By Olav Aaen For Vintage Snowmobile Magazine February 2017
Call it Hot-Rod Vintage or maybe Resto-Mods to borrow a term that is now popular among car builders. The vintage scene is teeming with activity right now, and it has a lot of long time snowmobilers enthusiastic about the sport again: These builders may have been young racers in the 70’s and 80’sand want to go back and have some fun building the ultimate lightweight lake racer or hot cross country vintage sled. Usually the vintage movement has been divided into racers and restorers, but this third group is creating a lot of new excitement, not just among older enthusiast but also younger sledders that want to ride in the winter but may not have the funds for a new sled. Fortunately, there are now lots of older sleds available for very low prices, and parts are plenty and cheap at the larger swap meets if you search around a little. Popular sleds for modification are mid to late 70’s from the Sno- Pro era , and mid 80’s to mid 90’s “Classic “ IFS style muscle sleds with larger liquid cooled engines. We have seen this develop here at the shop, because the builders often need custom fitted pipes for their new hybrid project. Mixing old and new is not uncommon, like some Yamaha SRX owners do. One customer put a 1999 700 SRX Triple engine in a 1980 SRX chassis while another went a little more subtle with a larger VMAX 600 engine in his 1978 SRX sled. This guy also has seven 1977-78 Yamaha 440 Exciters on his farm, all for use by his kids and their friends. They all have a single performance pipe, after he tried one and liked the extra power and weight saving. John Deere builders have a large following in Iowa and across the grain belt, as a lot of farmers received free sleds with their purchase of tractors or combines. The Deere’s were built strong and quite a lot survived with low mileage and are prime candidates for engine updates. Some like to install Polaris Indy 500 Twins and many updated to newer Kawasaki LTD and Interceptor engines. Polaris and Cat fans are plenty in Minnesota and this weekend at the Waconia 2017 Show they were well represented. We ran into Tommy Zeller, who did a lot of speed run competitions and set many speed records as part of Marlyn Englers Team. Zeller loves his older Polaris sleds but with newer engines and suspensions under older body work. He presently trail rides three of his creations he told us enthusiastically. One of his trail sleds is a 79’ TXL, but with a 500 Indy Twin engine with a single performance pipe and a longer suspension with a 121 inch track. Another TXL with the 500 Twin engine uses a PSI pipe with an original 136 inch suspension extended to have a 151 inch track, with the obvious extension mod to the tunnel. They both have 76 free air hoods, with the free air scoop closed using an aluminum shield, copying the look of the early factory X-country sleds. His hot lake racer is an 80 Centurion but with a Polaris 650 “Red Head” triple tuned with engine mods and triple pipes under a 1977 modified hood. We also ran into John Zeimetz at the race track in Waconia. He had just delivered several project builds to customers and was looking for new candidates to build. He told us that the new trend was towards larger liquid cooled engines for power and reliability, but often installed in earlier and lighter performance sleds. He just finished up a Rupp Magnum with an Arctic 800 ZR twin. We built some custom twin pipes for this customer who according to John spent most of the Eagle River Vintage Weekend on the local St Germaine lakes drag racing and handily beating new and larger turbo equipped sleds. Another builder into this new trend is Bill “Elvis” Stull. Bill is not only into racing his Kohler powered Rupp vintage sleds in the World Series Championship, but his body shop does a lot of chassis mods and he has a line of Rupp hoods and pans available. There are always several projects going at his shop and we get many of them at our shop for custom fitting pipes. The latest example is a Rupp Magnum with a triple 800 Hirth engine installed which required some different routing of the pipes. Since this chassis did not have a secondary shaft, but the older “inboard” clutch with a left side chain case, the wide motor ended up very close to the pan on the right hand side. This meant we could only route one pipe to the right while the other two went to the left around the clutch. It still came out looking kind of racy and trick. With the larger motor in the light chassis this is definitely a Vintage Hot Rod.
Someone recently asked if we ever hot-rodded a Mercury. You won’t see many of those even though the light chassis would be ideal, because they are very sought after vintage race sleds. Most of them are still to be found on the race tracks winning vintage championships. Quite a few older racers came by the Vintage Snowmobiler booth at Waconia, often in company with a young grandson. They were still enthusiastic about the sport and busy building sleds with their sons and grandchildren.” I never get tired of working on projects”, one builder told me. “It was so exciting in the 70’s when we raced and now I still have new ideas for projects I do with my grandson”, he said. I guess once you are caught in this exciting hobby it is still an amazing playground for new and exciting projects and creations!