption almost always follows, and when your travel is essential it’s handy to have a vehicle that’s up to the task.
As it happens, some car manufacturers have put a lot of thought into what their vehicles would look like if they were built to survive in the harshest winter conditions. Some of their ideas never went further than the concept stage, although a few of these extreme snow car designs actually made it to the real world.
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Then there are the low-volume producers and lesser-known companies who couldn’t wait for a solution to come along, instead making their own modifications to existing vehicles in order to overcome everything from cold snaps and blizzards to a new ice age.
The results over the years have been rather extravagant, and we’ve rounded up the most extreme snow cars that we could find.
Antarctic Snow Cruiser
The Antarctic Snow Cruiser was built in 1939 with the aim of helping US explorers get around the polar region. Powered by two 11.0-litre diesel engines and four 56kW electric motors, this beast of a machine was 17m long and six metres wide, weighing 34 tonnes when fully laden.
In practice the Snow Cruiser was a disaster: the wheels broke as soon as it was unloaded onto the ice early in 1940, and the smooth tyres provided very little in the way of traction. In fact, the crew realised that the vehicle made better progress driven backwards, and its longest journey (measuring 92 miles) was completed in reverse.
The Snow Cruiser was abandoned after less than 12 months in operation. It was last seen in 1958.
Aton Impulse Viking
The first (but certainly not the last) Russian off-roader on this list is the Aton Impulse Viking. While it certainly looks imposing, the 1.8-litre engine within is contrastingly small, producing just 81bhp. As a result, the Impulse Viking’s top speed is a mere 37mph. Not what you want to hear when one of its intended jobs is to act as an emergency vehicle.
If you happen to have an accident on a snowy mountain, the Impulse Viking will at least get you back to base, capable of tackling 38-degree slopes and affording 25cm of ground clearance along the way.
In 2014 you’d need $200,000 for this go-anywhere (slowly) seven-seater, although little has been heard from Aton in the years since so it’s likely the company went bust.
With its eight wheels, the Russian Avtoros Shaman can tackle just about any terrain – including water, thanks to a wading speed of 4.3mph. The 3.0-litre diesel engine only provides a modest 144bhp and 350Nm of torque, though, which isn’t much in a vehicle that weighs 4,800kg – before you’ve loaded it up with the maximum 1,500kg payload.
Another extreme snow car plucked from the history books is this, the Bombardier B12. Invented by Joseph-Armand Bombardier, the contraption uses tank-like tracks and what amounts to a pair of skis to get around on the snow. As the name suggests, the vehicle could carry up to 12 passengers, and it proved popular as a form of public transport in Quebec from the late 1930s onwards.
A fleet of B12s was still in operation in the Yellowstone National Park, USA, as recently as 2016, although tougher noise and efficiency standards finally brought their impressively long service to an end.
Brabus 800 Adventure XLP
Few people would think you could toughen up a Mercedes-AMG G63 – but Brabus did. The 800 Adventure XLP was 69cm longer than the standard car, its ride height was just shy of half a metre, and the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 was fettled
to produce a whopping 789bhp. You could even buy a drone (the ‘Wingcopter’) to spot any crevasses or polar bears blocking your path.
GMC Sierra All Mountain Concept
In 2017, US truck manufacturer GMC designed a snow-going vehicle based on its 2500HD Crew Cab. The GMC Sierra All Mountain Concept contained a 6.6-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 diesel engine, as well as two sets of tracks on each axle, a 30-inch light bar and snowboard racks. GMC said the concept was “perfectly suited” to snow, and on the evidence of the pictures, they weren’t wrong.
Hennessey Mammoth 6×6
Not exactly known for their subtlety, American tuning company Hennesey has built a range of trucks and cars throughout its history that certainly weren’t shy of giving out around 1000bhp. The Mammoth 6×6 is not only a gargantuan truck to look at but, with a ‘Hellephant’ V8 engine delivering over 1200bhp, it is the brand’s most powerful truck to date.
Based on the Ram TRX truck, the Hennesey features 6-wheel-drive and upgraded off-road suspension. Although this truck is yet to visit the coldest depths of the planet, with this kind of power and size, we doubt there’s much that could stop it.
Hyundai Elevate concept
No this isn’t an AT-AT Walker from Star Wars, this is the Hyundai Elevate: a walking robot car conceived ahead of the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
According to Hyundai, the Elevate would be capable of spanning gaps of up to five feet, also scaling five-feet tall obstacles. Each ‘leg’ could be locked, too, to provide omnidirectional motion.
There were no torquey diesel engines this time though, with the Elevate using an electric motor in each leg to provide movement. It also possesses wheels for more conventional travel on less arduous terrain.
Hyundai Santa Fe
Amazingly, the first passenger vehicle to cross the Antarctic was a modified Santa Fe. Its 2.2-litre diesel engine and transmission were left as standard, although the regular suspension and tyres had to be replaced with something more appropriate. It was driven by Patrick Bergel, the great-grandson of Sir Ernest Shackleton, in December 2016 to coincide with the centenary of Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic expedition.
Lotus Concept Ice Vehicle
You may think Lotus was mad to make a fully electric hypercar, but that’s nothing compared with this. In 2008 the firm came up with the Concept Ice Vehicle, a biofuel-powered craft that was designed to navigate Antarctica and raise awareness about climate change. A BMW motorcycle engine drove a propeller, while a trio of independently suspended skis gave the concept stability on the snow.
Nissan 370Zki concept
The 370Zki was part snowmobile, part sports car. The 3.7-litre V6 from the regular 370Z was retained, but the drivetrain was redesigned to power tracks. Strangely, the front brake discs were also kept, despite being mounted to skis. Nissan also concocted the Armada Snow Patrol concept, based on the Armada SUV it sold in the US, to tow the 370Zki around.
Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Rallye
In 2018, Porsche revealed a concept rallying version of the outgoing Cayman. The response was so positive that the company put the car into production, based on the new 718 Cayman.
The 3.8-litre naturally aspirated flat-six engine was left alone, although the underbody had to be reinforced and a roof mounted air intake was installed, as well as an LED light bar on the bonnet.
A list of extreme, heavily modified vehicles wouldn’t be complete without something from Ken Block’s garage, and the stunt-driver’s Ford F-150 RaptorTRAX fits the bill all too well.
The 6.2-litre V8 under the bonnet is capable of 650bhp, while the rest of the recipe closely follows that of the Sierra All Mountain Concept: as well as snowboard racks and a roof basket, there’s a rear-mounted winch for hauling the RaptorTRAX out of tricky situations.
A hard day’s adventuring will probably give you an appetite, so there’s a barbecue fixed to the rear, too.
Red Bull RB7
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you – that is a Formula One car on snow. In fact, it’s Red Bull’s RB7, in which Sebastian Vettel won his second world title in 2011. In 2016, the team sent Max Verstappen onto the slopes in Kitzbuhel, Austria, and, with snow chains and a raised ride height, the RB7 coped admirably on its short demonstration run at the winter sports resort.
Howe & Howe, the firm that makes the 4.5-tonne Ripsaw F4, claims this is the fastest dual-tracked vehicle in the world, with a top speed of 55mph.
The tank-like tracks give 20 inches of ground clearance for the passenger pod, which can seat up to four people. And storage compartments on the Ripsaw F4’s exterior will carry anything from luggage to heavy weaponry.
Subaru WRX STI TRAX
Subaru’s exploits in the World Rally Championship have taken it to some of the harshest conditions on the planet but for the most extreme snowy landscape, something extra special was needed. Based on a 2009 Subaru WRX STI with full rally preparation, the TRAX was built by Vermont SportsCar for none other than professional automotive ‘Hoonigan’ Ken Block.
The Mattracks rubber track system is driven by a tuned version of the WRX STI’s 2.5-litre turbocharged engine with 400bhp and 542Nm of torque. A five-speed close-ratio gearbox, a Subaru programmable differential and rally-spec dampers keep the TRAX moving almost regardless of the terrain and there’s even a rack for four snowboards.
The WRX STI TRAX also comes with a specially built carbon fibre sleigh that can be pulled along behind the vehicle with four passengers on board. With Ken Block at the wheel, its heated Recaros must surely be the worst seats in the house.
Tesla Model 3
But not just any Tesla Model 3. One owner decided his Model 3 Standard Range Plus needed to be adapted for the snowy slopes of Canada, and so partnered up with Mullin Manufacturing to fit tracks to the rear axle.
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Although not the most natural piece of engineering, the system worked, enabling the driver to cruise through picturesque forest tracks in relative silence. Unfortunately, the driver voided the car’s warranty in the process, so it’s probably not an experiment that’s worth repeating.
Track N Go
If you need to get across deep snow in a car, you’ve got two choices: find a vehicle suitable for the job, or modify one sufficiently to get by. For those opting for the latter, there’s a relatively easy (although admittedly expensive) way of doing it.
Track N Go is a company that makes fit-on snow tracks for 4×4 vehicles. It claims a set of four tracks can be fitted to a four-wheeled vehicle in less than 15 minutes, giving drivers unparalleled off-road ability in wintery conditions.
The tracks themselves are driven by the wheels, which are locked in place to give an extra eight inches of ground clearance. The whole shebang weighs a not-insignificant 680kg, and is designed to operate at a maximum gradient of 25%. The top speed? No more than 40mph is ‘recommended’.
As for the price, you’re looking at $25,000 (£18,500 approx).
Valkyrie Racing Porsche 356A
In the world of arctic exploration, big, heavy trucks are just a bit too commonplace for some, and this is where Valkyrie Racing’s re-engineered 1956 Porsche 356A comes in.
The most obvious change to this beautiful, classic Porsche is that the wheels have been replaced with skis. This isn’t just a ‘chop and change’ project, though, because plenty of other crucial upgrades have been carried out, including a bespoke suspension setup to handle the skis and challenging Arctic terrain, a rollcage and crevasse bar, solar panels and a winch. It also has easy access to all on-board supplies. Crucially, though, the 356’s rear-mounted, air-cooled engine remains.
The car was designed for and used on an Arctic expedition by racer and philanthropist Renee Brinkerhoff, along with the Valkyrie racing team, as part of the 20,000-mile ‘Project 356 Worldwide Rally’.
Volkswagen Amarok AT35
This one-off Amarok AT35 was modified by Arctic Trucks, which is the same company that prepared the Hyunda Santa Fe for its trans-Antarctic expedition. All of the usual adaptations apply, such as a raised ride height and enormous all-terrain tyres.
Inside you’ll find a portable generator, a fire extinguisher, a VHF radio, a first aid kit and defibrillator, plus a tool box and jack for performing emergency repairs. Oh, and there’s a cappuccino machine.
The AT35 is powered by a 3.0-litre V6 diesel, and VW claims it can carry up to 1,154kg while maintaining the Amarok’s 45-degree climbing ability. It was built to go to work in Iceland, acting as a support vehicle for winter driving experiences.
Back in 2014 Volkswagen created the VW Snowreg to ferry personnel from stage to stage at Rally Sweden. Based on the standard 4.2-litre V8 TDI diesel-engined Touareg SUV, the Snowreg gained 18-inch wide Mattracks to help in the ice-bound conditions. Despite a 340bhp power output and a mountainous 664Nm of torque, the Volkswagen’s top speed was limited to 40mph.
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