The "Oltre - Beyond The Edge 2008" expedition set off yesterday from Milan on the first leg of a journey from North Cape to the Bering Strait to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the North-East Passage completed by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

The expedition, led by Petter Johannesen, a descendent of Roald Amundsen, will drive north for 15 days to Norway's North Cape, where the real journey will begin. The expedition wants to reach the Bering Strait in March 2009.

The route will take it into some of the world's most difficult conditions for motor vehicles, where temperatures routinely drop to below -50°C.

At such temperatures plastics, become hard and fragile; physical transformations cause oils and fluids to lose their effectiveness; rubber parts and electric cables crack and break far more easily. Shock absorbers become stiffer and hydraulic components seize.

The expedition is using four Iveco Massif 4x4 station wagons (the Massif is a Spanish-built clone of the Land Rover Defender) and two Iveco Daily 4x4s, each adapted for Arctic winter conditions.

Special bash plates have been fitted to protect their bellies and the fuel systems will flow no matter how low the temperature.

The cabins have extra heating and demisting systems and their wiring has been protected against cold and possible impact damage.

The vehicles also have increased charging capacity to power extra lights. Each vehicle has a winch and claw tyres for better traction on ice. Bead-lock rims are used so tyre pressures can be reduced for driving in snow.

One Daily has been fitted out as a combined living quarters and spares store and the other as a combined kitchen and living quarters.

One purpose of the trip is to emphasise the need for greater ecological awareness with input from the Italian Space Agency and the World Wildlife Fund.

The 40-strong team includes researchers, doctors, journalists, photographers, videographers, drivers, and mechanics, with personnel rotating at the end of each 30-day leg.