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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.