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Vintage Sled of the Month: The Sno-Jet Thunder Jet

By Stephen King

Now, many of you may recall part of this because I have related many times that my first sled was a Christmas present way back when from my mom and dad. That sled was a 1967 Sno-Jet.

If memory is correct, I am sure it was a one-lunger with about 15 hp. It just flew over the snow at maybe 25 mph. I was 9 and, from my perspective, I was flying.

However, Sno-Jet did make a few other models, some used for racing. And, for a while, they were one of the top name brands in snowmobile racing. This month, my vintage sled is the Snow Jet Thunder Jet. (Kind of what my little sled wanted to be when it grew up.)

Anyway, for a bit of history on the Snow Jet. Way back in the early 1960s, Canadians Maurice Fillion and Paul Emile Roy wanted to build boats. They started to talk to potential investors. One who showed up at their work site was way more interested in a homemade snow sled the duo had made then their boat ideas.

It is important to know that at the time another Canadian, J. Armand Bombardier, had just come up with the first real recreational snowmobile — the Ski-Doo. Prior to that, snow sleds had been these huge motor toboggans. These new “snowmobiles” were starting to take off and the investor saw more potential in a new sled than a new boat.

1967 Sno-Jet

So, Maurice and Paul did a quick 180, totally blowing off the water riders and going with the snow sled idea. By 1965, they had produced 25 of Sno-Jets. By 1968, they were up to about 15,000, and their Sno-Jet was taking off like … well, a Sno-Jet.

As the industry started to really take off, so did Sno-Jet, topping out at 30,000 sleds made in 1970. As the 1970s came in, so did about 100 other manufacturers. (I think there were about 250 or more eventually.) With so many of the newbies, Sno-Jet kind of flattened out a bit in sales.

But Sno-Jets were a cheaper sled and very reliable. By this time, they were available at a whole lot of dealerships. (About a block from where we lived, we had a dealership called Naubinway Boat and Motors. Dad was friends with the owner. For Christmas in 1968, I got a new sled — that 1967 Sno-Jet.)

Now, you must also remember that at about the same time, snowmobile racing was really starting to take off. For many manufacturers, one way to get noticed was to win races. So, in 1971, Sno-Jet came out with the Thunder Jet, a sled made and designed for racing. Comparing a Thunder Jet to my little sled was like comparing an Amish horse and buggy to a Formula 1 race car.

1967 Sno-Jet

The Thunder Jet at the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum is a 1972, with a 791 cc Hirth Honker motor. These sleds also had a few things my little bump jumper did not, like an aluminum chassis and low engine placement (which made them handle better and go faster on an oval track). For race sleds, things like head lights, taillights, etc., were just extra weight, so they were gone. Also, the engine was exposed (see photo).

Not a good idea if you are out boondocking. That design would end up with that engine totally covered in snow. And, sucking up snow into places that would give it a serious case of indigestion.

By 1972, with these radical new designs, Sno-Jet had literally blasted off on the race circuits. The Thunder Jet, with some excellent drivers piloting them, were winning races. Lots of them. Guys like Jim Adema, who lapped the rest of the field at a race in Peterborough, Canada, went on to win the Canadian Cup Points contest.

This kept Sno-Jet in the public eye. Then came the mid-1970s with the OPEC oil embargo — and the crash of the snowmobile industry. Sno-Jet was bought by Kawasaki. They made sleds until about 1977. But, by 1982, Kawasaki had gotten out of the snow sled business and the Sno-Jet was no more.

However, they still live on in the memories of people like me who owned one back in the day. As well, they still live on as one of the more collectible older sleds. There are still a lot of them out there, and they are still relatively affordable and reliable.

Also, with what they managed to do in racing, the Thunder Jet still stands as one of the best race sleds ever made. Few others have totally dominated racing the way the Thunder Jet did.

If you want to see a 1972 Thunder Jet in person, stop in at the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum in Naubinway. They have an excellent one on display.

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