Shackleton's car

By Sue Bassett

When Ernest Shackleton led the British Antarctic ‘Nimrod’ Expedition 1907–09 he hoped to reach the geographic South Pole. To achieve this, he took with him dogs, ponies, and a motor car donated by a major sponsor, William Beardmore, who had recently taken over the car company.

The car was a purpose-built 12/15hp New Arrol-Johnston, an open two-seater with a utility tray-back. It had a specially designed air-cooled, four-cylinder engine, used non-freezing oil, had a silencer that doubled as a foot-warmer, produced hot water by passing the exhaust pipe through a hopper that could be filled with snow, and could be fitted with a pair of ski runners on the front wheels.

However, it was also heavy with little traction, sinking to its axles in the snow, and its petrol engine performed poorly from the outset. It was garaged at Shackleton’s expedition hut at Cape Royds and was useful only on the sea ice for transporting light loads, and once fell into a crevasse.

While a couple of parts remain at Cape Royds today, the car left Antarctica with Shackleton and the skis are now held by the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, where they have undergone conservation treatment by our conservators.

A wheel from the car still sits outside the hut at Cape Royds

Shackleton's car in the garage at Cape Royds

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