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Vintage Road Trip Part Two: Randy Springer's Arctic Cat Collection


(7/29/2014)

Part two of the Vintage Road Trip to Wisconsin had Tom Rowland, Jim Dimmerman and myself making an impromptu visit with vintage Arctic Cat collector Randy Springer at his shop in Wausau.

I'm not kidding when I say impromptu: It wasn't until we were wrapping up the sale of '82 Panther that we'd made a call to Randy to confirm the meeting.

Ever gracious with his time, Randy gave us the green light, so Rowland ran the gas/brake, Dimmerman steered and I directed the clown show towards Randy's place.

The stuff we saw there was thrilling, surprising and enlightening.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Randy has a sweet shop. In fact, it was the former Arctic Cat dealership owned by Gordon Rhode, who Rowland, Dimmerman and myself had HOPED to meet the next day.

Funny the connections and relationships that emerge when you start talking to people... this trip alone unveiled all kinds of weird connections between three different people (Jim Grafft, Gordon Rhode and Randy Springer), each of whom we had hoped to meet on this trip.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Walking through the door of Randy's shop, we were greeted by a sight to behold for any fan of Arctic Cat race sleds.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

We made formal introductions with Randy (right, white shirt) and his son Ryan (middle, red shirt). Then we set about viewing and discussing the wonderful machines on display.

 

Randy Springer's 1979 Arctic Cat Sno Pro. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Springer came early to vintage collecting scene, beginning in 1979 with a 1977 Arctic Cat 250 Z racer that had been owned (and raced to a World Championship) by Jeff Goodwin.

Springer drag raced the 250 Z with success and, a handful of years later, began collecting other vintage Arctic Cats while he was working at Rhode's Cat dealership.

Springer had owned a couple dozen sleds at one point, hitting many of the big shows over the years, and then slowly sold away all but his most cherished items.

"I got tired of going to shows and hearing people nitpick little things that were supposedly wrong with my restorations," says Springer. "I was just enjoying the hobby and not aiming at absolute perfection. After a while, I sold the stuff that I didn't want to keep. Now I have what I want and enjoy sharing it on a more personal level, rather than at shows."

 

Randy Springer's 1979 Arctic Cat Sno Pro. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

This 1979 Arctic Cat Sno Pro is one of Springer's prized sleds. Team Arctic's Bob Elsner won the 1979 Eagle River World Championships with a 440 Sno Pro that season.

Springer's '79 is actually equipped with a 340 engine that he bought from Elsner, which is dang cool!

I didn't think of it when I snapped the photo, but as I look at it now I wonder what Dimmerman thinks when he sees a '79 Sno Pro? Dimmerman and Elsner were teammates that year, and both were in a position to win the coveted title at Eagle.

 

This outstanding video tells the tale of that fateful weekend, and is always worth watching (warning: it might leave you teary-eyed and with a lump in your throat).

 

Dimmerman with Randy Springer's 1979 Arctic Cat Sno Pro. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Seeing Dimmerman study a machine that's identical to the ones he raced 35 years ago was also pretty dang cool.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

And it was cool to see the poster of Dimmerman/Elsner in the background.

Sometime I need to interview Dimmerman about the various Sno Pro that he raced. His stories about his time at Team Arctic are dramatic, funny, heart warming, heart breaking and more.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

I love that Springer's Sno Pro is autographed by Edgar Hetteen, Roger Skime and Dave Thompson. There are no bigger legends than these three.

 

Randy Springer's Arctic Cat King Kat. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Another favorite of Springer's, his 1971 King Kat 800.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

1975 Arctic Cat El Tigre Z on the left, and a '73 650 EXT on the right. A double dose of wicked.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

On the left, a 1976 Arctic Cat 250 Z.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Underneath the hood of the 250 Z, wearing a real-world patina.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Randy and his stunning '77 440 Z.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Here was something cool that Randy brought out: a headlight kit for the '77 Z.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

In order to be considered a stock snowmobile at the time, sleds needed to be sold with a headlight.

That hole in the handlebar/post brace? It's where you could attach the headlight.

Of course, since everyone raced these sleds back in the day, nobody bothered with attaching them. But now, nearly 40 years later, it's pretty sweet to have a NOS headlight kit.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

And it's pretty sweet to have perfect 650 Kawi triple nestled into the EXT.

 

Randy Springer's Arctic Cat King Kat. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Ditto for an 800 Kawi Hirth triple in the King Kat.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Speaking of engines, Springer has an awesome collection of Suzuki and Kawasaki engines for various Arctic Cat race sleds.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

On the left, a 1979 340 Sno Pro engine. On the right, a '77 250 Sno Pro engine.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

1972 Kawasaki 650 triple.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

400 Kawasaki triple.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

1975 Kawasaki 440.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

1977 Suzuki 340 Z.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

1977 Suzuki 250 Z engine. But not just any of the already very-rare 250s...

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

...no sir, this 250 happens to be be serial number 1!

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Also gracing Randy's shop display, an Arctic Cat mini bike that caught the attention of Tom Rowland.

Getting to spend an extra couple minutes to really study a machine is a rare treat, and something that the three of us appreciated greatly.

 

Prototype Arctic Cat Sand Cat owned by Randy Springer. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

In addition to the nice display at the front of the building, Randy also has a few gems resting on racks in the back of his shop.

 

Prototype Arctic Cat Sand Cat owned by Randy Springer. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

"Gem" might actually be a bit of an understatement as it pertains to this VERY RARE 1977(ish) Sand Cat.

Randy bought it a handful of years ago from someone involved with a local Wausau bank.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Each time we talked about a particular sled in Randy's collection -- such as the Sand Cat -- names of people would emerge who had been involved with the find/sale/restoration. It's conversations like these when I realize that the vintage sled hobby is relatively small, at least in terms of people invovled with the really rare stuff.

 

Prototype Arctic Cat Sand Cat owned by Randy Springer. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Prototype Arctic Cat Sand Cat owned by Randy Springer. Photo by ArcticInsider.com

Seeing a Sand Cat was a great and unexpected treat.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

More restorations waiting for Randy and/or his son Ryan.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Much as I enjoyed looking at the historic vintage Cats, it was the conversation that was made this a truly memorable evening.

I had never met Randy prior to this evening. He was one of a handful of collectors who I'd meant to contact while putting together the 50 Years of the Cat book for the Arctic Cat 50th, but for various reasons didn't.

There are several such collectors whose sleds deserved to be in that book. As a minor consolation, I hope to someday visit and feature them here.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Before we left, Randy asked Dimmerman to sign the poster featuring him and Elsner.

And when we looked closely at the poster, another connection emerged: the '79 Sno Pro featured on the poster's corner.

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

This sled... is the one that (we believe) sports the Elsner hood that we inspected earlier in the day at Jim Grafft's place (featured HERE in Part One of the Vintage Road Trip).

Cool!

 

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

Randy Springer's collection of vintage Arctic Cats. Photo by ArcticInsider.com.

A shake of the hands and salutations until the next time our paths cross.

A huge thanks to Randy Springer for opening his shop and collection to us on just minutes' notice!

We had one more stop to make before leaving Wausau: a visit with Gordon Rhode. That's Part Three, the final segment of this story, coming soon.

Thanks for reading. 



Comments (19):

Dulpher says:
7/29/2014 2:49:00 PM

Great story! Always awesome to read about peoples collections! On a sidenote, people who nitpick at shows are lame. Doesnt matter if its sleds, cars or quilts. Their opinions are like A-holes...they all have one and they all stink.
Mike F says:
7/29/2014 6:16:00 PM

Wow! Another really fun read. Would have made me laugh to see the "Sandman" climbing up the wall to check out the "Sand-cat", especially if you were still wearing the stylish footwear that you were sporting earlier in the day....very enjoyable as always. Special thanks to the various folks that shared there wonderful collections and stories. It is greatly appreciated!
Wade says:
7/29/2014 6:17:00 PM

Great story!! I love reading these write ups on collectors. I just wish I had just one of the many sleds in this guy's collection or any of these guys collections. To have that many rare sleds is just amazing. Most of the rare stuff like that is now found. Which sucks in away and for the reason I can't find it for myself. Then again its good to see the stuff going to good homes, being cared for, and restored. Not sitting near a fence line or out in weeds or worse yet crushed. That a lone out weighs me having any of those sleds.

To Dulpher I agree with 100% I have a friend that has some rare Rupp racers he don't show them at shows any longer. Just for the fact guys have run his stuff down because its not up to par as far as restored. His stuff are riders so there a bit rough in there eyes. Then again who still rides a 71 800 magnum or a 73 440 magnum? not many. Its all out of jealousy is what I think. I am Jealous no doubt for the fact I don't have the stuff for myself ;) but I wouldn't nitpick there stuff part.
Pluedy says:
7/29/2014 11:54:00 PM

I miss seeing Randy Springer at shows. Years ago he took the time at the Low Buck show in Wisconsin to pull two sleds down the lake so I could get a clean background to shoot photos for Vintage Snowmobile magazine. And I think it was Randy's attendance at the first Snowmobile Hall of Fame Round-Up in St. Germain, Wis. -- with a full display for very nice Cats -- that served as a key endorsement of our new show.

And do I have to be the one to point out to the Editor of this fine publication that the King Kat pictured in this feature is in fact powered by a 793cc Hirth engine? The 800 Four was a Kawasaki. (CJ groans at this point...)
jeff says:
7/30/2014 7:15:00 AM

absolutely awesome, and that 79 sno pro, by gosh it gives goose bumps every time i see one.
Speaking of Elsner, its about time to get him out of hiding and do an interview.
Paul Nadeau says:
7/30/2014 8:05:00 AM

OMG ! those Arctic race sleds in the Springers collection are awesome! I can only imagine seeing them in the real, not in photo's. Again, I would have paid to be in the clown mobile on the way to see these rare beauties. Thank you to the Springers for showing the rest of us your collection. One call only wonder what was running through Jim's mind as he looked and studied, these sleds? Was he like the proverbial child in the candy store John?
I wonder what was going on in the Springer's minds when Jim walked through the door into the shop.
Questions for another column I am sure.
Hey Jim, is there one sled in the collection that you said to yourself, this sled needs a trip or two around the track again?
How about you John? Tom?
Mine would be the King Kat
John Sandberg says:
7/30/2014 8:13:00 AM

Pluedy: Uff-da on the Kawi/Hirth mistake. That's what happens when I'm drafting copy with either "Kawi" or "Suzuki" in every other sentence.

If you or Kranz get me a King Kat 793 to ride this winter, I promise never make that mistake again. Oh, and sorry CJ!

Jeff: I've been delicately (but perhaps too passively) trying to make that Elsner interview a reality for awhile. Elsner was a racing hero of mine, I sincerely want to interview him.
John Sandberg says:
7/30/2014 8:19:00 AM

Paul: I'd opt for the '79 Sno Pro, followed by the 250 Z.

Another cool fact about Randy and his '79: After building it, he DID make a few laps around Eagle River on it, during Vintage weekend, just to see what it was like.
John Sandberg says:
7/30/2014 8:41:00 AM

Wade: Regarding your comment that "most of rare stuff is now found":

You are correct that most of the low hanging fruit has been picked, but for sure there are some truly ripe pieces waiting on the hard-to-get branches. (Actually, maybe not too hard to reach.)

Read this: http://www.arcticinsider.com/Article/Barn-Find-Finding-a-1971-King-Kat-Just-12-Miles-From-Home

artdcat says:
7/30/2014 9:34:00 PM

I picked the last 340 SnoPro and the last 250 SnoPro engines off the shelf at Arctco Service Parts, packed them and shipped them out. I put a note in with each of them when I did so, letting the recipient know they got the last one available. Was there a note with either of them that Springer is aware of?
Jim Dimmerman says:
7/31/2014 7:49:00 AM

First of all, were working on a long awaited Elsner interview....
Paul, as I have said many times before, our 79's were my favorite all time sled. Besides what you can see from the ER video, this sled represents the successful transition to IFS, and it culminated at Eagle River. Up to this very race in 1979 we had been doing nothing but "catching up" with Polaris. We now had the finest handling machine in the class, bar none...
The next talk in the race dept. was to develop a rotary valve to go head to head with Rotax. It was just too expensive. The tooling and the long range durability with that many moving parts wasn't going to cut it, except just as a race engine. Arctic's big picture question, was it good enough for production sleds, no...I would have done ANYTHING to put a Dick Bahr 440 Rotax in our sleds !
I know I'm rambling again...you wonder what I'm thinking about when I look at a sled like this ?? This is where my mind goes when I see a machine that takes me back in time.......Jim
Tom Rowland says:
7/31/2014 7:38:00 PM

Of all the amazing sleds in Springer's collection, I have only driven some 1976 and 1977 Z models. All of the rest of those, I can only dream of driving similar sleds someday...including the Sand Cat!
Paul Nadeau says:
8/1/2014 6:15:00 AM

Jim, please continue to ramble, it is so interesting to hear and read about! Can't wait for the interview with Bob, John, we would have to flip a coin to see who goes first on the 250Z LOL! Tom, how about some insight on what is was like to drive those 76-77 Z's. Sad to say that there are none of these barn finds in my part of the world, if I did find one, you can bet that we would all get to ride it and compare notes, I can't think of a better way to spend a day or two!
akrider says:
8/3/2014 1:56:00 AM

How were the hyfax on the Sandcat to be cooled?
John Sandberg says:
8/3/2014 8:32:00 AM

akrider: with wheels bolted to the rails.
Buster says:
8/13/2014 2:39:00 PM

John,

When will you share part 3 with us????
Glen Mallory says:
9/14/2014 2:10:00 PM

I have fond memories of being 9 years old and hearing a 793 KK fire up in my dad's home garage for the first time. It was very late when it was bought home from the distributor so they did the predelivery in our home garage. I was in the house snoozing on the couch as it was late, waiting for this new big bore that a friend of ours had bought through us. Let's just say that when that thing kicked off, I think the neighbors thought the aliens had landed. Loud? Open pipes echoing off a cement floor baby! I got asked the next day at school if that was a stock car someone fired up in our garage. No one thought a sled could cackle so evil like this one did. Every time I see a Honker, I'm taken back to that time. Thanks for the pics.
Nick Malles says:
11/7/2016 12:08:00 PM

My brother has a 76 250Z. Its a basket case and it needs a set of pipes. Whats the chances of finding a set of pipes for this sled? Said we can put it back together if I can find pipes. Any help or info would be greatly appreciated.
Ron Tank says:
2/3/2018 11:41:00 AM

I have 1974 VIP 440 panther for sale do you no of anybody that would be interested in it my number is 920-421-1280

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