As many of us already know, or are about to find out, winter driving can really suck. Icy and snowy conditions are simply hard on both people and cars, and very few cars are really designed to handle it well. But what if a car was designed just to deal well with terrible winter weather? I took a stab at it.

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When I came up with the basic design of the Ultimate Winter Car (UWC), I was working with the primary goal being dealing well in awful winter weather. Since it’s all just me imagining and doodling anyway, I didn’t make cost an issue, but I did want to keep things within the general realm of technological possibility—no magic heat-orbs or anything like that. This should be something that could, hypothetically, be built today without too much trouble.

As you’ll see, I did use at least one piece of fairly exotic technology, but it’s actually one that’s been used for decades in a variety of harsh environments. While it also comes with a pretty substantial safety risk, I think it’s one that could theoretically be mitigated. Like I said, you’ll see.

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The UWC should be able to be driven like you would a normal car, pretty much. That means it should be able to transition from snow and ice to roads without difficulty, and maintain roughly normal car speeds when on pavement. That’s why I decided against a tracked vehicle solution, and stuck with wheels.

So, if you’ll permit me, here’s my basic design for an Ultimate Winter Car:

Let’s first list the key features of the car:

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• Hybrid drivetrain with an electric motor on the front axle and a gas or diesel motor at the rear, to give four-wheel drive (Citroen 2CV Sahara-style), greater fuel economy/range and drivetrain redundancy so you won’t get stuck somewhere in case of mechanical trouble.

The front electric motor (or motors, I was thinking maybe two, one at each wheel) would provide front-wheel drive alone, or 4WD in conjunction with the rear combustion motor. Power/torque should be reasonable; maybe we can get some Tesla motors for this?

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The rear motor would be a horizontally-opposed four, mounted under the rear cargo area floor. This would keep the center of gravity nice and low. I’m thinking maybe we can source a Subaru motor for this. Cooling radiator(s) would be mounted at the sides of the rear cargo area, and take air in from intakes under the rear side glass. A diesel option would be nice too!

The UWC can run in FWD with just the electric, RWD with just the combustion engine, or 4WD selectable at will. Top speed and acceleration should be competitive with pretty much any current SUV.

• Use of a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) for electricity and heat. This avoids the inherent energy storage issues of batteries in cold weather, and is a much more compact and powerful way to generate electricity.

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RTGs have been used in spacecraft, submarines, remote lighthouses, and more since the 1950s, and despite the scary radiation exposure possibility in the event of a wreck, you can’t beat them. It’s time to try them out on cars.

Likely a new small-scale one would need to be developed for this automotive purpose, and we’d need some pretty robust shielding all around it, but I’m confident one of the companies I made up in my head just now is up to the challenge. They could be used to power the Tesla-style motors here.

• Tall, narrow tires (almost like tractor tires) with retractable studs. Yes, retractable-stud tires are a real thing, and narrow, tall tires seem to be the best suited to get through ice and snow to find grip on the ground below. Plus, they’d give about 12" of ground clearance, so you’re not plowing snow.

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• If you want to plow snow, though, there’s a retractable snowplow blade. When not in use, it forms the forward part of the skid plate under the car.

• All windows have those heat-element wires. Why only defrost some of your windows?

• The car has remote-start features to get it warm and ready. Also, thanks to the RTG, you can have it stay at a warm temperature all night with no worry about battery depletion or a need for an engine block heater, which the RTG would power internally.

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• A gabled roof keeps snow from accumulating on top, and overhangs on all sides keep the windows clear.

• An extendable, skyway-like door allows for entry and exit with minimal exposure to the elements. If the situation allows it, you can extend the exit door almost to the entrance of wherever you’re going, to keep outside exposure to a minimum. I figure the extendable door can extend a maximum of, oh, 12 feet or so? Here’s what I’m thinking of:

• Heavy-duty, heated wiper blades for front and rear windows, as well as wipers for headlights, with heated washer nozzles for the lights and windows will help maintain visibility. Front/rear/side camera systems with heated window ports will help with 360° visibility even in terrible conditions.

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A full suite of driver’s aids, including night vision sensors and a HUD will help keep you from getting all snow-blind even in the worst blizzard.

• An in-floor water drainage/absorption/reclamation system will keep the inside tidy and counteract the drying effect of car heat. One of the biggest ass-pains of winter and cars is how much of a mess your car’s interior becomes. Snowy boots, rain, ice, mud, and all sorts of other crap collects in your car.

Here, a mesh upper floor and a sub-floor water drainage system gets all that wet crap out of your way, and reclaims some of that water for use humidifying the air in the car so you don’t get all dried out from the heated air in the car. Collected water can be drained from inside the cab at the driver’s discretion.

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The interior should have heated seats all around, upholstery that’s water-resistant and easy to clean, and a good rubber-lined, rugged cargo area, maybe with some sort of dog harnesses, too, because why not?

That’s essentially what I’m thinking for an Ultimate Winter Car. Study the diagrams, read this over, and then, as usual, tell me why I’m such an idiot. You know how much I love our discussions!

As with all my designs here, automakers are free to contact me to put this into production as soon as possible. I’m happy to let them know where they can send checks.


Contact the author at jason@jalopnik.com.