The ol’ black magic has been stirred once again inside of Jim Dimmerman.
In the emotional reckoning that surrounded his 2010 induction in the Snowmobile Hall of Fame, the 55-year-old Dimmerman rekindled an old, dearly-loved flame…snowmobiles.
Fanning that flame were stories of the Vintage Challenge ride that happened hours before Dimmerman gave this tear-producing induction speech.
Yep, tales from that ride – told by longtime friend Aaron Scheele plus a battery of famous names like Brian Nelson, Jon Carlson and others – captured Dimmerman’s imagination. He would return to the Hall of Fame in 2011, this time on a vintage snowmobile.
And not just an ordinary leafer. Nope, the man who won the 1984 Worlds Championship, plus multiple speed run and drag racing titles, had bigger plans.
Like stuffing a 1993 900cc Thundercat triple into leaf-spring Arctic Cat el tigre chassis.
“I wanted to build a custom vintage sled that had the big triple,” Dimmerman said on this mid-November afternoon.
And why not? Dimmerman set the 1993 world stock speed record of 113.984 mph aboard a ’93 T-Cat, so he has a certain fondness for that engine.
With an offer to build the sled in Scheele’s shop in North Branch, Minn., Dimmerman had himself a project.
From the outset, Dimmerman wanted his sled to be heart-pounding fast, but he wanted it to look as stock as possible. He settled on a ’78 Arctic Cat el tigre, in part because Scheele had such a machine that he was building for the next Vintage Challenge, and also because 1978 was Dimmerman’s first on the famed Team Arctic Oval program.
He also wanted it to hook up when he hit the gas, which meant swapping the original 116-in. track with a modern 121-in. Ripsaw with 1.25-in. lugs.
“That decision meant I needed a tunnel that was deep and long enough for that track, because the ’78 tunnel wouldn’t work,” said Dimmerman. A phone call to Tom Rowland of Thomas Sno Sports produced the only solution: a ’90 Arctic Cat Panther, whose tunnel would accept the new Ripsaw track.
Problem was, that Panther had an AWS front bulkhead.
A little time spent with a plasma cutter, and voila, it was ready for the “straight-axle” front end from a ’78 tiger. More cutting and welding ensued, on the bulkhead as well as the custom motor mount system, and by the end of August there was a chassis ready for a motor.
That’s when the headaches really began, in part because Dimmerman wanted this sled to be quiet.
“I wanted to have all three pipes, but I also wanted it as quiet as the stock sled, which meant using a muffler.”
He also wanted the hood to appear as stock as possible, with little-or-no reshaping to accommodate three massive exhaust pipes.
“The space inside this hood was never meant for a triple-triple,” said Dimmerman, wryly.
Why a “stock” exhaust system, albeit cut up to fit inside the confines of a ’78 tiger hood/bellypan?
“I want it to be quiet, with legal sound. I want to ride this on trails responsibly, so race pipes were out of the question, even though it would make this project infinitely easier.
So far Dimmerman has used three complete sets of Thundercat pipes to get the project – named “Thunderstruck” – to where it was at just prior to Thanksgiving when I shot most of these photos. He might need another pipe or two.
That’s a lot of extra parts to make one sled. And it bears mentioning that Dimmerman cut up one el tigre chassis that had to be scrapped altogether.
“I screwed it up and I had to trash it.”
The hours that Dimmerman has logged in Scheele’s shop are staggering, but it’s been great reconnecting with his friend. And Scheele is more than happy to give a little something back to the guy who sponsored him during many of his most successful years of snocross and cross-country.
To keep this hot stocker running as cool as possible, Dimmerman will use a both the radiator and tunnel-mounted heat exchanger from an Arctic Cat Wildcat.
Of course Dimmerman wants to slow this baby down in a hurry, so he’s added chaincase and Wilwood hydraulic brake from a ZR.
Skidframe is out of the ’90 Panther, but with Fox Gas Shox for a more controlled ride. Seems like I’ve been seeing a lot of Fox Shox going on vintage Arctic Cats the past few months!
The hood in these photos is just for placement, as a nice/new topper will grace it when it hits the snow. The dash, footrests and fuel tank will come from the ’78 el tigre.
With just a few months before the 2011 Vintage Challenge and SHOF weekend and LOTS more work to do just to get it to run, Dimmerman has already conceded that an airbox is out of the question for now. That’ll take a lot more scheming and cutting to make happen. Next summer.
He will find a new location for the headlight, though. Again, he wants Thunderstruck to be trail-legal.
I had an absolute blast hanging out with Dimmerman and Scheele this late-November afternoon. Listening to Dimmerman tell stories about the old Team Arctic days, his unwavering respect for Larry Coltom and his re-found love of snowmobiles, is an experience I’m grateful for.
Dimmerman has even promised to let me record and share a few of these stories the next time I visit him, probably before Christmas.
Stay tuned for more on Dimmerman and Thunderstruck. And plan to join him at this year’s SHOF festivities.