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Prototypes, limited editions, limited productions and early builds from the 1990's

1990 Arctic Cat Prowler design drawing

 

 

1990 100,000th Arctic Cat built by Arctco

 

 

1990 Arctic Cat El Tigre EXT Prototype

 

 

1990 Arctic Cat Black Magic Wildcats 650cc

 

 

1991 Arctic Cat Black Magic Howler Limited Edition 700cc

 

 

1992 Arctic Cat Tigershark pre-production

Arctic Cat produced the Tigershark line of personal watercraft for model years 1993 through 1999. This unit is a 1992 model. Approximately 68 1992 models were produced. They look much like the 1993 model that was offered but with slight differences in...hood latches, throttle lever, ride plate, seat cover, tool tray, engine i.d. tag, nose cone construction, rub rail, hull liner an drain plug.

 

 

1993 Arctic Cat ZR 580 prototype under an EXT hood

 

 

1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 prototype under a Jag hood

 

 

1993 Arctic Cat ZR 440 prototype

 

1993 Arctic Cat Thundercat 900 prototype

 

1994 1,000,000th Arctic Cat from Arctic Enterprises and Arctco

 

 

1994 Arctic Cat Tigershark Daytona 640 "Black Magic" model

 

 

1995 Arctic Cat ZRT prototype

 

 

1996 Arctic Cat ATV Bearcat 454  #1

This ATV is not only the first model ATV produced by Arctic Cat, it is the very first production ATV ever off the assembly line. It bears VIN number ...0001. It had zero miLimited Editions on it when by colLimited Editionctor Tom Rowland. This simpLimited Edition looking model was a very successful beginning to the now hugely successful Arctic Cat ATV line.

 

 

1996 Arctic Cat "Skinny Mini" ZR 440 prototype

This is the first prototype of the sled that would become the Firecat.

“The Firecat is the most creative, pioneering snowmobile since the original Arctic Cat Panther [which introduced the front-mounted engine, slide rail suspension and riveted-aluminum chassis].”
-- Roger Skime, Vice President of Research and Development, Arctic Cat.


It’s been 10 years since an Arctic Cat snowmobile began with something that resembled a clean sheet of paper. The 1993 ZR 440 and ZR 580 changed the history for Arctic Cat and began a period of racing domination never before seen in snowmobiling. But those first ZRs were barely a year old when a young Arctic Cat engineer was already looking into the future and dreaming of something better.

Ron Bergman believed he could design a better snowmobile, just as legendary Arctic Cat engineers such as Roger Skime, Dave Thompson, Larry Coltom and Dennis Zulawski had done over the years. During the winter of 1994-95, Bergman began testing that belief in the form of a prototype snowmobile that ultimately became the Firecat.

It started life as a ZR 440, but incorporated a handful of new ideas. A single leaf spring spanned the A-arm front suspension, eliminating the coil springs on the shocks. Fluid lines ran from the ski shocks to a single reservoir on the console, enabling the rider to adjust compression and rebound dampening “on the fly.” It even had rack-and-pinion steering. But the rivet pairs running from the tip of its nose to the tail of the tunnel indicated the most significant feature.

In an effort to shed weight from the already light sled, Bergman used a band saw to literally cut three four inches from the middle of the bulkhead and tunnel, then riveted them back together. He also cut four inches from the suspension shafts, as well as 1.5 inches from each side of the stock 15-inch x 136-inch mountain track (making it 12-inches wide) to create the first “skinny” sled. Though rough in appearance, the removal of so much material shed significant weight. Unneeded weight, in Bergman’s opinion.

Unlike the leaf spring, the skinny concept showed promise, but it remained an after-hours project.

“There were always chores that we had to work on,” says Bergman. “That [skinny sled] was a fun project, but we didn’t get to work on it except after hours, or during spring testing.”

Bergman’s words illustrate the truth of product engineering. Seldom do entire snowmobiles begin as a clean sheet of paper, the only constraints the limits of engineers’ creativity. Development costs (both time and money) and potential risk typically conspire against the designing a new snowmobile completely from scratch. Even an engineer’s own habits and prejudices can preclude true freedom in creativity.

Consequently, a “new” snowmobile often means a new component, such as an engine, suspension or hood. Still, bringing just one new component to market requires significant resources, including the creative talent to design it, experienced riders to evaluate and calibrate it, and manufacturing personnel to produce it at a cost that customers will accept.

Skinny prototype No. 1 showed enough promise that some engineers built another version the follow year using a conventional AWS front suspension, followed by two more versions the next year. Dubbed the “skinny minis,” these prototypes proved the narrow concept worked and, as it often happens, sparked new ideas along the way. Over-the-motor steering layout was one. A shorter, 121-inch track was another.

While engineers were building early versions of the skinny sled during the evenings and on weekends, the Team Arctic Race Department and ZR development crew were racing Mod sleds to test other new ideas. Racers Kirk Hibbert and Brad Pake competed in snocross on sleds featuring gas tanks that extended down the sides of the tunnel to lower the center of gravity and provide footholds, an idea that would be further developed on the Firecat.

Concepting took another equally important turn during the autumn of 1999. With Hibbert joining Engineering as Performance Team Manager, a small crew assembled the third generation prototype utilizing a tube-frame chassis and a hand-built motor that had both the intake and exhaust on the same forward side of the cylinders. The concept would prove remarkable on several fronts.

“We began with the goal of centralizing the sled’s mass and eliminating parts,” says Hibbert. “That year’s Sno Pro had reached the limit for how low a conventional motor could be placed in a conventional chassis. Our answer was to not be conventional.”

Carburetor position dictates several component locations in a snowmobile. In their conventional position on the backside of the engine, carbs require the lightweight airbox be located in the center of the chassis ñ exactly where engineers wanted to place the engine itself. Taking a cue from the former Tigershark Engine Team, the crew moved the intake to the front of the engine, which enabled its relocation down and toward the rider. In another bit of engineering creativity, they decided to “lay down” the motor. The results were better than expected, and those involved were rightfully enthusiastic.

“After we tested the tube frame prototype, we knew a version of it would one day become a production snowmobile,” says Skime, Arctic Cat Vice President, Research and Development.

“The tube frame sled was when our love affair with skinny and mass-centralization came out of the closet,” says Hibbert, flashing a wry smile.

“This was the first snowmobile motor to incorporate such a unique design,” says Greg Spaulding, Performance Team Engine Development Leader. “We were extremely happy with the numbers it showed us on the dyno and in the field.”

At this point the project was given full-time commitment, rather than just after-hours attention. And it was given a codename: F2.

“We couldn’t keep calling it “skinny mini,” says Joel Hallstrom, Arctic Cat Product Manager. “It was too revealing, in case the wrong person heard it mentioned, so engineers came up with F2. The “F” signified “future” and “2” because it was more significant than “F1,” which has been diluted over the years.”

Race Testing

For someone outside the inner circle of Arctic Cat, the first inkling that a new sled was on the horizon came disguised as Tucker Hibbert’s X Games-winning mod sled. Though few noticed, the then-Semi Pro racer won that historic race on a sled equipped with a 13-inch x 121-inch track.

While the younger Hibbert flew through his Semi Pro season nearly unchallenged, a new prototype was taking shape within Arctic Cat Engineering that had a decidedly more “production” appearance. The tube frame chassis proved itself the year before, however, engineers decided that a stamped aluminum chassis offered the same structural benefit and was significantly easier to manufacture.

The F2 prototype incorporated the stamped, box-aluminum chassis, as well as a new ski spindle/A-arm combination that would later see production on the Firecat. The front-mounted air intake had also progressed, as did the multi-functional fuel tank, which was now also serving double-duty as a steering support. And a “new” hood design betrayed its prototype status and raised the eyebrows of a few lucky outsiders on trails near West Yellowstone during the spring of 2001, where a core of Arctic Cat engineers and managers evaluated its progress. They were unanimous in their fascination with the revolutionary machine.

Equipped with a stock, two-year old ZR 440 Sno Pro engine reworked into the laydown design, the prototype F2 ran circles around a stock ZR 440 Sno Pro used as a testing baseline. The stock Sno Pro was the lightest production performance sled in the world that year, but it was no match for this remarkable prototype that tipped the scales nearly 50 lbs. lighter! The prospects for a production sled looked tremendous, but there was a long way to go before a one-off prototype could be transformed into a full-production machine. More testing was needed.

Getting Closer

As the 2000-2001 race season approached, Team Arctic tapped T/S Racing to build 25 rolling Mod chassis for their top snocross racers. All incorporated a narrow 14-inch track, lowered fuel tank and a stamped, “channeled” tunnel that provided increased structural rigidity ñ another idea being tested for possible production.

Those 25 Mod sleds were so far ahead of the competition’s machines that the advantage seemed unfair. By year’s end, either Tucker Hibbert or then-teammate Blair Morgan had won every Mod final in the WSA circuit.

“That sled was so good that Polaris essentially copied it for their production race sled for the 2002 season,” muses Kirk Hibbert, “And it helped them win their first snocross race in five years.”

While those 25 Mod sleds were pounded on the racetrack, 15 next-generation F2 prototypes were assembled and trail tested for evaluation, calibration and to incorporate ways to ease manufacturing when the time came for full-production. New to this version were running board-mounted plumbing for the engine coolant; a hood design that was close to production; and a long list of assembly procedures that improved manufacturing efficiency. A sled so radical a departure from anything built before it, the F2 posed several challenges to the crew.

“The over-the-engine steering system required a lot of effort,” admits Bergman. “So did the driveshaft mounted brake, which we eventually had to remove from the Firecat. But that’s exactly why we built 15 sleds ñ to test ideas and design solutions to problems that arose.”

Race Testing Production Sno Pros

After six years of concepting, creating and testing in repeated cycles, Arctic Cat’s Engineering and Marketing departments made the decision to build the F2 as a production snowmobile for the 2001-2002 season. As it had done for nearly 10 years with the ZR line, the company chose to build it first as a Sno Pro race sled.

“Building 500 or so Sno Pro sleds is a smart first step toward a full-production consumer machine,” says Skime. “It’s a final test, to know if we’re really ready.”

In the hands of roughly 400 racers, the 2002 Sno Pro showed both gremlins and greatness. A few of the components broke, and fixes were made. The driveshaft-mounted brake worked well but created several major hurdles that needed clearing before consumer use.

However, its box-aluminum chassis proved better than expected, and was many times stronger than the chassis it replaced ñ so strong in fact that after logging 5,000 tortuous miles (some race miles) on one during the season, engineers rebuilt it with new components tested as a prototype for the 2003 Sno Pro race sled. The three-point, side-mounted motor system was also flawless, as was the fuel tank that served as footholds, steering support and mounting surface for other components. Perhaps most amazing was its 430-lb. dry weight.

When the race season was over, Team Arctic racers won five of the six class championship titles in the WSA National series. Hundreds of individual race wins and championship titles in other circuits confirmed to Arctic Cat engineers that F2 was worth the incredible hard work and numerous headaches that naturally accompanied a project so far “outside the box.” They weren’t the only ones who were pleased.

Enter the Firecat

Midway through the winter of 2001-02, Arctic Cat announced the F5 Firecat and F7 Firecat for the 2003 season. Built on the same chassis and with the same laydown engine design as the Sno Pro, these fire-breathing featherweights shocked the snowmobile world with their creative design and incredible raw numbers (see page 8). Journalists and others fortunate to ride pre-production prototypes confirmed that both sleds were a huge leap beyond their expectations and the competition.

Few snowmobiles start as a clean sheet of paper, and those that do are often compromised to a degree that they lose the original thinking that inspired them. It’s true the 2003 Firecats have lost a few of the features engineers had originally planned, but the vast majority of its creative designs were preserved. Goals like low weight, mass centralization, multiple-function components, fewer parts and ease of manufacturing were realized with remarkable creativity that will undoubtedly inspire even greater ideas in the future. Snowmobiling is a technology-driven sport, and the Firecats are the crowning achievement of a company hell-bent on being the first and being the best.

The proof will unfold across lakes, down ditches and through the trails this coming winter when thousands of Firecat riders will experience for themselves the most potent and one of the most significant snowmobiles in the history of this sport.
 

 

 

1998 Arctic Cat "Skinny Mini" round tunnel prototype
This is one the second generation prototypes of the sled that would become the Firecat.

 

1998 Arctic Cat Powder Special 600 EFI LE 599cc l/c

 

1998 Arctic Cat ZR600 EFI LE 599cc l/c (black)

 

1998 Arctic Cat ZR600 EFI LE 599cc l/c (white)

 

1998 Arctic Cat ZR600 EFI LE XC 599cc l/c (green)

 

1999 Arctic Cat Powder Special 600 EFI II LE 599cc l/c

 

1999 Arctic Cat Powder Special 700 LE 700cc l/c

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZL600 EFI LE 599cc l/c (viper blue)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZL600 EFI LE 599cc l/c (firecat red)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZL600 EFI LE 599cc l/c (arctic ice)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZR500 LE 497cc l/c (black)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZR500 LE 497cc l/c (green)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZR500 LE 497cc l/c (pearl)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZR500 EFI LE 497cc l/c (black)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZR500 EFI LE 497cc l/c (green)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZR500 EFI LE 497cc l/c (pearl)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZR600 LE 599cc l/c (black)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZR600 LE 599cc l/c (green)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZR600 LE 599cc l/c (pearl)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZR600 EFI LE 599cc l/c (black)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZR600 EFI LE 599cc l/c (green)

 

1999 Arctic Cat ZR600 EFI LE 599cc l/c (pearl)
 

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