Skip To Content
Become a MemberArtifact Tucker Sno-Cat: The Iconic Vehicle Sir Edmund Hillary Used To Cross Antarctica

In 1957 the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by British explorer Vivian Fuchs and New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hillary (who in 1953 along with Tenzing Norgay were the first men to reach the summit of Mt. Everest) attempted the first overland crossing of Antarctica via the South Pole.

The plan was for Fuchs’s group of twelve men in six vehicles to start at the Shackleton Base on the Weddell Sea and head for the South Pole. Meanwhile, Hillary’s team of four men and four vehicles would play a supporting role and start at the opposite side of the continent at Scott Base — Fuchs’ planned finishing spot. Hillary’s group headed for the Pole and laid supply caches for Fuchs final leg of the trek.

Once their task was complete and the caches were set, Hillary realized he had a chance to beat Fuchs to the South Pole and became the third party to ever reach the Pole over land and the first using motorized vehicles. Sixteen days later Fuchs team arrived at the Pole and then continued on the route that Hillary had established all the way to Scott Base on the Ross Sea, completing the first Trans-Antarctic crossing of 2,158 miles in 99 days.

(2) Sir Edmund Hillary (left) and Vivian Fuchs at the South Pole.

Hillary realized he had a chance to beat Fuchs to the South Pole and became the third party to ever reach the Pole over land and the first using motorized vehicles.

(3) A Tucker Sno-Cat in the field.

(4) A Tucker Sno-Cat at Scott Base.

Although Weasel and Muskeg tractors were also used, the most iconic vehicle of the expedition was the Tucker Sno-Cat 743 manufactured in Medford, Oregon. The Tucker had a 331 Chrysler Hemi engine with a two-barreled carburetor that delivered 180 horsepower and averaged one to two miles per gallon of fuel. It had been designed to travel on snow to maintain telephone lines in the northern plains of the United States so it needed a little modification for the -40°F Antarctic climate including a special anti-freeze engine lubricant, waterproofing of electrical components, and insulation of the passenger cabin. All four of the machines built for the expedition are still in existence and are displayed in various museums in New Zealand, London, and Medford, Oregon.

This Tucker Sno-Cat Type 743 was labeled simply by its door code, ‘B,’ but the crew nicknamed it ‘Rock ‘n Roll.’ A fitting name, from the looks of it.

It took about a day of manual labor to remove the Sno-Cat from this predicament that threatened its fate. Sub-freezing temperatures tested the men’s fortitude while they built a ledge within the crevasse for the traction supports to get this bad boy out.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.