If you’ve been in the sport for a decade or more, you’ve
seen the pattern. OEMs build sleds with high-performance small cc engines, then
work their way up to bog blocks in the 800 range before clearing the plate and
building a new high-performance small block.
In 1993, Polaris released the XLT 580, a lightweight,
high-performance small engine. Arctic Cat was focusing on the EXT 580 around
the same time. In the mid-90s, the focus was put on big sleds, like the Indy
Storm (900), Thundercat (900) and V-Max4 (900). By ’97, we were back to the
small blocks, with the 600 and 700 Polaris Indys, 600 Powder Special, Mountain
Max 600 and Summit
What’s happened since then? By 2000, Polaris was up to an
800, and by ’05 it had a 900. Arctic Cat went up to the Thundercat 1000 and had
800 and 900 1Ms before dropping down to the 2005 M7, which was the biggest sled
in the lineup that season. Now, Cat is back to a 1000. Ski-Doo and Yamaha
followed somewhat similar paths. Actually, Yamaha is off in its own world when
it comes to engine displacement and development.
But the interesting side of all of this is how the
aftermarket is following a similar path in at least one way.
The details may be a bit sketchy because I was a 16 and
didn’t really pay much attention to, well, anything. But back in 1994, the SnoWest project sled was a Ski-Doo
Summit 583 with a turbo on it. Project Projectile, as it was named, was our
first step into the land of turbochargers on sleds. The idea was just catching
on in the industry, and we were the guinea pigs (actually, Steve Janes was the guinea pig, the rest of us were
innocent bystanders). Sleds back then were all carbureted, so fuel delivery was
more of a guessing game. The turbo made horsepower, and lag times were in the
neighborhood of half an hour or so.
The clutching had to be heavy enough to tame the engine at
full boost, which meant the bottom end struggled to carry the load. There was
an awkward transition somewhere in the middle that resembled the sled’s puberty
stage (and roughly the same time span getting through it). Then an explosion
worthy of a 24 season finale would
happen, and Project Projectile’s power output would far exceed the chassis and
suspension’s ability to handle it. The skis would shake violently as they hung
in the air; the 1-inch track spun wildly, trying to connect with the ground
(which is a good thing it didn’t, because the drive train probably would have
broken in multiple places).
The experience was so offensive, people would pay thousands
of dollars to have it happen on their sleds (Steve keeps referring to it as a
good sled, so age and memory must be a factor… for at least one of us).
A few years later, turbos lost their popularity. But now, mostly
thanks to the advent of electronic fuel injection, turbo systems for
two-strokes are back in force. At this fall’s Idaho Snowmobile Show, the aisles
were lined with new turbo systems for two-stroke sleds.
Where we come full circle with this column is that since our
turbo’d Project Projectile, we’ve gone smaller (600s), bigger (800s), big
bores, stock motors and four-stroke. And now, 15 years later, we’re right back
where we started, taking a two-stroke mountain sled and throwing a turbo on it.
Of course, given the way engines, fuel injection,
chassis and suspensions have changed in those 15 years, we expect a much
different outcome. But building Project M-80 has reminded us of one thing: The
more things change, the more they stay the same.