50 Years of Arctic Cat

7 Feb 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on 50 Years of Arctic Cat
Arctic Cat 454

The weekend of July 29-30th was all about Arctic Cat’s past. Did you know that in 1966 Arctic Cat private-labeled about 200 snowmobiles for catalog retailer J.C.Penney? Called the Foremost the sled had a white cowl with powder blue tunnel. Power came from an 8-hp Kohler single cylinder engine.

Penney’s referred to the sled as offering many new features in “…a lightweight, low cost off highway vehicle.”

Pre-dating that historic Cat sled was a 1963 Model 100 prototype owned by Russ Sutton. A former president of the antique snowmobile association, the Ogilvie, Minn. collector takes special pride in this one-off prototype that was almost single-handedly built by Arctic Cat legend Edgar Hetteen.

Having shown the sled to Hetteen at a vintage sled rally in the late 1990s, Sutton received a letter from the Cat founder. In it Hetteen noted that the sled had been built around 1963 and said, “I did most of the work myself. It could have been all of it.”


What makes this sled impressively unique is, as Hetteen notes: “It was the first U.S. built machine with the motor forward in the general configuration (used) today.”

But it also was the first direct drive sled and didn’t use a jackshaft. The 6-hp Kohler engine just didn’t have the power to make the system work well enough as Hetteen stated in his letter: “…It became apparent that this was not the way to go.”

Of course in later years, John Deere would produce the direct drive Spitfire and Polaris would manufacture a series of Cutlass snowmobiles with direct drive. But Edgar was right. It wouldn’t be the way to go as no direct drive sleds are produced anymore.

While the displays showcased many snowmobiles, the collections recalled Arctic Cat’s pre-1981 past when the company rode high as the Number 1 U.S. manufacturer of snowmobiles and attempted to expand into other recreational lines. There were complete collections of Arctic Cat mini-bikes, the two-wheel sensation of the 1970s.

There were some reminders of products that exited the Arctic Cat product line almost as quickly as they entered it. The Wankel-engined lawnmower was one such collectible. There were purple lawn tractors and even Arctic-branded bicycles.

Not everything was old and nostalgic. While there were original early sleds and the first Arctic Cat ATV, the 1996 Bearcat 454 4×4, there were displays of the newest products, including the hot rod 2012 Wildcat with its torque-monster one-liter Cat-built twin. This all-new, low-slung, side-by-side power ride generated a crowd when Arctic Cat rolled two them of out on the fairgrounds at 1PM.

Arctic Cat 454

Not available until next season, the 2012 Wildcat drew impressive interest from the pro-Arctic Cat onlookers.

Spread out over two-days the 50th anniversary of all things Arctic Cat was as much reunion as it was product showcase. There were glimpses of Arctic Cat history at every turn as you walked among the displays. Veteran Arctic Cat racer Jim Dimmerman strolled nonchalantly along the grounds, looking tanned, fit and ready to once again take an Arctic Cat Sno Pro sled through turn two at the Eagle River derby track.

Legendary cross-country ace Brian Nelson was available to sign autographs as were modern Cat stars.

Engineers on hand included RD legend Roger Skime, who effectively was celebrating nearly a half-century of his own at Arctic Cat, and who modeled his early snowmobile suit during the Arctic Cat fashion show. There was the famous “Z”, Dennis Zuwlaksi, whose nickname “Z” became an Arctic Cat model series.

The event was a gathering of Arctic Cat aficionados and the people who made and continue to make Arctic Cat a power in the snowmobile business. While the products were of interest, it was the mixing with the pioneers, the tinkerers, the people who are Arctic Cat that made the 50th Arctic Cat anniversary memorable. 50 years.

That’s an accomplishment!

Arctic Cat 454
Arctic Cat 454

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