Top Gear's Arctic Challenge
By: Mike Levine Posted: 07-30-07 01:15 PT
© 2007

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Some of us may have tough commutes each morning, but not so bad you need a friggin' shotgun to protect yourself from a polar bear attack. But that's exactly what those crazy blokes, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May at BBC's Top Gear magazine needed when they drove a Toyota Hilux (think Tacoma, but British) from Resolute Canada to the site of the 1996 Magnetic North Pole.

Late last year Top Gear approached Toyota Great Britain with the idea of driving the Hilux over the same route as the Polar Challenge Race, an annually run contest with competitors in three-person team racing on skis 320-miles across the Arctic. Never before had a motor vehicle attempted the course, so Mssrs. Clarkson and May challenged Mr. Hammond to a new race: pickup truck versus dog sled, the tried and true way of traversing the Great White North. The result is televised hilarity that nearly rivals the trip's technical achievement outfitting a pickup truck for temperatures as low as minus 97-F.

To prep the Hilux for the race, Toyota GB and Top Gear teamed up with Icelandic outfitter Arctic Trucks in Reykjavík. Arctic Trucks has been modifying Toyota vehicles for extreme cold weather use since 1990.

The starting points were two new 3.0-liter Diesel D-4D Hilux Double Cab pickups, though you'll only see one in the show that Clarkson and May are driving.

Each Hilux was extensively modified, including the front suspension, which was lowered by 2-inches, moved forward by 1.6-inches, and lifted by 1.6-inches, and the rear suspension, which received longer leaf springs fitted with heavy duty long travel bump stops and specially tuned shock absorbers.

The stock 16-inch wheels were replaced with Arctic Trucks AT405 15-inch aluminum wheels, with two valves per wheel. These were shod with 38-inch custom studded snow tires, running at pressures as low as 4-psi to help them "float" over the snow.

Auxiliary coolant and fuel heaters were added to the 3.0-liter 164-hp oil burning motor, along with a heavy duty battery. To prevent gelling, specially blended diesel was formulated and stored in an extra 26-gallon fuel tank, that upped total capacity to 47-gallons. The air intake was also raised and a special exhaust system fitted. The rear differential was lowered to 4.88 and special front and rear diff locks that could withstand the low temps were installed.

The Hilux also carried a wide range of equipment designed to address the special risks of driving across the arctic ice, including Garmin GPS navigation, Iridium satellite phones, two-way radios, three onboard cameras, and an auxiliary electrical system with a 220-volt inverter to provide charging power for camera and electrical equipment.

And, of course, a bed mounted shotgun rack was installed to secure the polar bear preventing boom stick.

The Top Gear Polar Challenge started on April 25, 2007, and required an entire week to trek the 320-miles to the finish.

To find out more you'll want to read about the trip on Top Gear's and Arctic Truck's websites.

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