Fewer vehicles capture the hearts and imagination of parents and children at this time of year more than Santa’s sleigh. Yet little is known of this iconic ride that makes the rounds every December. In fact, most people know more about Adam West’s valiant crime fighting Batmobile than they do Kris Kringle’s delivery truck. So, at the risk of being blacklisted for naughtiness, I ask in TTAC fashion whether Santa’s immortal sleigh is a timeless classic or an outdated dud.
The Big 2.5 are rightly criticized for glacial product development cycles, but the domestics reproduce like snow bunnies compared to the jolly fat man’s custom workshop. When Father Christmas gave up Yule the goat in favor of this more modern conveyance is unknown. In 1823, the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (a.k.a. “T’was the Night before Christmas”) first noted use of the sleigh and reindeer.
Undoubtedly, it is high time for a new look. The fire engine red paint job and frilly scrollwork are tired and passé. The open cockpit sled is no convertible. Inexcusably, it offers neither retractable soft nor hardtop. Also absent are windshield, doors and windows. This all-weather rig forces its occupants to protect themselves from Jack Frost.
The dashboard is artfully free of dials, buttons or knobs of any kind. While stylistically refreshing, it represents a complete lack of features: no speedometer, air conditioning, radio, glove compartment or cigarette lighter. The front seat is wide enough for two, but it’s clear from the imprint of oversized buttocks that it was made for one. Legroom is adequate for an obese old elf, but torturously short for those of us with normal proportions. But not all is wrong with this interior; the cargo space is deceptively large.
While the Swedes have pioneered automobile safety, this old Scandinavians toboggan lacks even the most basic safety equipment. Ralph Nader would condemn Santa’s sleigh as “Unsafe at any Speed” due to missing seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, whiplash protection, side impact reinforcement and electronic stability control.
Slide into the driver’s seat and take hold of the reigns. The seating position is high and visibility unsurpassed. The naturally aspirated 16-nostril power plant producing an impressive 8cp (caribou power) comes to life with a buck, snort and lurch. To keep Santa on schedule, the acceleration is lightning fast and top speed is immeasurable. This sporty little bucket really flies. The front-hoof drive configuration delivers exceptional traction on or off-road, even over icy surfaces.
The ride is kidney-crunchingly harsh until you get up to speed, at which time the too-loose air ride suspension gives you the sensation that you are floating. At their best, Cadillac and Lincoln have never flattened bumps so well. However, the steering requires a heavy hand and turning requires forethought and acres of space. The brakes are primitive and lack ABS. Every stop is a skid. In normal operation, the big sled handles as if it were on rails. During sporty driving, it tends to whiplash the cab around corners. The leaning, pitch and rolls contribute to a nauseatingly roller-coasterish ride that guarantees the tossing of Christmas cookies and milk.
The only option available for the sleigh is an upgrade called Rudolph. Rudolph adds a navigation system, front fog light and additional power. Unfortunately, these features come with a significant weight penalty, more than 650lbs, which adds unacceptable harshness during rooftop landing.
Santa has enjoyed great success as a secular and commercial alternative to religious nativity scenes during the Christmas season. But this politically correct image is threatened by utilization of such an environmentally unfriendly vehicle that has no form of emissions controls. The reindeer are incessantly belching and farting methane and nitrous oxide, confirmed greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently released a 400-page environmental study that implicates livestock as contributing three times more harmful greenhouse gasses than automobiles and industry combined. Methane, while less prevalent in the atmosphere, traps 23 times more heat than carbon dioxide.
Additionally, the reindeer indiscriminately spew their palletized waste hither and yon. Large animal manure is a major source of water pollution around the globe and ammonia gas released from the decomposing dung contributes to Acid Rain.
Nonetheless, Santa’s whip is fuel-efficient. The EPA does not publish estimated MPG for reindeer pulled sleighs. But a trough full of molasses-sweetened oats, a salt lick and a few gallons of water will keep this motor running through the night.
Santa’s current sleigh is a deathtrap and lacks nearly all modern conveniences. The styling predates the buggy whip. It's time for Jolly Old St. Nick to slaughter his reindeer and upgrade to more environmentally friendly SUV. Perhaps Old St. Nick should waddle down to his local GMC store’s Red Tag Sale and get a deal on a Yukon.