This Wildly Engineered Porsche 356 Is Ready to Conquer Antarctica

How many people out there are so passionate about a cause that they’d drive to the earth’s opposite ends to raise awareness? Or, specifically, which amateur rally driver would race around the world in a 65-year-old vintage 1956 Porsche 356A? Enter Renée Brinkerhoff, the woman behind the Project 356 World Rally Tour, an expedition and humanitarian effort.

Brinkerhoff, the founder of Valkyrie Racing and Valkyrie Gives, entered her first race in 2013 at age 57—the La Carrera Panamericana. This racing experience inspired her to pursue a bigger goal to help disadvantaged and at-risk children. In her global pursuit focusing on victims of human trafficking, Brinkerhoff has driven through every type of terrain imaginable across six continents. Now, she is preparing for the final stage of her Project 356 World Rally Tour by traversing 356 miles in the extreme conditions of Antarctica.

Given an unexpectedly lengthy postponement of the arctic journey, senior chassis design engineer at Lotus group, Kieron Bradley, had more than 18 months to transform the Porsche 356 into a snowmobile. Dubbed “Polar Porsche,” the radically converted Porsche underwent several modifications to endure sub-zero temperatures and treacherous terrain. Bradley replaced the rear tires with snow tracks, installed a pair of skis in the front, and added a crevasse bar with a dual-sided solar panel generating a minimum of 150 watts. 

The Polar Porsche, a carbon positive zero-impact vehicle, uses a specialized brace and suspension system; it has a single-arm suspension with coilovers for the rear tracks. Other gear assisting the 356-mile frosty challenge included: roll cage, GPS tracking system, rear engine winch point, four-ton air lifting bag jack, 12-volt low-temperature air compressor, temperature gauge, and track bearing system running Dupont Krytox. Onboard survival items, including water and communication equipment, are accessible within the cabin, and there’s also an emergency rear window exit.

Part snow machine, part classic Porsche, this modified 356 is truly an engineering marvel. It has a 30-degree approach angle, a 45-degree departure angle, and an operational temperature of -50°C to +55°C (-122°F to +131°F). Compared to Antarctic 4×4 support vehicles fitted with 42-inch tires, its ski and track combination increases floatation by up to 300 percent. The recommended speed for competent durability is roughly 25 mph.

The skis and tracks increased the overall vehicle mass; a problem as a low weight is crucial to driving on snow. Consequently, this required reducing mass per square inch to less than four percent of the standard wheel displacement. Bradley explained that the ski they designed had to do 40 to 50 percent of the work, requiring the skis to compress and prepare the snow for the track unit to follow over. These uniquely designed skis, supported by all other components, help minimize the impact on snow.

On December 5, Renée Brinkerhoff and her navigator, British explorer Jason de Carteret, will begin in Union Glacier on the Blue Ice Runway. They will be traveling 178 miles toward the South Pole and back to Union Glacier, completing the entirely unsupported 356-mile journey.

At the Blue Ice Runway, Brinkerhoff is also attempting a land speed record. If weather conditions permit, this icy-cold mission will conclude the Project 356 World Rally Tour before year’s end. By then, Brinkerhoff would claim approximately 20,000 miles across seven continents in her tried-and-true 1956 Porsche 356A.

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