Monday, March 7, 2016

Out with the New and In with the Old – Appreciating a Vintage Snowmobile

I recently purchased a new snowmobile. Now, before I go any further, I must clarify that this sled is “new” to me and was bequeathed to me by its previous owner after 43 years of faithful service. The snow sled I am referring to is a1972 Ski-Doo TNT 440. The TNT acronym stood for Track ’N’ Trail, and for its time, the sled was a giant leap forward in snowmobile design. The TNT’s biggest selling point for riders was that it provided a greater degree of sportiness and more horsepower than its contemporary competitors, setting a new industry standard. The TNT helped transform the sport of snowmobiling, by showing the public that snowmobile riding was “fun” and that these machines could be enjoyed for much more than basic utilitarian service.

Technological Marvel, But Uncomfortable
The sled was a marvel of technology back in the 1970s. Even to this day, the TNT still boasts a number of qualities that have some modern riders taking a serious look that this and older sleds for their style and functionality. By no means a perfect sled, the TNT isn’t the type of snow sled that a person would want to take out for a 200 mile trail ride. Non-ergonomic handles, lack of power steering, a simple bench seat and awkward straight T-handle steering bars make the TNT a dinosaur compared to the riding luxury afford by modern day sleds.

Comparing Old and New Comparing new versus old sleds, modern day sleds feature:
•Vastly superior suspension systems
•Better fuel efficiency
•Less noise
•Less pollution, and
•Less chance of mechanical failures

Vintage sleds, in general, are:
•Lighter weight
•Easier to maintain, and
•Inexpensive to purchase.

Vintage sleds share many of the same basic components still present on today’s sleds: engine, drive belt, track, skis and seating. However, those components have evolved to increase safety and improve comfort. And as components are made more safe and comfortable, inevitably their weight and cost increase. Vintage sleds typically weigh less than 300 pounds, and cost less than $500. Compare this to present day sleds, which can cost upwards of $8,000 and can tip the scales at 800 or more pounds.

Slower Top Speed an Advantage?
Few vintage snowmobiles from the 1970s and early 1980s had engines greater than 40 horsepower or were capable of exceeding speeds, much beyond 50 mph. Today, even basic entry-level models provide 50 or more horsepower, and some of the most popular-selling sleds boast 100-plus horsepower. Some of today’s high-horsepower sleds are capable of exceeding 100 mph, speeds that to some recreational observers seem unnecessary outside of controlled racing environments. Vintage sleds are a viable option well worth exploring, and can be advantageous for individuals not looking to participate in long trail rides or needing to travel at great rates of speed. In certain circumstances I actually prefer the vintage sleds for their lack of horsepower, as I prefer that my children learn to sled on a machine capable of a top speed of 30 miles per hour.

Portability and Ease of Maintenance
Vintage sleds are also a good option for those owners who want the ability to easily load the sled into the back of a truck or get it unstuck from a snow bank without straining their backs. Repairs and maintenance on these sleds is simple and straightforward, and with very little mechanical knowledge most individuals can fix basic problems without the need to take the sleds into repair centers. For these reasons, sportsmen looking for a sled to use ice fishing, allowing kids to ride around the yard and slow cruising on short trips are likely to see the value in these old sleds.

The prevalence and love of vintage snowmobiles has give rise to a subculture of individuals who proudly maintain, ride and even race these machines both for fun and for show. Their love of these “antiques” has fueled websites, chat rooms and several events that occur throughout the winter season in Maine highlighting these fun to ride dinosaurs. In October, I attended the third annual vintage snowmobile show held the Augusta Civic Center. It was a fun event for kids and adults alike, as many vintage sleds were on display for spectators to admire. In addition, the Turner Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club ( vintage snowmobile race will be held this winter. For the past 15 years, the club has hosted the “One Lunger 100,” proclaimed as the northeast’s only vintage snowmobile race. Finally, the Northern Timber Cruisers Snowmobile Club ( maintains an antique snowmobile museum, located across from their clubhouse in Millinocket. The museum currently contains 36 antique snowmobiles, making it one of the largest collections of antique snowmobiles in the northeast. On display are machines such as the 1943 Eliason Motor Toboggan, the 1961 K-95 Sno-traveler (Polaris) and several Bullcats from 1962-63. Of course, the modern sleds of today will eventually become the antiques of tomorrow. The sport of snowmobile riding will continue to evolve, and as it does, so too will changes in the overall design of snowmobiles. There will always be those of us curious to see the next big advancement in snow machine technology and design and also those of us who will lament about the “good old days” when sleds were simpler, slower and easier to maintain. Whatever your snowmobiling passions, drive safe, wear a helmet and enjoy the winter season!

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