This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. (Learn how and when to remove these template messages)(Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Sno-Jet was a brand of snowmobile first produced in Quebec, Canada in 1965. They quickly proved popular and grew to be one of the highest-selling make of snowmobiles until the early-1970s, helping usher the then-new sport of snowmobiling into Canada and the United States. After the Glastron Boat Company acquired Sno-Jet in 1968, it was sold off to Kawasaki in 1976, which they used in name until 1980.
Two men named Maurice Fillion and Paul-Émile Roy were attempting to get financial aid for a small home-operated fiberglass boat company in Thetford Mines, Quebec, in the winter of 1964. While being visited by a potential investor, the investor took interest to a small homemade snowmobile Roy had at his home. Fillion and Roy re-evaluated their decision to build boats, instead choosing to create a company to manufacture snowmobiles, which were only starting to gain popularity as a form of transportation through the initial efforts of companies like Bombardier, Polaris and Arctic Cat. A small partnership involving Fillion and Roy, along with two other investors, Gaétan Théberge and Mr Pelchat, formed the first four employees of Sno-Jet.
The initial efforts of the four men netted a total of 25 snowmobiles produced and sold in 1965, with orders coming in for more. In less than a year their company had outgrew what they alone could produce, so they quickly expanded their business to include over 100 new employees and their first mechanical engineer to improve on Roy's original design.
Even with their expanded workforce, by 1968 they had produced and sold more than 15,000 snowmobiles with demand continuously increasing. Feeling overburdened, the owners of Sno-Jet decided to sell their company while it was still highly lucrative to the Glastron Boat Company, which relocated the company's headquarters from Quebec to Minnesota. The vast majority of Sno-Jets were still manufactured in the company's main production building in Thetford Mines, Quebec.
Sno-Jet's peak year was 1970 with over 30,000 units produced, in over 20 separate models with various engine makes and models. The company continued to experience good sales, although they were beginning to lag due to the competition of nearly a hundred other snowmobile manufacturing companies which had been formed in North America during the snowmobiling boom of the early-1970s. Nonetheless Sno-Jets remained a popular choice due to their reliability and price.
The OPEC Oil Crisis hit the snowmobiling market hard in 1973. The increase in gas prices followed two poor winters for snow (71-72 and 72-73). The reduced demand caused dozens of snowmobile companies that seemingly started overnight to shut down just as quickly. Even the well-established Sno*Jet company was not immune, and by the following year had seen production fall by nearly 40%. It was a blow from which the company would never recover. Production numbers continued to dwindle, and Sno*Jet offered fewer models. Despite keeping their prices competitive the snowmobiling market had been broken, and as a result the Glastron Boat Company sold Sno-Jet to Kawasaki in 1976.
Kawasaki wanted to enter the snowmobiling market, hoping to expand beyond just producing motorcycles as Yamaha had years before, but Kawasaki just wanted to use the Sno*Jet name and established dealerships; they didn't want the Sno*Jet snowmobiles or manufacturing facilities, and as a result shut down everything Sno*Jet had produced up until that point. All assets were liquidated and hundreds of employees were put out of work, as many were not willing to move to Kawasaki's headquarters located in Nebraska. Only a few design engineers were kept hired onto the Kawasaki snowmobiling branch.
Kawasaki used the Sno*Jet name until 1977 after only seeing limited success, and was unable to sustain their snowmobile manufacturing arm for much longer than that. Under massive debt, the last year Kawasaki produced and sold sleds was 1982.
Sno-Jet had formed a business deal with German engine manufacturer Hirth in the earliest days of production to supply them with two-stroke engines. Hirth wished to directly compete with their main Austrian competitor, Rotax, for the rapidly expanding North American snowmobile market, and as a result offered their engines to Sno-Jet for a cheaper price than Rotax (whose primary consumer was Bombardier). This quickly made Sno-Jet the largest consumer of Hirth engines, and had the benefit of keeping production costs of Sno-Jets low, thus making them more affordable to consumers. Hirth engines were also quite reliable, which added even more credibility to the good reputation the Sno-Jet company was quickly building.
Despite their success with brands like Sno-Jet, Hirth soon wished to stop producing engines for snowmobiles, citing their growing dependence on the overseas market as the main reason. The OPEC Oil Crisis of 1973 only strengthened their resolve to leave the market, and by 1974 had produced their last two-cycle snowmobile engine. The Hirth engine company continues to manufacture two-stroke engines to this day, however solely for helicopter and light aircraft applications.
Needing another engine manufacturer to turn to, Sno-Jet chose Yamaha, which at the time had already seen many years as a successful motorcycle manufacturer but was just expanding into snowmobiling. In 1970, only two years after Yamaha produced their first snowmobile, Sno-Jet began to offer models powered by Yamaha engines instead of Hirth. By 1973 Hirth engines were phased out completely, except for a single model in 1974 which used a small surplus supply.
Sno-Jet holds a more notable bookmark in snowmobiling history due to their unique racing models called 'Thunderjets'.
Prior racing models from the major snowmobile companies merely utilized larger, more powerful engines in existing snowmobiles to make them faster. Sno-Jet executives realized that they could give their company an edge over the other manufacturers by creating a purpose-built racing snowmobile from the ground up, and in 1970 assembled a four-man design team headed by Duane Aho for that sole purpose.
Their efforts produced the first Thunderjets in 1971, but the prototypes didn't perform well. Those who tested them reported handling issues at high speeds, slow acceleration and an overall poor driving experience. The Thunderjet design team realized that while they knew how to build a snowmobile, they didn't know anything about snowmobile racing. One of the Thunderjet testers was a then-unknown snowmobile racer Jim Adema, who was quickly ushered into the redesigning of the Thunderjet for his valuable input.
The redesigned Thunderjets produced in 1972 were revolutionary when compared to the larger and more powerful racing snowmobiles common at the time. It was small, sleek, light and had a low center of gravity. It was quickly criticized because of its diminutive size, garnering unflattering nicknames such as the "Thunder Chicken", but quickly captured attention from racers and racing fans alike due to its ability to turn tighter and at higher speeds than the heavier racing snowmobiles common at the time. Utilizing lightweight aluminum frames, high-horsepower Yamaha engines and simple aerodynamic design principles, the Thunderjets quickly dominated racing circuits throughout the early and mid-1970s, gathering many awards for the racers as well as Sno-Jet itself.
Jim Adema raced exclusively for Sno-Jet, becoming a household name where snowmobile racing was concerned. Both Jim and Sno-Jet obtained their greatest victories when the unlikely racing snowmobile and its famous driver captured the Kawartha Cup, a coveted snowmobile racing trophy, for two years in a row in 1973 and 1974.
Give the success of the Thunderjet, the basic design of it was quickly copied by other manufacturers within a few years, and as a result many of the innovations that the Sno-Jet Thunderjet introduced into snowmobile racing can still be recognized in snowmobiles still being produced today.
Jim Adema was killed in an on-track collision during a race at Ironwood, Michigan on December 14, 1975. It was his first race not driving a Thunderjet, but instead a new Yamaha racing snowmobile.