Tanks aren’t afraid of dirt – or the Arctic.

I’ve been asked rather often already about the vehicles we undertook our road trip to Tiksi in. And that’s understandable – especially since they aren’t quite the instantly recognizable household-name vehicles like, say, Land Rovers or Toyota Land Cruisers…

First off, I have to say that we didn’t choose the vehicles ourselves; we left that to the experts – Arctic automotive-expedition specialists Alexander Yelikov and Yevgeny Shatalov. Alexander – Sasha – was in a specially tuned Great Wall Wingle 7, while we – the tourists – were in the three Tank 300s, as supplied by Yevgeny – Zhenya. Here are all four vehicles – somewhere between the settlements of Nayba and Tiksi upon a frozen Laptev Sea:

And here we are in the Indigirka Tube:

So – why were we in “Tanks”?

From what I understood, there were several reasons…

Reason No. 1: Particularly for this route, we needed comfort. Alas, that meant no Russian-made vehicles. The same went for our earlier winter road expeditions: in 2021 we were in Renaults (and they did just great!); and in 2022 we were in Land Rover Defenders (and they did badly!)…

Like I say, the Renaults did great – but we only drove on roads. They’d have been no good off them – including on winter/ice roads. As to the Land Rovers… you’d imagine they’d have done ok, what with the brand’s long heritage-image of being the ultimate off-roader, but you’d be wrong. We risked driving up the Indigirka Tube and… it ended in tears: two of the vehicles’ suspension went out of whack; specifically, the delicate pneumatics couldn’t cope with the killer combination of the Siberian ultra-cold and the Tube’s thoroughly bumpy ice-road surface. Check out the white Land Rover to the right – look how low it is. Lower than a 1960s Chevy Impala in South Central! ->

Curiously, older-generation Land Rovers are… just as unreliable, it turns out!…

Check this old boy out that had come all the way from Germany (see the German plate?). It made it to Oymyakon (in 2022), but then broke down and refused to budge heading back home (it must have wanted to stay:). Again the intense cold seemed to have taken its toll on a delicate euro-“off-roader” constitution  )…

Now, before I continue on the automobile topic, a brief caveat: I’m no car-buff who knows all about engines, horsepower, torque, 0-60, reliability, kilometers per liter, and the rest of it. I’m a driver; that’s it! Just thought I’d mention that in case I mess up in some way on the automotive theme…

Back to our Tanks…

Why were we driving Tanks and not, say, Toyotas, which are more traditionally suited to arctic expeditions? First: because the Chinese auto industry has finally learned how to make good cars! I don’t mean Chinese cars in general, but just this brand (I haven’t tried any others).

Yevgeny Shatalov told us how he’d studied the Chinese auto market for a whole year to try and find the optimal choice for arctic expeditions, and ultimately he settled on these here Tanks as they fitted the bill practically perfectly: they’re off-roaders, they’re comfortable, they’re able, they’re forgiving and low-maintenance, and they’re much cheaper than, say, Japanese cars. Then there’s the way, e.g., Land Cruisers (and Land Rovers) are just too “smart” these days, with more electronics and ecology-friendliness than you can shake a stick at. For extreme-north expeditions all that stuff just gets in the way to become a liability and so needs removing. // Which reminds me: our Land Rover Defenders in 2022 were originally Euro-6-emission-standard-compliant; they were brought down to Euro-2-compliant before they could be driven in arctic conditions reliably. Quite how, or why such a reduction helps – don’t ask me!

Anyway, after 8000 kilometers in harsh, ultra-cold weather conditions, 4000 of which were on ice/winter roads, our Chinese vehicles gave us not one bit of bother. We had one flat tire just the once – but that’s hardly a down to the quality or suitability of the cars to the conditions they found themselves in. In a word: wow.

And here are just some of those conditions they found themselves in…

The Indigirka Tube ->

The bumpy surface of the frozen-over Laptev Sea:


Deep ruts in the snow left by trucks – once our Tanks bottomed onto the high level of snow in-between and had to be pulled ahead by the pickup:

So yes, the Tanks did great. Respect!

Not that you can take a new Tank straight from a car showroom and head up into the Arctic Circle in winter – or even in March. You simply wouldn’t make it. They need to be specially prepared and have a few modifications. Let me tell you a bit more about all this…

This is going to be a cheeky advertisement for the Chinese car industry. However, I have to say I’m completely indifferent to automobile brands… Actually, I’m lying; there is one brand – Land Rover, particularly its Defender model – which I’ve… HATED ever since our 2022 Magadan-Yakutsk-Lake Baikal expedition. As to the rest – I’m just not bothered: I just need a car to be reliable and provide a decent level of comfort. So, as you can see, I’m no expert or fan of all things automotive. Accordingly, I’ll quote Zhenya and Sasha – our transportation organizers and guides – regarding our Tanks’ special adaptations…

Me: “What did you do to these cars to make them comfortable, fun, and reliably ready for an expedition to Tiksi (in March) and back?”

Sasha: “First let me tell you that I’ve several years of experience in operating Chinese vehicles. I built the world’s first Chinese Arctic Truck, which has been conquering the Arctic for three years. And since 2019 I’ve been traveling in and near the Arctic Circle only in Chinese vehicles based on principle. My first was a Chinese crossover, and folks could hardly believe that we’d be going all the way to the Arctic in such a thing. That’s when we first drove on winter roads – and have been ever since; for Chinese vehicles – the “Chinese alternative” – not only can go the extra Arctic mile – they do, as we’ve been showing for years already”…

Here’ Sasha, btw:

“How we prepare the vehicles is the result of many years of experience. I’ve been preparing vehicles for arctic travel for almost 30 years myself, and before that I learned everything from my father. He’s an honored veteran of the North – having worked as a driver in the Arctic all his life.

“The first thing we did with the cars was stop the air getting into the engine through the front vents. A very common problem in severely cold weather is the breather line getting intercepted. What you get is oil being thrown out of the engine while driving. So we modified it so the air comes in through the air filter. And we filled up the under-hood space so that there’d be no drafts and the engine wouldn’t get too cold.

“For this time, since there’d be naleds, we installed good protection on the underside of the vehicles. As regards the windows – they were all made double-glazed.

“Perhaps the main – albeit simple – modification was the cardboard inserts in front of the radiator. Without them – we’re going nowhere! Oh – nearly forgot: one other “modification” – the thermometer attached to the outside of the windscreen!”

// Which reminds me: our thermometer on our window always showed around nine degrees below what the temperature really was; it was duly named the “Instagram-thermometer” ). But I digress…

“Jokes aside, the outside thermometer is handy also as a speed limiter. The cars’ native thermometers go off below -40°C. When you see the actual temperature when it’s below 40 you have to slow down accordingly. Metal becomes brittle, and rubber turns into something… just weird (I don’t know what), so you have to drive slowly. Also, you need to always park the cars so that you don’t need to turn the steering wheel when setting off later. If you do – the steering rods will snap! And still on about parking: if the cars are parked outside overnight – you keep the engine ticking over all night!”

A more detailed video-interview with both Sasha and Zhenya is coming up later, btw. For now – some more pics of our Tanks:

On naleds on the Moma Range:

On the iced-over Indigirka River – the Indigirka Tube:

On the “Tube” this is called “black ice”:

More naleds:

And here we are in Tiksi! We made it!

…”We also place additional carpeting and EVA mats in the footwells, and redirect the air supply system so that the rear-seat footwells are heated so the rear passengers’ feet don’t freeze.

“Most of the heat is lost through the windshield. That’s why it needs to be double-glazed. Then there are the side windows. The side ones have the extra windows on the inside so the windows can be wound down. They keep the heat in very well and don’t fog up.

“In each car we carry 90 liters of fuel in three 30-liter canisters. The cabin is equipped for comfort with additional drawers for small things. Of course, all lubricants must be frost-resistant; that is, synthetic oils for the engine and transmission. And the brake fluid must be good, as should of course be the coolant.”

Thanks Yevgeny and Sasha for all the info – and of course for overseeing our expedition!

(Don’t forget to subscribe to their socials (switch to English subtitles there).)

And a big thank-you to the Tanks; without which… ->

The rest of the photos from our Yakutsk-Tiksi-Yakutsk expedition are here.

To be continued!…

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