The Boss Cats - a special breed of high speed snowmobiles
Ford vs Ferrari at Le Mans. The Commodore and Falcon at Bathurst and plenty more. These sort of legendary rivalries can be found in almost every vehicle class. From airplanes with Boeing vs Airbus and motorcycles with Ducati vs Kawasaki.
One big rivalry that is lesser know is that of Artic Cat, Ski-doo and Polaris in the world of snowmobiles. These three manufacturers were in an all out high speed record chasing war during the early seventies. Each had their specialized machinery but it was arguably Arctic Cat who were the ones coming up with the most insane contraptions, these were known as the Boss Cats.
Boss Cat 1
The early days of snowmobile speed records were fairly simple, you got a sled chassis and shoved the biggest most powerful 2-stroke engine in it. Artic Cat was one of the first to change this method and started out with a custom tube frame chassis more along the lines of a top fuel dragster. It was still powered by a rather powerful 800cc Kawasaki engine but that was just to move it out of the trailer and to the starting line.
Once the Boss Cat 1 got up to speed it's secret weapon fired up, the Turbonique, a sort of turbine/turbo hybrid. The sort of stuff only possible in the seventies. Power varied from 400 all the way up to 1200 horsepower. The exotic powerplant gave the Boss Cat a highest recorded speed of 126 mph or 202 km/h. It was the fastest snowmobile in the world in 1971.
One fatal flaw with the design was that the regular Kawasaki engine and Turbonique were linked together. In 1972 when driver Dale Cormican set out to improve the speed record he slightly let of the throttle to stabilize after losing traction. At this point the Turbonique already engaged once and shut off again. During the time Dale was off power the high explosive "Thermolene" fuel was still being pumped to the Turbonique. When Dale pinned the throttle again the whole back half of Boss Cat 1 exploded.
It was a miracle that Dale survived but Boss Cat 1 was no more. As luck would have it Boss Cat 2 was already completed, revealed and ready to take over the reigns.
Boss Cat 2
Boss Cat 2 was powered by a 375 cubic inch, supercharged and alcohol fueled V8 capable of 700 horsepower. Polaris and others where starting to get slightly annoyed as they didn't see it as a snowmobile and wanted a separate class for it. Nevertheless the power was sent to two tracks so it qualified.
The 7 meter long monstrosity was good for 130 mph or 209 km/h. A dragster style parachute and massive hydraulically operated disc brakes made sure it stopped well within a safe distance. "World's fastest snowmobile" was a marketing dream for Arctic Cat.
Lessons were learned from Boss Cat 1's fiery death as Boss Cat 2 now had built in fire extinguishers. Those came in handy when it caught fire not once, but twice in it's entire career.
Boss Cat 3
A new year meant a new snowmobile once again so Boss Cat 3 was created. Unlike Boss Cat 1 and 2, 3 was more relatable to regular snowmobiles as it used many stock parts used in other Artic Cats. Same goes for the engine, or rather engines. 4 650cc Two Stroke EXT motors were linked together giving a total available horsepower figure of 400.
This was less than it's predecessors but the overall power to weight ratio was retained as Boss Cat 3 had an overall lower weight. This lack of weight combined with the exhaust sticking out the back made it quite top heavy. The fact it was only 1.2 meters wide didn't exactly help it's rather weak stability.
During one of it's early runs it predictably rolled over. It was promptly rebuilt and headed out again hunting for records. Despite not running quite right after the crash it still managed to go 126 mph or 202 km/h just like the Boss Cat 1.
Now the Boss Cats are retired from speed hunting and live a retired life in the hands of the Warning family who couldn't quite save the charred remains of Boss Cat one but instead built a picture perfect replica. Boss Cat 3 now resides at the snowmobile hall of fame in Wisconsin where it rightfully belongs.