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TBT: 1990 Arctic Cat EXT Special

1990 Arctic Cat EXT Special. Photo posted by

At this moment 27 years ago, Team Arctic racers and mechanics were busy puting wrenches and hope into a snowmobile that would ultimately re-aim the trajectory of Team Arctic’s race results.

The machine: the 1990 EXT Special. 

The sled was a race-focused version of the ’89 EXT, featuring shorter ski spindles; a stretched 39-in. ski stance (using chrome-moly A-arms); some lightweight aluminum pieces (hood hinges, bellypan supports and clutch guard); larger drive sprockets; a gnarly looking hood vent; and FOX gas shocks. The latter would proved to be the Special’s “game changer” improvement. It was powered by the 530cc Suzuki twin.

CLICK HERE to download a PDF of the story that ran in Fall 1989 issue of Cat’s Pride, detailing the then-new machine.

Snow Week magazine with Kirk Hibbert's win in the 1990 Jeep 500.

By the end of the season (and in the capable hands of growing contingent of Team Arctic racers), the machine would claim wins at the biggest events in North America.

In fact, it was the ’90 Special that finally put an end to what had been a long period of domination by the Polaris Indy in most terrain racing.

Kirk Hibbert raced the ’90 EXT Special to a win in that year’s Jeep 500, with Team Arctic teammates Vaughn Langaas and Gerry Mattison also scoring top-10 finishes.

Brian Sturgeon piloted the Special to a Stock A class win at Eagle River.

And all season long, racers were winning everything from the USSA alphabet Stock oval classes to the MRP snocross and Heartland cross-country classes. Names like Gerald Dyrdahl, Chad Lofton, Dale Lindbeck, Darrel LaPlant, Billy Wuerts, Brian Nelson, Dan Fena, Rex Hibbert, Steve Hill, Dan Enns, Ric Schoorl, Jim Herzig, Paul Dick and many others would notch wins and big finishes on this remarkable machine.

The 1990 EXT Special marked the beginning of a loooooong line of race-focused, limited-built “specials.” And it launched the success (and fortune) of FOX Shox in the snowmobile arena.

Sadly, the original AFS-version of the EXT Special was a one-year wonder. Looking to promote its all-new Prowler (which also debuted in 1990) chassis, Arctic Cat returned in 1991 with Special versions in this new chassis. Racers and many hardcore trail riders derided that decision, as the Prowler-based chassis had a few too many shortcomings.

Most of these machines were raced during the 1990 season, which undoubtedly meant that many were trashed. It’s already a collectors’ sled, and its value will likely grow with time.

I still occasionally see ’90 EXT Specials at shows, and they always capture my imagination with the same force they did when I saw them for the first time in the winter of 1990.

Thanks for reading.

Team Arctic race win ad for the 1990 Jeep 500 cross-country.



  1. Still have my dad’s that he raced in the Jeep 500! The my second sled besides my kitty Kat, lots of memories on the old flying farmer as well called it

  2. I absolutely love the ad that says “while we are especially proud of Kirk, we’d also like to congratulate the rest of the Arctic Cat drivers who gave it their best shot” and then listed their names. That just screams old school TEAM ARCTIC….

  3. I had one of these machines. Raced locally for 6 years. Loved it but moved on would love to have one back again. If you have one and ready to pass it on to someone who will appreciate it, I would love to have it. Thanks

  4. Jon, you mentioned that the Prowler chassis failed to impress in the racing arena. A ’92 Prowler was the first sled I bought when I was 15. I really enjoyed the machine. However, can you please share some of the issues that where experienced when used as a racer?

  5. Brandon, the ball joints were a weak leak, especially in the 1990 model Prowler. Overall the geometry didn’t prove to be a well handling machine. They rode nice for trail use, but racing was not its forte. I had one in 1990. Decent machine, broke multiple balljoints in the front end and it was SUPER slow. I was a teenager at the time and I was racing 2 girls from my grade who were on an Indy 400 and they destroyed me, with BOTH of them on it!

  6. I will say this chassis was boat, but good for the average rider. The prowler and similar bodies in my opinion were ahead of their time. Especially comparing to the new chassis, there is a lot in common.maybe not exactly but very similar, aerodynamics, suspension, the tall aluminum spindles and more. Look at sleds from the early 90s cat was ahead.

  7. Brandon: As Captain noted, the ball joints on the front suspension were one of the Prowler’s weaknesses when it came to racing.

    It also had snow ingestion problems; poor underhood airflow; a poor brake (cable actuated, not hydro); a fuel tank that extended the length of the seat (bad in several respects); the wonky handlebar-mounted gauge (on the ’90 and ’91 models).

    Worked pretty good as a trail sled, but it was not a race sled, especially when going up against the Polaris Indy’s. The good news about the Prowler Special race sled, however, was that it was bad enough that Arctic Cat responded with the 1993 ZR…a truly legendary race sled (and trail sled).

  8. Thanks for all the Prowler info guys! John, that’s funny you mentioned snow ingestion problems. One thing I clearly remember was that the motor never ran “clean”. In other words it always spit and sputtered as if moisture was in the fuel. So the above explains that issue. I do remember adjusting the brake cable (simple task) and finally I remember ski pressure issues or the lack there of. All said, I thought it was the coolest looking sled out there. I had every conceivable purple suspension cover that Cat offered on it. Sadly, I have no pictures of it.

  9. Brandon: I grew up riding my uncle’s late 1960s and early ’70s Ski-Doo Oly’s. They had zero ski pressure, didn’t turn, were tough to start and had crummy bogie wheel suspension.

    I LOVED them because they were snowmobiles and gave me amazing experiences exploring the lakes and trails near where the parents were ice fishing. That’s all that really mattered.

    The Prowler-based Cats were not great high-perf machines, but they were wonderful snowmobiles that brought incredible joy to thousands of people. That’s all that really matters at this point.

  10. I have a ’91 Pantera that does 100-105. Raced from Pabst sign to Pabst sign. Ball joints are original. Second owner, adult ridden, stored indoors, only ridden in pristine conditions. Equipped with mirrors to help operator see all of the sleds in your snow dust. NOT FOR SALE.

  11. John,
    Really glad to see your article on what was truly one of the most dominating sleds in snowmobile race history. I would like to add a Roger Skime story along with it. Being a “young” Race Manager at the time in 1989 all of us at Arctic were really inspired to win in 1990, Polaris had placed the famous “Dear Doug and Kirk” ad in the Minneapolis Tribune that pointed out Kirk Hibbert and Doug Lamm’s finishes in the 1989 I-500 being the only two in the top 20 with a slew of Polaris Indy’s. We work extremely hard to get revenge. In April of ’89 Roger and I rode the EXT Special prototype in the woods of the Beltrami forest. Roger drove the ’89 EXT and then switched to the ’90 Proto. Roger went only 1/2 mile and stopped, with a voice of confidence Roger said “Joey, we will win the I-500 next year!” Those words and the blessing of Roger as VP of Engineering was all we needed to go ahead and build 500 of what turned out to be a dominating and victorious race season for all of the Team Arctic. I will truly remember and thank all the racers who took home checkered flags across the country that year.

  12. I still like the prowler, I still have a jag and ext special. In the long run I believe the prowler brought more innovation to the industry than the indy’s. The Indy lasted way too long in the edge chassis than the prowler was too early.

  13. My wife and I been riding Cats since 1989. The biggest grin on our faces was when we took a new 94 580 ZR with a 93 580 EXT Z to Two Harbors in December of 1993 for a first ride of the season. We both said that the ZR was the best cat that we ever rode to date.
    Told her that when we get home, I would be trading the EXT off. She said, why another 580 and I said your right ! That’s when the 700 ZR arrived and in my opinion, that was a great sled in it’s time also.

  14. Hi guys. Love reading about older Cats. I have a 90 Ext Special. It has the tubular a arms and hood vent. It came without a motor and also looks to converted to a 136 mountain cat. I have installed a 88 530 and just about ready to fire it up. It does run on spray.
    Lots of work but it’s finally paying off. Thanks for your comments.

  15. Afternoon
    Have a 90 EXT Special for sale. Only one of a handful that made it to Canada
    Selling due to a bad back. Sled is amazing
    Have had it for 11yrs. Only trail ridden in our backyard
    Email me and I can forward pictures
    All the best

  16. I have a 1990 special bought new crazy trail sled unbeatable in day also have 1971 ext clone 500 eltgre motor 1996 zrt 800 2001 zr cross country 2003 f7 saber cat 1976 cheetah 5000 600 miles ride them all


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