Emil Grímsson is the chairman of Arctic Trucks, an Icelandic-based company that makes some of the most extreme off-road cars in the world. His company is also the only one that has approval to drive cars on Antarctica. Naturally, his lubricant partner of choice is Motul. This is his story.
ARCTIC TRUCKS: THE ONLY CARS YOU’RE ALLOWED TO DRIVE IN ANTARCTICA
Emil, can you tell us more about Arctic Trucks?
Arctic Trucks was established in 1990 in Iceland. We had a situation in Iceland where people were doing conversions to cars that weren’t approved by the distributors or manufacturers. With the aim of listening to customers and trying to meet their needs, I was instrumental in establishing with Toyota Iceland “official” conversions that we called Toyota Accessories. This was the start of Arctic Trucks. From 2005, we have been independent of Toyota and working with many other brands as well.
Did Arctic trucks come about because of where you’re located? The harsh winters and extreme landscapes of Iceland?
Iceland has very rough terrain, bad roads and, in winter, lots of snow. A normal 4x4 car, even with metal chains, can’t really go far when the snow is serious. At the time, in order to get to these more extreme places, for rescue operations for example, people needed a vehicle that could drive normal roads and a belt vehicle on a trailer or a truck. Snow mobiles are fantastic, but they are a bit difficult to only use on a rescue mission. However, they discovered that large tyres with low air pressure could get through most snow challenges, and they could be inflated and deflated on the move. This all of a sudden became a big thing. But this caused big issues because lifting the car high and doing it in an inconsistent way means we had vehicles that were dangerous and easy to flip over. The vehicle manufacturers didn’t want to support this. I felt we needed to find a better solution to solve this need in the market. We started by asking Toyota USA to help us, but we couldn’t find all the parts. So, we had to engineer our own solutions, and this turned out to be very successful and popular in Iceland. We had the happiest clients in the country.
What changes do you make to the base vehicles?
Originally, it was very much focused on making the car safe and legal to drive on normal roads but also be capable of driving on snow and bad roads. Utility was the core of our focus. To do this, we have to rebuild the body around the tyres. So, we lift the vehicle, rebuild the body so the tyres can fit under it with limited lift. As we went bigger with the tyres, we started to extend the wheelbase, to get a good balance between the front and rear and get the right motions and stability. With the larger tyres and lower air pressures you could drive a lot of the bad roads in a much easier and more comfortable way and also have less punctures.
How many vehicles do you build a year?
It’s been around 1,000. We’re always talking about street legal with very few exceptions. The Iceland government has acknowledged that this is saving lives and has a huge benefit for a lot of users. We have a way to do these conversions in our regulations. Today we have operations in Iceland, Norway, UK, Poland, Russia and Dubai. We are working with Nissan, for example, where we have homologated conversions for the whole of Europe. And it’s a similar thing with Toyota and Isuzu. We also work with more brands on a smaller scale. The biggest conversions we are doing is 37-inch tyres.
Your vehicles are also approved for use in Antarctica. Can you tell us more?
Antarctica is enormously big. 60% bigger than the USA. There are a number of locations there that are further away from the South Pole than Iceland is from the North Pole. There are some scientific stations in these areas that use four-wheel-drive cars and bulldozers to clean the roads. But these vehicles are bound to the places where they are. We are the only company that has a permit to allow vehicles to drive to the South Pole or do long expeditions. We have 27 vehicles in operation in Antarctica. Scientific stations and so on have bought cars from us. So, for an expedition vehicle in Antarctica, the only ones in operation are ours.
What is it about Arctic Trucks that means they’re type-approved for Antarctica?
It’s because of our understanding of driving in snow and the reliability we have. We have 340,000kms of experience of driving on the Antarctica plateau. Arctic Trucks started in 1997 to do the first ever serious drive in Antarctica and on the plateau, to prove the concept. There has been one Russian expedition in the 2000s to the South Pole, but they experienced a lot of breakdowns. When we brought our vehicles in in 2008, the superiority of our vehicles was so great, that people didn’t look for anything else. Today all our expeditions require a permit by the UK Foreign Office and go through the scrutiny of all the rules and regulations to be approved. A lot of people think it’s simpler than it actually is. We have the expertise of using cars in Antarctica.
Have you been to Antarctica? What’s it like?
I’ve been there six times. I’ve only been to what we call Deep Field and I’ve travelled about 17,000kms there. It’s like landing in another world. It’s just breath-taking to feel the remoteness of where you are. When you go onto the plateau, you’re on the largest desert in the world and it’s like a long mediation. Your life becomes very simple. We’ve experienced down to minus 56ºC. It’s cold and dry. The frost challenges everyone and everything.
You’re partners with Motul. How does Motul’s lubricants help on these expeditions?
We have been using Motul engine oil almost the whole time. This is, of course, one of the items that is very important. When we drive in minus 40ºC we have to rely on the engine working. It’s your ticket to life. Motul oil is super important and works well in these conditions. When we have something that works well, we’re very reluctant to experiment with something else.