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Masters of Styling Part II: Leon Raiter and Leroy Kapsner


(11/5/2012)

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

Leroy Kapsner (L) and Leon Raiter (grey vest) 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.

Not long after the formal introductions that day at Thomas SnoSports, the boxes of pictures and drawings were opened followed immediately by shock-and-awe, questions and amazement on the part of Aaron Scheele (middle), Tom Rowland (reaching for the pic), Mike Fanum (r) and myself.

Leroy and Leon were patient and great about answering the questions and providing some background information to some of this stuff.

Having made a career of styling various products in several industries (most notably in the boating industry), Leon had a portfolio of some of his contributions at Arctic Cat. Below are some of the pages from it:

 

Original Arctic Cat art and styling models from Leon Raiter

Here's the page on the 1982 Arctic Cat Cougar, a machine that seemed likely to have been a hit had Arctic Enterprises stayed in the game.

Still to this day, there's something both magical and somber about seeing pictures of the 1982 models. I think the magic is that these sleds represent the continued progression of what was a company that produced outstanding machines that touched our souls. And I'm certain that the somberness is the fact that the '82s also represent the end of that era.

 

Original Arctic Cat art and styling models from Leon Raiter

The 1982 el Tigre was another stunner. I love how Leon included the "Fastest Production Snowmobile in the World" element to this page. It's a reference to the Snow Goer Shootout for the '82 model year, in which the Tiger won the title for top-speed and elapsed time.

 

Tom Rowland's collection of prototype 1982 Arctic Cat snowmobiles

Speaking of 1982s, there is perhaps no other collector more fascinated by these machines (and who owns as many) as Tom Rowland. For this occasion he brought them into the shop for everyone to see and discuss.

 

Original Arctic Cat art and styling models from Leon Raiter

As artdcat mentioned in the comments of Part I, Leon was the guy who created the famous swirled "Pantera" graphic.

 

Original Arctic Cat art and styling models from Leon Raiter

As I mentioned in Part I, Leon was responsible for the designs and styling of many products produced by Arctic Cat. This page highlights the 1981 Scorpion Sno Pro oval racer, which Brad Hulings piloted to the World Championship title that year (and which serves as the basis for Jim Dimmerman's Phantom).

The wind-cheating windshield was the hallmark styling element of this sled, and something that would influence multiple race sleds for years to come.

 

Original Arctic Cat art and styling models from Leon Raiter

As you can see from Leon's note, he designed the graphics for the Spirit outboard line.

 

Original Arctic Cat art and styling models from Leon Raiter

This is a cool page from the portfolio that explains the steps required to design a snowmobile hood in that era. Obviously this was a time pre-CAD, and much more labor (and time) intensive.

This machine was the 1981 Arctic Cat Sno Pro racer, which was piloted by Dimmerman and Bob Elsner. Looking at the many items from Leon's portfolio, I was impressed by his ability to so closely produce a three-dimensional version of his original design sketches.

 

Original Arctic Cat art and styling models from Leon Raiter

For instance, here's the original artwork of the 1978-80 Arctic Cat Sno Pro, an all-time classic...

 

1978 Snb Pro 250 from the Ische Family Collection, photo by ArcticInsider.com

...and here is an image of a 1978 250 Sno Pro from the Ische Family Collection. The shape is remarkably faithful to the original drawing. And stunning.

Talking with Leon, it's plainly evident that he was/is very thoughtful and intentional about design and styling. A few of his quotes:

"In my designs, I always try to create movement.

"The graphics have to enhance the shape of the hood, be a part of it rather than just stuck onto the hood. All the elements of shape, color, graphics and texture should complement each other. And when they do, it all becomes one."

 

Original Arctic Cat art and styling models from Leon Raiter

While he doesn't have all of his original drawings, Leon has a nice collection of many greats. Ever since the Arctic Cat 50th Anniversary celebration, he's been kicking around ideas of how he could share these drawings with those of us who want to see them.

One idea he has is to sell reproduction prints suitable for hanging on a wall, which I think is an awesome option. (Leon, if you're reading this, here's my credit card number for reserving one of each that you produce: 3451 2087 3433 2870 exp. 7/14.)

 

Original Arctic Cat art and styling models from Leon Raiter

Another one of Leon's Sno Pro creations, this time for the Woody's racing effort that included Steve Thorsen.

 

Original Arctic Cat art and styling models from Leon Raiter

Some more interesting stuff, including the various options for tail section styling.

 

Original Arctic Cat art and styling models from Leon Raiter

There were a lot of soon-to-be snowmobile projects cooking at Arctic Enterprises before the fall, including a couple of different IFS options. Here's the drawing of a recreational (not high-performance) Sport model slated for 1983...

 

Prototype Arctic Cat snowmobile for 1983, owned by Tom Rowland

...and here is the actual prototype of that machine, which is owned by Tom Rowland.

 

Prototype Arctic Cat snowmobile for 1983, owned by Tom Rowland

It's interesting listening to Leroy and Leon talk about some of these machines. Certain machines they remember vividly, while others are a bit fuzzy.

They literally produced hundreds of concepts over the years and it's easy to understand that some have faded from memory.

 

Pre-production 1985 Arctic Cat el Tigre owned by Thomas SnoSports, photo: arcticinsider.com

One of the last snowmobile projects that Leon worked on was the hoods for the original 1985 AFS Arctic Cats. It was essentially a freelance project for Leon, who did most of the work in his garage.

After Arctic Enterprises ended, Leon continued designing with the same greatness that he brought to Arctic Cat, mostly in the marine industry for companies like Larson, Genmar and Crestliner. He is currently working on another soon-to-be project in the marine industry. He lives in Sartell, Minn.

Leroy has since retired and is enjoying the good life in Princeton, Minn.

 

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

Once again, I want to thank Leroy and Leon for giving us a day of their lives, and for their complete openness about allowing me to share some of the highlights here on this site.

I also want to thank Tom Rowland for his continuous pursuit of recovering Arctic Cat history, for his desire to share it with the world, and for his providing for us the bag of delicious Oreo cookies.

Thanks for reading.



Comments (18):

Paul Nadeau says:
11/5/2012 11:24:00 AM

Thanks John for putting your card number out there for us to order these priceless drawings, Please, for us Arctic history folks, get these 2 gents together, produce a book of these pictures and drawings, share the royalties, and always know that we true Arctic people will forever be thankful for all of the genius in their work. These photo's and drawings are truely awesome. John, can you take photo's of Tom's collection of all the prototypes that most people have never seen, but sure have heard about. Put those in the book also. Since you have such great access to all of the folks who made Arctic Cat's history so colorful, be our spokesperson for the million and one questions we all have. A great big thank you to Leroy and Leon for sharing with us, you are most gracious ! Can't wait for more!!
Andrew Kramer says:
11/5/2012 2:45:00 PM

Articles like this are why I visit this site everyday!
Stephen Knox says:
11/5/2012 4:27:00 PM

Maybe you have some input on this observation Tom.
The group picture that say's "1982 Pantera" are not the 82. Top picture is a brochure picture for the 81 as are the bottom two pictures 81's. The middle three are prototypes of the 80 Pantera with the new hood design.
John Sandberg says:
11/5/2012 6:53:00 PM

Thanks for the kind comments Paul and Andrew.

Stephen, I wonder if some of pages, like this one, were meant to be representative of some/all of the various work he did on a particular model? That, and/or that 82 reference was for the dash/gauge panel that he designed for 1982 that are shown in two small inset photos above it.
Eric Bergstrom says:
11/5/2012 7:18:00 PM

I didn't make it to this meeting with Leon, but in the previous one, he noted that the pair of drawings to the left of the "tail section styling" photos were concepts for the 78-81 El Tigre models.

John or Tom, please correct me if I am wrong, but I think he said that the design started out to accommodate a free air engine, since they were unsure in the beginning if a liquid cooled engine would be offered?

Either way, as an El Tigre guy, those two drawings certainly caught my attention.



Tom Rowland says:
11/5/2012 7:28:00 PM

Paul: There are a couple books out there that might interest those that enjoy stories/images that chronicle some of the history of Arctic Cat. One being "Legend" by C.J. Ramstad that was first published in 1987, and, went on to at least a few more reprintings after that. This one is no longer available through Arctic Cat dealers but can be found on ebay and other online sources if you do a little digging.

The second book you may like is more recent and is authored by none other than John Sandberg himself, "50 Years of the Cat". This book is available at your local Arctic Cat dealer. Either of these books are a must-have for Arctic Cat fans.

As for John writing another book...I say absolutely, lets all encourage him to do so...it will give him something to do in his spare time.
Ted Paterak says:
11/5/2012 7:28:00 PM

Guys ....Many thanks for reading my mind ! However ...I'm still bummed out by the fact that the 82 Sno Pro rumours are just that....rumours.....I was really hoping these guys might have had a sketch or two tucked away.....I'd also be thrilled with reproduction prints ! Can I tack it on to John's Visa too ??
Tom Rowland says:
11/5/2012 8:19:00 PM

When I go back to look at some of the images in this series, like the Pantera photos above that Stephen commented on, I am reminded of the stories Leon/Leroy shared with us with each passing photo during that afternoon visit. Leon showed us the award-winning-recognition he had received from a design industry publication for his swirled Pantera logo that he had created while at Arctic Enterprises. He also showed us a full-size mock up of an extravagant instrument cluster that was being considered for development for the 1982 Pantera model that had some of us staring in awe.

Eric: You are correct in your memories of the earliest stages of the styling of those hoods that would eventually become the 1978 El Tigre 5000 hood design.

Ted: Use Johns card for anything you wish, I just used it this afternoon to by some more Oreos.
Stephen Knox says:
11/6/2012 3:36:00 AM

Great story you guys, And Tom I find that I wish more and more that I lived down the road from you. Would have been awesome to get a chance to visit with Leon and Leroy. Talk about the dynamic duo of Arctic Enterprises!
Paul Nadeau says:
11/6/2012 5:50:00 AM

Hi Tom, Luckily I have both books you mentioned, they are a great read and a very informative history of Cat. What's even better I find has been John's articles these past weeks and your great graciousness in allowing him to pick your brain and invite all the "behind the scenes" folks to your shop for these meetings. Living in northern Maine so far away from you folks makes it a bit frustrating to say the least. Thank you for sharing Tom. On the next Oreo run, try the gingerbread ones, not traditional, but they are good! LOL !! Have a great Arctic Cat day!
Jim Dimmerman says:
11/6/2012 6:17:00 AM

Back in the day, the style shop was about a 100' away from the back of the race shop. We would stop by the back door just to see what Leon & Leroy were up to..red clay laying everywere. Saw a lot of these sleds in the making....I'm not worthy to grace the same pages as these two guys.
Tom Rowland , AWESOME JOB at putting this together. now it's viral and forever....Jim
Dick says:
11/6/2012 10:08:00 AM

Arctic was always way ahead of the industry in styling thanks to Leon and Leroy. I always tried to sneak away from my regular job to see what these guys were working on.

Great job guys.

Dick
artdcat says:
11/6/2012 11:32:00 AM

Seeing that 250 Sno Pro reminds me of when I boxed up & shipped out the last 250 & 340 liquid sprint engines Arctco had back in like 1988 or 1989. On each occassion I happened to see the order come through so I picked them up, went to the shelves and pulled the engine off. I wrote a quick note and stuffed it into the box letting the person know they were getting the last of an era. What a gorgeous sled & how fun it would be to race it.
Joe Rainville says:
11/6/2012 7:27:00 PM

I had the great fortune of talking with Leon a few times at Cat's 50th last summer. I was amazing to be able to thrumb through his portfolio, and I almost fell out of my chair when I saw the pic of the "El Tigre Sport" sled that was the consumer version of the #28 Oster CC racer.

Wish I was there to see and hear more. I need an office in Ogalvie!

-Joe Rainville
John Zanon says:
11/6/2012 8:00:00 PM

All the sleds arew cool, but I especially like the 83' Sport sled...I've never seen one like it. Kind of reminds me of the 75 Trail Cat! They both look so comfortable to ride!
Love all the stories too!
John
Troy Halvorson says:
11/6/2012 9:31:00 PM

Great article. I used to love checking out all the new stuff at the shop when I was a kid. I can still remember the smell of clay and fiberglass. I always loved Leon's style.
Ricky Christians says:
2/1/2013 8:41:00 AM

Almost brings a tear to my eye looking back on something I didn't realize would mean so much to me in my later years. I raced 2.5 seasons on a 1981 Sno Pro Cat. Won rookie of the year in 83' and won 7 out 12 races entered in 84' I'd give anything just to see where my old sled is today. Thank you Arctic Cat & Whal Bro's racing for a lifetime of some of the best memories I'll ever have.
Rick
andy mac says:
2/22/2013 11:13:00 AM

I want one of those sleds that rusty eichorn was talking about yesterday. how do i get in on the early order and what color do they have?

I just got my taxes back and headed for my cat dealer to strike a deal.

sound to goode to be true!

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