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HomeFeaturesOnce & Future King: Dimmerman Talks about the Mighty Thundercat

Once & Future King: Dimmerman Talks about the Mighty Thundercat

Arctic Cat Thundercat: Then and Now.

The Patriarch is back (but not without a little growling from the Pride)!

By Jim Dimmerman


When the word “Thundercat” was released earlier this month, all the performance gurus’ head’s popped up.

It’s BACK!

Several of the Internet forums were voicing their opinions about the return of the patriarch cat, but the growling began when they learned it was to be a 4 stroke…

I sensed a little sadness.

Hey guys, just thought I’d throw in my 2 cents worth:

First of all, I love to see the banter over 2-strokes vs. 4-strokes.

No secret I am an old-school triple 2-stroke guy. I love the sound of the firing compression explosion, ringing inside of the thin tuned pipe. In a 3-cylinder, that firing comes every 120 degrees, giving it a very unique sound… a hum. Unmistakable, wherever you’re standing.

I have witnessed when the 1000 Pro Stockers fire up by the starting line at Hay Days: It’s music that calls everyone to the fence to listen to their concert.

Suzuki 900cc Thundercat triple circa 1993

The original Arctic Cat Thundercat 3-cylinder had a nice 10-year run. Arctic’s Donn Eide spearheaded this base engine, which provided musical enjoyment, power and speed since 1993.

Team Arctic's Jim Dimmerman sets a speed record on the original Thundercat.

I was fortunate to pilot that first year sled to set the NSSR World Speed Record for the fastest production snowmobile (above). It produced a speed of 113.984 mph in 1000 feet. A 1998 Thundercat now holds that title at 120.893 mph. That top spot has been held by a Thundercat all 23 years. Its last production year was 2002.

During the 1990s our 2-stroke engines got ever-increasing displacements. 600, 800, 900, 1000cc. Just before the T-Cat exited the snowmobiling stage, Arctic Cat’s Doctor of Horsepower, Greg Spaulding, was busy in the skunkworks division designing a new engine: an 1100 triple. It would have 3-port exhaust, 3D ignition AND Arctic Power Valves. Would this be the power for the chassis for the next 10 years?

Nope. It was never built. The market was changing, and Arctic Cat was changing with it.

The old generation sled was too big, too bulky and too heavy. Cat was focused on new lightweight 2-cylinder lay down engines with lower center of gravity, stronger focus on deep snow traction, rider forward/more stand up position . The new sled was evolving…

Fast forward 15 years.

Today, forced induction is all the vogue in motorsports. Simply put, it’s the most economical way to add horsepower-per-dollar.

This is my view why: the demographic of the new snowmobile buyer has changed, significantly. According to SnowTech magazine, off-trail deep snow boondocking. That is where the new sled is going. Longer tracks with deeper paddles. We call them “Crossovers.”

2017 Arctic Cat Thundercat powered by the 180-hp Yamaha turbo triple

What was once the norm – a sled with a 121-in. track with a 1-in. lug – is nearly extinct, replaced by 129-, 137-, 141-, 153-, 162-in. and even longer. Riders want a minimum of 1.5-in. deep lugs.

So the manufactures are following the buyer. They need lots of strong reliable POWER to roost in bottomless snow. This is where the hot rod sled goes now. Several people went to custom big bores and add on turbo’s, but hand built sleds are VERY expensive. They can suffer from reliability, fuel & noise emissions, cost, lack of warranty, and few available replacement parts.

Clearly now you can see the beauty of Arctic Cat’s association with Yamaha. What started back in 2012 has finally come to fruition.

2017 Arctic Cat Thundercat powered by the 180-hp Yamaha turbo triple

Yamaha makes great performance engines. Really, really great performance engines! Superbike, MotoGP, motocross, go-cart engines… and now the godfather of horsepower in a snowmobile: a stock production-based, 3-cylinder 180-hp turbocharged 4 stroke. BINGO! Right to the top of the mountain with just the kind of power to spin those long tracks ALL day long. And with a warranty to boot!

I’m excited to ride the newest Thundercat, and I have something cooking with ArcticInsider that I hope will entertain and inform you guys next season, once we can hit the lakes and trails.

But I have to admit that I’m hoping that the trail trend continues to grow and the manufactures rekindle building (and racing) factory hotrods!

I might not have gotten the big 2-stroke triple I’d hoped for, but the 3-cylinder turbo 4-stroke does have a pretty cool sound.

Motorsports technology is my favorite read. Change is inevitable… and I’m on board!

Long live the Thundercat…Welcome back!


Team Arctic race legend Jim Dimmerman.

About the author: Jim Dimmerman is a former Team Arctic Sno Pro racer, 1984 Eagle River World Champion, NSSR speed run champion, Arctic Cat snowmobile dealer and Snowmobile Hall of Fame inductee. When it comes to Arctic Cat performance, he’s been there and done that.



  1. YES!!! Welcome back Thundercat! Had a bunch of them “in the day”, and yes, the SWEET sound of a triple 2-stroke, well, cannot be beat! But I LIKE this one! If they get some green on it next year, I will pull the trigger, but I LOVE my 2016 Turbo. Now Mr. Dimmerman, lets talk about that personally autographed clock you have hanging on the wall that you are going to sell me!

  2. thanks jim for this story. its interesting that you want another triple 2 stroke, was same for me to but i am coming around to the idea of 4cycle. i will buy the new thundercat if its a speedster like the old one was. i will wait to see what they are like once they are in production. my only regret is that there will be another brand that also has the worlds fastest snowmobile. yamaha.

  3. Great article Jim!! Times in the snowmobile industry have followed the Auto Industry. The great old Muscle cars of the 60’s & 70’s to today’s Cars. Yes, Change in inevitable I’m with ya, but for some we will never let go of yesteryear!!!

  4. I can’t wait for the Turbo Pantera to come back; Dual Fuel Tanks, Triple Range Transmission, and for love of Lux-o-barge-sleds *Power Steering* Arctic Cat are you listening?

  5. The first Thundercat hoods didn’t fit, the foam was too thick between the engine and the hood so you couldn’t latch it down. The “fix” was to run the engine until the heat melted the foam for a “form fit.” Funny.

  6. Your right about the 4-strokes, everybody sure loves them, at least the new T-Cat should sound better then the old Cat 4-stroke.
    I like the Thundercat name back as well but it won’t be unique like the old days beating everything to the end of the lake.
    I am still riding T-Cats on Lake of the Woods trying to beat your top speeds. I have a 2000 with D&D pipes and quiet can and a 2002 with Black Magic pipes with stock can, also a Pantera 1000. When I start them up, especially inside my Haulmark trailer with the rear door open, the sound just can’t be beat. I hope to keep them going for a long time, these sleds were made for where I ride, fast groomed lake/land trails. I sure would like to know all your speed secrets for top end.

  7. YES!!!!!! 3 cyl, 2 stroke (cats) sound Awesome!!!!!!! I have a 1465 Hooper Thunder Cat with race pipes/stingers And 1100 Hooper trail sled with 3 stinger pipes….. THERE”S “No” better sound then a built/Mod Triple cat! The new Thunder im sure will be the sled to (try) to beat! And you can hold them full throttle all day long and not break’…….;)

  8. Great article Jim!

    After riding Tcats for 20 seasons, I switched to the 9000 turbo. Glad to see Big Thunder come back to us! Hopefully the boys at the factory give it a couple pounds more boost than its 9000 series bretheren just to keep it one notch above the others…

    It would be to take a bone stock 1993 Tcat and run it against the new Tcat just for fun. Old boss meets the new boss……….

  9. “It would be to take a bone stock 1993 Tcat and run it against the new Tcat just for fun. Old boss meets the new boss……….”

    Stay tuned for future developments, Ed!

  10. To bad Cat never published weights.
    Like to see the actual difference in weight between a 2002, and the latest.
    has anyone seen the new one in person? Is that red trim or the Salmon color as they called it back in ’93?

  11. Memorable retro piece of history — brute force was king ! Can the new T-Cat flag live up to the new and old expectations ?

  12. I think the new Tcat can perform if it has enough boost !

    Jeff – I think the 1993 Tcat was 620 lbs dry. It had a steel bulkhead. By the time they got the third gen chassis ( 99′ – 02′ ) it weighed about 575 dry.
    I would guesstimate the 2017 to be close to the 575 dry number.

    Also, the 2017 Tcat I saw at the show was a very nice shade of red. It is definitely not the salmon color of 1993. I remember peeling off those decals and replacing them with purple and green one that cat offered. That salmon color was awful………

  13. “I have witnessed when the 1000 Pro Stockers fire up by the starting line at Hay Days: It’s music that calls everyone to the fence to listen to their concert.”

    My favorite line in the article lol. We raced stock sleds at Haydays for years and I always loved watching the 1000 Prostockers. My brother would get so pissed because Id drop whatever I was doing working on our sleds to watch them go down the track. There used to be 20-30 sleds in just in that class. Many all the way from Canada, Vermont, Maine, New York and even one from Washington state. I put it on my bucket list to build and race one but by the time I had the means to do so grass racing in the Midwest had died. Maybe someday…..


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