In 1965 a Morris Mini journeyed south to work in the hostile environment of Antarctica. This was no ordinary Mini. It was a hybrid creation. Part car, part tracked vehicle, built by Australian legend, Terry O’Hare.

Based in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine, Terry’s company, Recar, made all manner of specialist vehicles, including tracked expedition machines for ANARE, the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition. Recar built kitted out bodies and mounted them on Canadian Nodwell, and Swedish, Porsche powered,  Snow trac chassis. They made up the core of the Australian Antarctic research teams go anywhere fleet.

They weren’t cheap. ANARE  toyed with the idea of a budget machine to supplement their tracked fleet. For two years they used VW Beetles at their research stations mostly as a means to commute around the base. They were reliable but limited in their scope of duties by their two wheel drive. A tracked vehicle offered the optimum package. Terry was also considering the possibility of a light, cheap support vehicle. He set out to find a small car that could be converted to track use. A fwd car was the simplest solution to mate to a tracked vehicle, as the majority of options ran drive to their tracks through a front drive sprocket.

In sixties Melbourne there wasn’t a huge range of small, front wheel drive cars able to fit four adults. The Mini stood out as the obvious choice. For the concept to keep to a budget, the intention was to reuse as much of the Mini parts as possible.

The body including interior, and the 850 engine, gearbox and subframes were all retained. The driveshafts, universal joints, hubs and suspension were removed . To mate the body to the tracks the doors were cut down by 100mm and the redundant wheel arches filled in. The Mini body was then welded to a steel rectangular frame to merge it with the Snow trac chassis. Drive sprockets were fitted to the differential and two chains utilized to feed power independently to each set of track drive sprockets

Three Mini wheels on each side ran on rubber tracks of a composite similar to industrial conveyor belts. Each track was made up of two sections of rubber joined in the middle by a toothed steel belt. The teeth, or grousers, kept the track in place and provided purchase for the drive sprocket.

In his initial prototype Terry kept the steering wheel, running a complicated set of valves to deliver steering control to both sets of tracks. For his two follow up vehicles, he used a much simpler set up, removing the steering wheel and using two levers for left and right tracks. Each lever could brake one set of tracks and when this occurred the differential fed power to the track offering the least resistance. The actual braking resistance was provided via standard Mini drums mounted on the rearmost wheel on either side. Each side having its own Mini brake servo.

Prototype testing suggested the 850 engine was a bit short on power for coping with the tracks, so for the two production examples Terry replaced the unit with a 1098cc engine from a Morris 1100, upping the Minis BHP to 50. Testing also showed the nose heavy prototype was prone to considerable pitch on the move, so the production models extended the track length to stretch beyond the engine bay and incorporated a modified track shroud from a Sno trac.

The engine was given a very light grade oil to combat the freezing conditions, and Antarctic grade antifreeze. A removable set of baffles were fitted behind the radiator grille to reduce the amount of freezing air entering the engine bay . Inside the Mini was remarkably standard, retaining clutch and accelerator pedals speedo dashboard and seats. Unsurprisingly, a large heater was fitted.

Of the two production versions one went with ANARE to the Australian research station at Wilkes camp, serving for a year at the base. It was reported to be a good little machine but still liable to pitch at speed on rough snow. It also suffered some issues with clutch and brake wear and as the only vehicle there of its type, spares were not readily available. It did have advantages over the larger Snow trac and Nodwell tracked units. First was its size and secondly, its lighter weight ( 300kg lighter than a Snow trac) exerted less pressure on the ice despite having smaller tracks.

Returning to Australia the Mini -Trac began a new life working in the Victoria snowfields. The original prototype was sold off, possibly to Canada. The third Mini-Trac was shipped to New Zealand for use in their Antarctic program ( NZARP) There’s no available record of it being used by the Kiwis, and its current whereabouts is not known. The Aussie Minitrac disappeared from sight after its Victoria caper and also faded from memory. All that’s left today is a couple of press clippings, a short clip of video of the Aussie Minitrac in action, and the pictures you see here taken by Sid Harvey of ANARE, that were rediscovered by an archivist just a few years ago.

There was one potential sighting of what may have been the prototype Mini-Trac. A for sale advert in Canada described a sidewalk snow plough. A picture showed a heavily modified Morris Mini. painted a classic council Works Dept yellow and mounted on a Bombardier tracked chassis.

The rear part of the passenger compartment was sharply cut away to make the mini a two seater. Was it just a coincidence that the heavily altered Mini was of the same era as the Mini- Trac, or was this the original, refurbished and earning its keep somewhere in Canada?

As for Terry, he went on to other projects, including building the World’s first jet powered truck. Waltzing Matilda was powered by an engine from a Canberra jet bomber. It set a land speed record. He also picked up a contract for a film company making a post apocalyptic  B movie. Terry’s company, Recar, constructed some of the vehicles for the film from designs by John Dowding. It was a small budget affair. The movie, released in 1979, was Mad Max.
Recar can’t take credit for constructing the MFP Falcon Interceptor. That was fellow Melbourne custom building house, Graf X International (Melbourne in the seventies must have been wild) Recar’s mad Mini -Trac was doing battle in a real world hostile environment long before Mad Max was a thing.The fate of this quirky polar explorer is a mystery. Let’s hope one is still out there, waiting to be found.

Image Credits  Sid Harvey ANARE

Thanks to Calum, for sharing his research and sources on the Mini Trac You can see his film, including the Mini Trac in action, by clicking here





About The Author

Steve Swanson

Steve turns any opportunity to write about cars into a roadtrip. It's seen him ride shotgun in a Bentley Blower with Clive Cussler, and cross paths with automotive YouTubers in Canada and the US. His work has been published in Magneto, Classic Cars, Classic American and some magazines that no MotorPunk reader has ever heard of. When he's not writing or driving you can find him kicking tyres at seedy auctions and hawking junk optimistically described as Automobilia

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