Arctic Trucks Toyota Hilux AT38
Top Gear’s all-conquering Hilux in Dubai!
Story sponsored by Al Futtaim Toyota
As trucks go, this one’s really rather special. After all, how often does an actual automotive celebrity, a bonafide TV star, drop into our neck of the woods? Not to mention, one which has travelled to (literally) the ends of the earth?
Most of you will be already quite familiar with this extraordinary vehicle, one of two Toyota Hiluxes built by Icelandic offroad experts Arctic Trucks to travel to the magnetic North Pole.
BBC Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May successfully piloted the truck across the vast and often dangerous expanse of the frigid North, beating crevasses, snowstorms, forbidding ice fields and Richard Hammond on a bob sled to reach the Pole on May 2, 2007.
This particular truck is even more special. Three years later it subsequently ferried James May to the base of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, just before it erupted and blanketed Europe in a crippling cloud of ash. And now it’s right here in the UAE, taking a well deserved lap of honour.
So what exactly is special about this truck? Why did Top Gear take it to the North Pole? Well for one thing, the show had already proved that this truck is nigh on indestructible. Secondly, the crazy geniuses at Arctic Trucks have done incredible things to what is already frankly and incredible car. You may know them from the Xtreme range they sell here, and this is where it all started.
Believe it or not, the Polar Hilux is essentially an off-the-shelf product. The ‘AT38′ as it is internally known is designed specifically for expedition work in places like Antartica, hauling crew and equipment over terrain so delicate you would fall through the ice if you stood too long on it, in temperatures as low as minus seventy one degrees. And let’s not forget, there are bears to deal with…
…so naturally, you need shotguns, and a shotgun case.
Then again, maybe the toilet seat wasn’t entirely necessary. That was added at the behest of Top Gear, FYI, and is the actual seat on which once sat the buttocks of one James May. It certainly looks like it’s had some wear and er, tear.
But in all seriousness, this is one seriously modified truck. Originally it was a 2006 3.0-litre turbodiesel model, a stock 4×4 crew cab with a five-speed automatic box (autos are better in the snow. And sand, sssh) running on 16-inch wheels. The latter were immediately tossed in favour of bespoke AT 15-inchers wrapped in (also-custom) 38-inch custom studded snow tyres which are designed to work at pressures as low as 4psi, or barely a breath of air.
Naturally, that kind of beefy rubber won’t fit on the regular car so the wheel arches were flared out, while stronger running boards were installed to deal with any unexpected smacks. The front suspension was actually lowered 50mm, then moved 40mm forwards and finally given 40mm of lift. At the back, softer leaf springs were fitted with heavy duty bump stops and and aftermarket shocks. It all adds up to an amazing 450mm of clearance under the belly!
The differential boasted super-low gearing as well – 4.88! – for maximum torque to ensure the tyres moved as slowly as possible through deep snow. Naturally, front and rear diff locks were installed from ARB.
That’s far from all. The engine was largely unchanged, but in the bitter cold of the Arctic, don’t expect perfect starts without a little help. Accordingly, the Hilux was fitted with auxiliary coolant, fuel heaters, a heavy duty battery. Even that wasn’t enough, so the Hilux actually used special fuel - a custom blend of diesel designed to work in the lowest of temperatures without ‘gelling’ – the latter being when diesel wax crystallises in super cold weather and gums up the fuel lines. And just to make sure they didn’t run out of skunk works diesel, an extra tank was fitted, bringing total capacity up to a whopping 170 litres.
Inside…it looks like it’s seen better days, hasn’t it? Despite having only done a little over 20,000 miles, this truck has had a hard life. Most of the trip gear has been stripped but the original spec included full Garmin GPS navigation (it sat in the big hole on top of the dash), Iridium satellite phones, three onboard cameras (which sat in the now empty speaker grilles) and a 220V onboard inverter to charge cameras, laptops and so on. Still present is the famous hammer, clipped to the dome light – to be used only if the car broke through the ice and you had to smash your way out in lieu of freezing to death in the Artic waters. A sobering thought, to be sure.
What is not possible to describe is the smell of the thing – the Hilux was clearly used by a lot of men to live and work over a long period and the car maintains that, umm, aroma of unwashed testosterone. Apart from the modifications, it’s all mostly standard Hilux bits, with an extra bank of switches for operating the fuel heater, external superbright KC xenon lights and inverter.
There’s no shortage of tough-looking trucks in the Middle East, massive boxes lifted up to the heavens running on huge spiky tyres. Those vehicles are all about the show – but this Hilux isn’t. This the real deal; every modification has a purpose, designed to help this amazing car go places we never thought a car could possibly venture – but it can and it did.
Are its adventuring days over? Let’s hope not.