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ANTARCTICA 1

Cont.

Antarctica 1 went on to win the 1964 BP Rally and its fate following that success is uncertain.

Antartica 1 on the 1964 BP Rally

 However, Antarctica 2 was issued about 1972 to Chris Heyer, who campaigned it with considerable success for about a year and a half in the Firestone Rallycross series at Catalina Park, Katoomba.  It was then sold to Ed Mulligan (proprietor of Opposite Lock) who owned it only briefly, by which stage it had grown fairly ratty and would probably not have survived much longer than that.  When Antarctica 1 was returned to Australia, (first to Fremantle on the west coast then around to Hobart, Tasmania) representatives of the VW organisation met the ship at the dock in Hobart and later threw a party for them at Hadleys Hotel.  Frank Smith, who, as Plant Officer for the 1963 expedition, was responsible for all vehicles and machinery including Antarctica 1, returned to Australia with the car at the end of that year in the MS Thala Dana.  First landfall was Fremantle, where the Volkswagen was disembarked. It was of particular interest to BP Australia, since Antarctica 1 was entered for the BP rally of the ensuing year, 1964, and would ultimately win this event outright- a remarkable combination of achievements.  Frank had to "pull rank' on the BP PR men, who wanted to take over the red VW and drive it around for publicity action shots.  He refused to allow them access other than to the static vehicle, as it was still "winterised", with blanked off air intakes and extremely light lubricating oil; the temperature ashore was extremely high and Frank insisted any attempt to run the car would lead to mechanical damage.  After the performance of Antarctica 1, members of the 1963 Expedition became Volkswagen "converts".  24 of the new faithful put themselves forward in a concerted approach to Volkswagen in Australia for a "fleet-owners" discount, but the sales organisation demurred, and a great promotion opportunity was missed, as well as a bunch of enthusiasts disappointed.  Contrary to what the Australian VW organisation would have had us believe at the time, neither vehicle emerged entirely unscathed from the icy experience.  While the two, and other previously unheralded Australian Antarctic Volkswagens of the 1960's performed admirably, the brutal treatment uncovered a major weakness; this was the chassis 'frame-head', where the two transverse front suspension tubes mount to the car.  This is by no means an unknown "weakness" in the VW Beetle construction, although in severe service, it could take years to show up, such as with high mileage’s on unsealed Australian outback "roads", or a couple of weeks and six thousand miles of a reliability trial. It could be induced in the Antarctic ice with only a few hundred "running-in" miles on the speedo. Then again, on washboard-corrugated ice from thousands of years past, contending with cracks ten to twenty centimetres across and suspension bottoming constantly under big loads of men and equipment, what wouldn't fail in such conditions?  Antarctica 1, the ruby red 1962 and-a-half model VW which shipped down to Mawson in 1963, was the "guinea pig"; it suffered dreaded frame head cracking quite early in its career, under assorted heavy hands and lead feet.  The mechanical workshops were always on hand for a quick welding job. Ken Shennan, who was part of the 1963 expedition, had as much to do with this as any other. Antarctica 1 wintered only one season at Mawson before it was returned by request to Volkswagen of Australia for publicity promotional purposes, and subsequently to enter and win the BP Rally of 1964.  First, however, it was taken on a PR tour of Australia's main cities; Ken Shennan examined the car in Seymour, about 100 kilometres north of Melbourne, having returned on the same ship after the 1963-64 ANARE relief handover. He was especially interested in the condition of the chassis frame head, lay down and crawled under the car's snout "for a feel and a stickybeak". I magine his mystification upon discovering everything factory fresh again. He asked the VW factory representatives if anything had been substituted, and was assured the car was quite untouched since returning from the Antarctic continent that year.  As they might say in the 00's, truth can be a negotiable quality; either the bulkhead had been cut off and replaced, or the entire chassis exchanged for new. Depends on your idea of what's a fair thing!  Publicity from this "stunt" extended literally around the globe, being exploited in many parts of the world for advertising.  So much so that in 1969, when a party of American scientists first visited the Australians at Mawson, they admitted to their hosts that, but for the international Antarctic VW publicity, they would not have known Australia maintained a scientific base there.  The VW Beetles down south were used for a multitude of purposes, and within their limitations, proved extremely useful, according to the ANARE people who used them. With snow chains all 'round, these supposedly "unsophisticated" chariots were on tap for 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.  Door hinges took the brunt of this trauma, but the mechanics say they were very forgiving, and straightened out OK.  Ken Shennan remembers that the cars would start under their own power at temperatures as low as 38 deg C below zero; the car was fitted with a pair of six-volt batteries in series, so that starting could be achieved at 12-volts through the 6-volt starter motor, reverting to 6-volts for the ignition electrics and accessories.  Castrol 10W engine oil was too heavy in the perishing conditions, so the mechanics got hold of some 5 Zed-Zed, which Ken says is "about as viscous as kerosene".  The VW engines suffered no harm in regular service when lubricated with this water-like oil.  The crankshaft bearings were of a special quality for extreme service, low temperature conditions.  Though officially the only Volkswagens to visit the Antarctic waste, Antarctic Volkswagens 1 and 2 had company then and competition since.  At least up until 1980 or so, ANARE specialists heading for a winter in the remote southern ice were not actively discouraged from taking with them personal transportation, especially motorcycles. One such enthusiast was weather observer Mark Forecast (not a bad name for a weather man!) who was a member of the 1967 expedition, and had also journeyed down in 1964 and 1969, so he had already seen at first hand just how useful is a VW Beetle in one of the unlikeliest places on earth.  Mark who is now from Western Australia, “carried” among his personal effects a '57 or so oval-window Beetle, which with the help of his brother-in-law (a panel beater) when Mark lived in Melbourne, he rescued from a wrecking yard after it had been under the back of a truck and lost its roof. By the time he unloaded it at Mawson about January 1967, rules for Commonwealth vehicles had been tightened when dangers of unreliable sea ice were better understood. But that regulation had not anticipated private vehicles, so people like Mark could still please themselves. From all accounts (none of them his own), Mark Forecast is a true cowboy, a daredevil character and a serious professional at the same time.  A big man, he has a big sense of adventure, and especially in those Antarctic days, lived through some fantastic experiences.  One of these was the illustrious incident when the Oval was lost at sea; Mark and his passenger were lucky to survive.  He and his fellow scientist lan Thomas, now Dr lan Thomas who specialises in upper atmosphere physics in England, set out one day in September 1967 to journey in the VW about 20 km away from Mawson to the area of the Forbes Glacier.  Temperatures were down to -25 deg C during the day.  Mark relates that they had been to the vicinity of some ice caves, taking photographs, and drove along the sea ice for some distance.  They came unstuck where the glacier tongue juts out into the sea, destabilising the ice.  Finding themselves in serious strife, the Volkswagen fortunately floating, as good Beetles are always ready to do, the two impromptu mariners had to take urgent stock of their situation.  They gave some rapid thought to kicking out the windscreen, which they would have succeeded in doing from their seats, except their protective clothing gave each the profile of a Michelin Man; they would not have fitted through the gap. Mark remembers one of the things he was always "gunna do (but never did) was cut an escape hatch in the roof (better still, he could have started with a factory sunroof model!).  With only minutes or so to respond, as they wallowed in the broken ice, Mark realised that his drivers door was prevented from opening by a stray ice slab; this left only the nearside door, which passenger lan Thomas had to exit first, on to the ice shelf.  Close behind, and with the seawater increasingly pouring in, Mark Forecast stepped ashore as the roof settled level with the ice floe.  His final foothold was the roof gutter.  He estimates the VW took about 30 seconds to sink upon opening the door. Somehow both men regained "aqua firma" and, aware that the danger was not yet over, started hiking.  (Looking back on the episode, "Admiral" Forecast remembers that the VW broke through the ice at the rear first, and felt to be pivoting nose up on a big piece.  Sections of the 'flaggings' were churning about like chocolate from a frozen confection as the car levelled out in its initial floating position).  They were thankful that the weather conditions for their excursion were near perfect; a more typical Antarctic day with 50 km/in winds would have created a much more risky situation.  When the men had covered about 15 of the 20 kilometres to base, they were met by two of their mates on a Polarise and sled.  When first they became overdue, Eddie Lawson and Kevin Reiffe ventured out, made contact with the adventurers, and gave them a lift on the final leg of their trek.  They were in good condition, considering the ordeal, but were nonetheless. glad to regain the safety of the Mawson camp. Both proceeded straight to a fuel stove in the mechanical workshop to thaw out.  For over an hour, the survivors crouched in the warmth, helped by shots of rum for the Inner man. Finally, a hot shower confirmed feelings of normality.  The two impromptu South Pole sailors had survived their perilous experience with no serious lasting effects.  Adrenalin, common sense, determination and luck, conspired positively for a result which otherwise should have been tragedy.  Forecast wanted to emphasise that the sortie that resulted in loss of the VW had been appropriately planned with all necessary considerations as to safety.  A detailed outline of the route and general schedule had accompanied this plan; when the emergency developed, it had not endangered others who might have been involved in their rescue.  He told us conspiratorially, "I still own that Beetle you know" - we started thinking the impossible - that it had been recovered and brought back to Australia. let's only parked", he said - " at about 40 fathoms (70 metres), and it's still mine!"  He suspects international salvage laws may apply to his "vessel".

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