A Makeover for Santa's Sleigh

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Dec 20, 2017

Back in 2014, then-President Barack Obama said in a speech at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey that the military’s massive C-130 cargo airplane is “a little more efficient than Santa’s sleigh.”

How far is Santa going to get on one-reindeer power? (The Bees/Flickr)

I just came across that on the Internet, and in thinking about which of today’s vehicles would make the best modern sleigh for Santa, I had also thought of the C-130. After all, it can haul a lot of cargo—44,000 pounds.

The design is nicely nostalgic, but cargo capacity, aerodynamics and speed could be improved. (BrickInNick/Flickr)

The problem, according to the joint U.S./Canadian NORAD military agency, is that, to fulfill its global 24-hour mission, Santa’s sleigh has to be capable of carrying 60,000 tons, and fly “faster than starlight,” or at least 186,000 miles per second.

This version has some lift! (Patti Haskins/Flickr)

NORAD described the ideal sleigh as “a versatile, all-weather, multi-purpose, vertical short-take-off and landing vehicle…capable of traveling vast distances without refueling."

The Hercules C-130 is a pretty sturdy and capable contender. (Lockheed photo)

Lockheed got the C-130 into the air in 1954. It carries four Allison T56-A-lA turboprop engines, each with 3,750 horsepower, and three-bladed Curtiss-Wright electric-reversible propellers. A loaded C-130J version can fly 2,071 miles without refueling, but unfortunately at only 417 mph. A lot of kids would be disappointed on Christmas Eve.

Santa is ready to rethink the sleigh, with version 2.0. (Driveshop graphic by Lei Silva)

Hmmm. We’ve got a problem here, and most modern reimagining of the sleigh don’t seem quite up to the job.

Ford's Evos Sleigh Concept is frugal on gas--and emissions. (Ford graphic)

Thinking small. Ford thinks that Santa would want to go green, and so around Christmas 2011 it came up with the Evos Sleigh Concept, boasting a turbocharged, direct-injected, 1-liter, three-cylinder Ecoboost engine. The 125 horsepower is more than nine reindeer could offer, and the planet benefits with the sleigh emitting only 114 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer.

Ford’s sleigh offers active park assist, which would be “useful for Santa in making those tight reverse rooftop landings.” The SYNC voice navigation “will help Santa keep in touch with the elves back at base, stay en route with GPS navigation and enable him to listen to and change, his favorite Christmas music.”

Hennessey's 2013 Jeep "sleigh" is ready for winter, but maybe not for the night of December 24. (Hennessey photo)

A power Christmas. Hennessey heard about Santa needing a new sleigh, too, and so created the special 2013 HPE800 version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee—with 805 horsepower, more than the Amazon version. It’s red, of course. Only 24 were produced, at $235,000 each. But maybe Santa would care less about Brembo brakes and custom leather and more about storage space?

A Santa riding around in one of these extended-wheelbase Rolls Phantoms might be too big for his britches. (Rolls-Royce photo)

Santa rewards himself. The readers of Motor Trend were polled about which cars would make the best Santa sleighs, and the magazine suggested these criteria:

  • More than nine reindeer power to move him swiftly through the night;
  • Room to haul all the toys to good girls and boys;
  • Good fuel economy, if possible, to minimize costs;
  • Long range so he can better utilize his time.

One intriguing reader choice was a stretched 2013 Rolls-Royce Phantom because “Santa can have anything he wants.” I’m not sure that’s quite in the spirit of Christmas, which is more about giving than receiving. Conspicuous displays of wealth wouldn’t seem to be Santa’s thing. A new coat of paint on the sleigh and he’s good to go. Besides, that Rolls would be really heavy.

Santa's all-electric sleigh from Amazon would seem to be on the right track. But the last one had a big V-8. (Amazon graphic)

Plugged-in Santa. Amazon created at least two versions of Santa’s sleigh, with one featuring a big blower-equipped 750-horsepower V-8. But then the team got creative—and green—by dreaming up an electric sleigh. This one’s more like it. It’s “a custom creation built to Santa’s own exacting specs, a one-of-a-kind hover-rocket designed to lap the entire globe in a single night….This year, Santa will traverse the world’s skies without adding an iota of emissions, a welcome relief to families from New Delhi to Los Angeles. The electric motor’s operation is also nearly silent, enabling Santa to alight and depart stealthily without disturbing children’s slumber.”

The minivan gives perspective on the Lane Motor Museum's LARC-LX: That's carrying capacity. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Going for size. What do I think would make a good Santa sleigh? I nominate the Lane Motor Museum’s ex-Army 1959 LARC-LX. This thing, with a 265-horsepower Detroit Diesel motor at each nine-foot wheel, is capable of carrying 100 tons. It’s more ark than it is military personnel carrier. Of course, it can’t fly—though it is amphibious. But maybe we just need a bit of Flubber, or maybe a modified flux capacitor, to solve that minor problem.

An even better choice: An airborne version of Elon Musk’s new emissions-free electric semi. Think of how much that thing can carry!

This Tesla semi is designed to haul stuff--a lot of stuff. (Tesla graphic)

The BAMF (don’t ask what that stands for) has a drag coefficient of only 0.36, which would be very useful to help Santa slip through the skies. And like the LARC it also has four wheel-mounted motors, but these are battery powered. It’s capable of reaching 60 mph in 20 seconds, which is darned fast for a road truck.

As to range, the version with the largest battery pack can travel only 500 miles, so we’re going to need charging stations mounted on clouds or something.

In this excerpt from the Absent-Minded Professor, you'll clearly see why the professor's miracle Flubber invention is the key to the Santa Sleigh 2.0:


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