The CitroÍn-Haardt Trans-Asiatic Expedition

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Pablo Edronkin

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It is quite an experience to travel by truck, and drivers have a whole and fascinating subculture of their own; sometimes, overlanding or navigating with trucks over terrain becomes quite difficult and dangerous.

It is a very special job too, and it has little to do with the stereotypes that people have about trucks, trucking and truckers; for example, it is quite common to find among them former engineers, lawyers, businessmen and even women who just got fed up with their prior existence and changed all that for a lifestyle of tranquil travel on the road. Of course, it is not an easy job but people just love it.

And some truck trips have been pure adventure indeed, like the extraordinary CitroÍn - Haardt Trans-Asiatic expedition, between 1931 and 1932, which went over 12.000 km from the Mediterranean and with the intention of reaching the Yellow Sea. This awesome undertaking was the brainchild of Georges Marie Haart, one of the first drivers and specialist in all-terrain vehicles, who helped test the first design that the famous French company CitroÍn had designed; he first trained for years in the Sahara desert using half-trucks similar in concept to the U.S. army M-3 used during WWII, and then began his expedition over extraordinarily difficult terrain and conditions.

The expedition was pitted against all sorts of difficult circumstances, going from the meteorological and topographical to political issues; their goal was to go over the route that Marco Polo followed centuries earlier and put to test the designs of the famed vehicle manufacturer in order to improve the technology of the time. They chose half-trucks because of the experience that Haart already had with them, and because such a design has a number of advantages, like a good weight distribution on the back of the truck thanks to the caterpillars used, and good controllability due to the use of front wheels, like in a conventional truck.

They underwent all sorts of problems, and were robbed, sacked and even taken virtual prisoners. Unfortunately, the expedition went to a halt in Mongolia, after its guide and boss died of pneumonia, when they were headed for Indochina.

But despite all the odds against them, the expedition was far from being considered a failure; the lessons learned regarding the design, endurance and capabilities of those vehicles were used to further improve the designs of all terrain trucks, and a lot of technological progress was attained thanks to that particular adventure. And the expedition also demonstrated that daring to gamble even in risky was is nothing bad, but good, for the world moves thanks to those who dare to be unconventional.

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