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Masters of Styling Part I: Meeting Leon Raiter and Leroy Kapsner


(11/1/2012)

Leon Raiter (r) and Leroy Kapsner, of Arctic Enterprises' styling era

Leroy Kapsner (L) and Leon Raiter were integral to the styling of all the products produced at Arctic Cat during the 1970s and early '80s. Leroy managed the Styling Department, and Leon was one of the principal stylists.

On Saturday, they accepted the invitation to spend the afternoon at Thomas SnoSports, an Arctic Cat dealership in Ogilvie, Minn., talking about their years at Arctic Cat.

Tom Rowland, owner of Thomas SnoSports, had met Leon at the Arctic Cat 50th Anniversary in the summer of 2011 and maintained contact with him since. This past summer Leon stopped by the dealership with a box of his original drawings, which buckled Rowland's knees for the sheer historical significance.

Always one to share his passion for Arctic Cat history, Rowland asked Leon if he'd return on another day, when a few of Rowland's friends were there to share in the experience.

 

Leon Raiter (l) and Leroy Kapsner, of Arctic Enterprises' styling era

Leon (L) agreed and, as a huge bonus, brought Leroy with him (as well as boxes of original Arctic Cat artwork, pictures and artifacts).

 

Spending a day with Leon Raiter and Leroy Kapsner, for Arctic Cat Styling dept.

The gasps and schoolgirl-like-giddiness began the moment these guys pulled out their treasure.

Photos and drawings of prototype snowmobiles (many that we'd never seen) were passed around, along with the stories of their creation.

The scene contained equal parts time-warp, discovery and reminiscing, with an overall mood of discovery.

I realized something at the Arctic Cat 50th celebration, the CPC Revisited series, during the recent Jim Dimmerman stories about Phantom and again this day with Leon and Leroy: there is still so much history about past Arctic Cat events, snowmobiles and people that HASN'T yet been told! And fortunately, most of the people that know this yet-untold history are still around and able to share. But that window of opportunity won't stay open forever, and I appreciate those who allow me to gather share this stuff here on ArcticInsider and in other projects that might someday bubble to the surface.

Personally, I'm as interested in the people as much as I am about the snowmobiles and other machines. And like nearly everyone I know from Arctic Cat's past and present, Leon and Leroy are great, humble and a little bit surprised at how much the rest of us enjoy their stories and contributions to the Arctic Cat story.

 

An Arctic Cat Circle newsletter circa 1976

For some historical context, here a shot from a 1976 edition of the Arctic Circle newsletter showing Leroy (L), Leon (R) and Mike Hornai (middle) in the Styling Department at Arctic Enterprises.

 

Mike Hornai (l) and Leon Raiter, chief stylists at Arctic Enterprises

Like Leon Raiter, Mike Hornai (L) was HUGE influence on the amazing snowmobiles (and other products) of the era.

Together, these two talents created some of the most-loved, classic Arctic Cat snowmobiles of all time. Their job was to conceptualize snowmobiles, graphics, dash panels, seats, packaging, snowflaps, etc...

Really, the visual element of any product was within their domain. And they were masters of their craft. Some of their designs were so impactful and lasting that their influence is still reflected in Arctic Cat products of today.

 

Spending a day with Leon Raiter and Leroy Kapsner, for Arctic Cat Styling dept.

That's Aaron Scheele wearing the yellow cap, Tom Rowland reaching for the photo and Mike Fanum on the far-right.

 

Original drawings of Arctic Cat products

One of the first hoods that Leon Raiter designed was the the 1972 Arctic Cat EXT. Here are some of his concept drawings for what would become this all-time classic snowmobile.

 

1972 Arctic Cat EXT owned by Ische Family, photo courtesy of ArcticInsider.com

How did those sketches turn out? This image of a '72 650 owned by Tom Ische gives the answer: AWESOME!

 

Tom Rowland of Thomas SnoSports

Ever the sleuth for details, Rowland brought out the magnifying glass to coax more information from the dozens of drawings and photographs spread out on the work table at his dealership this day.

 

Leon Raiter, former stylist at Arctic Cat

Flanked by his daughter Valerie and granddaughter KayLee, Leon holds up two of his classic creations.

Great side-story: Leon is the guy who "brought" the el Tigre name to Arctic Cat. Back in the day, Arctic Cat had a company contest to name an upcoming high-performance snowmobile. At the time Leon was reading a book in which there was a character named El Tigre. He submitted it and the rest is history (including a lawsuit filed by J.C. Penny a few years later claiming ownership of the name, which was eventually denied).

When model names are chosen, someone has to create the artwork for it. Obviously back in the 1970s there weren't computers with thousands of fonts that could be tweaked and manipulated in mere moments. Instead, artists created their own fonts and designs like the two shown here.

When I think about how long these two versions of artwork have been burned into my own mental hard drive and how many machines they've graced over the years, I'm simply in awe.

I'm going to end Part I here, as the introduction of sorts. I'm not sure yet if there will be two or three parts to this series. Either way, I think you'll like what Leroy and Leon had to share.

Thanks for reading, check back soon for Part II.



Comments (9):

artdcat says:
11/1/2012 11:09:00 AM

I spent a ton of time at the Raiter's when I was a kid, they were our babysitters. My dad & Leon worked together in styling and I used to have a file of a bunch of the concept sleds they did. Unfortunately I decided to color & style them myself, which wrecked them, so I threw them away. I know....I am an idiot, but didn't know 30 years ago what it meant. My dad died a couple years back and Leon was one of the first I called. Leon also is responsible for the Pantera swirl...he's an awesome, super nice man. He went on to do some great work in the auto industry too, I believe?? You got hooked up with another Arctic great, John.
Mike F says:
11/1/2012 11:36:00 AM

Another great find John (and Tom)! I enjoy these articles a great deal. It really takes a guy back. Thank you Leon and Leroy for telling your stories. We have really enjoyed the fruits of your labor! Can't wait for the next installment.
Thomas in Michigan says:
11/1/2012 3:38:00 PM

This is absolutely priceless history for the brand and sport we all love. Keep it coming, John. You know, you have quite a knack to all this chronicling stuff, maybe there is a higher calling for you.
David says:
11/2/2012 6:19:00 AM

John,

I think I sat a my desk for minute this morning…just staring at the last picture of Leon and his templates and thinking about the Cougar and el Tigre sleds I had during the 80’s and the people and places I rode them with. Thanks for stirring up some good memories!

David
Charles Plueddeman says:
11/2/2012 9:13:00 AM

Glad John got to tell this story. I met Leon when he was a stylist at Larson Boats in Little Falls, and got to see his drawings and learn how boat design evolved from concept to reality. I knew he'd worked at Cat but never saw what he created there. A talented guy, and a great person.
Hammer (and Lumberhead) says:
11/3/2012 9:49:00 AM

The last few posts have been truly awesome! I would love to have a couple of pops with these legends and talk about the good ol'days of Cat. Keep up the good work guys. Got to go... my back bacon is sizzling! Cheers!
Bob says:
11/3/2012 11:27:00 AM

This man here is soley responsible for every Cat lover to wipe that tear from your eye! Yes, over the years, there have been great engines, suspension packages and such, but it's what you SAW sitting on the showroom floor and at the racetracks that made you BLEED GREEN! He defined what Arctic Cat was and still is today. Proof of that is what you saw at the 50th, and the enthusiasm people still have to this day for the older sleds. Between Roger Skime and Leon, they are truly two icons and hero's of our beloved brand. Another great story John!!!!!
ted Paterak says:
11/4/2012 7:44:00 AM

True styling master's to say the least...So...I see the pic's of the 80 Sno Pro in the back ground of one shot ....Would be very cool to see & read about how the 81's came to be with the dramatic hood change let alone the much rumoured 82's......hint ...hint...
Tom Rowland says:
11/5/2012 6:53:00 PM

Ted: Leon/Leroy shared some great images and insight with John regarding the styling evolution of the 1981 Sno Pro, please see part II of this series that he just posted up today.

Regarding the rumor of an 82 Sno Pro that we have all heard from time-to-time: In the last few months, 2 different authorities have completely shut that topic down stating that there was no work what-so-ever that was ever began on a machine that could have become an 82 Sno Pro. Bummer...

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