Monday, December 23, 2013

Got sleds?

Friday I finally had time to go get the battery for the Ski-Doo, installation was no big issue and it fired up like it'd been run yesterday. I really shouldn't complain about this sled. I haven't ridden it much but it also hasn't asked for much from me. Getting it out of its parking space was a bit of a challenge, I'd parked it on a pallet and since it doesn't have any picks it really didn't have any traction. I jockeyed it back and forth for awhile and it finally came out. My biggest complaint about this machine is that the backup beeper is REALLY LOUD. Its like driving a big truck...

After I took this pic I put the windscreen on. I take it off during the summer so it doesn't get bent or broken.

The Wankel Panther didn't have spark so I pulled the recoil and its cup and cleaned the points. Caig Deoxit to the rescue again. After only 2 strips of business card I had good spark and the sled fired up with little trouble. I rode it about 10 feet, came of throttle and went right over the handlebars. It was warm and the snow was very sticky and that sled tends to stop quick anyway and I was caught off guard. I landed with my hands on the headlight and the windshield across my chest. Even 3 days later I can still feel the line across my chest where I landed. Last year after the blizzard Angie did a similar trick but landed with her face on the handlebars, this is clearly a machine to be careful on.

I made a couple laps of the yard with each machine and then tarped them up.

Unfortunately the weather turned warm, it was actually over 50F for the next 2 days and nights and the snow has rapidly disappeared. Today its colder, just over freezing but its raining which is even worse. The only good side is that there wasn't much ice on the lakes so now it'll hopefully get a chance to freeze without snow on so people who can't resist the allure won't be killed by thin ice.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

New snow and the taste of failure

This month's "Storm of the Century" is upon us, 10-12" of snow overnight into tomorrow. I'm glad I got the Pantera out already.

So I decided it was finally time to deal with the Cobra which if you remember seemed to have iffy spark last year. Tonight I pulled the exhaust and recoil and cleaned the points. Interestingly there seemed to be a coating of black crap on them. I cleaned and cleaned.

For cleaning I turn the flywheel until one set of points is open, then I shoot some Caig Deoxit into the gap, then spin to the other side and repeat. I bought some 100% Deoxit in the hope it would do an even better job than the already excellent regular Deoxit which is only like 20%. They sell lower strength formulations to be safe on sensitive electronics. Points really aren't all that sensitive so the 100% stuff seems the way to go here.

After they sit for a minute and the Deoxit softens whatever crud is in there I flip the flywheel until the points are closed, then open them with a screwdriver and stick in a piece of cardstock. In this case I'm using cut up strips of business card.

Yank on the strip and it pulls crud off the points. Flip it around, open the points and repeat. Snip off the dirty part and repeat, then throw it away, get a new strip and repeat. And repeat, and repeat.

Reassembled and tried to fire it up. It'll go and sometimes even fire on both sides but not reliably. The mag side is firing 100% while the PTO side is recalcitrant. I need to look up which set of points controls which plug as I can't remember. I'd guess the rear since it was dirtier.

Anyway I took it all apart again and this time even pulled the flywheel. Thats when I found a little oil below the stator plate. I think the reason the points are so dirty is that the crank seal on this side has been leaking and allowing the gas/oil mix from this side to get out a little. That might explain why the points are so dirty after a relatively short amount of running.

So it looks like I need to do crank seals. I've actually never done them before on anything other than the old single cylinder Rotax in the Ski-Doo 12/3. It'll be an adventure.

Tomorrow I'll give the old Wankel Panther a shot. I probably should have tried it today instead of the Polaris. Last time I tried to revive the Panther it had the same spark trouble but responded very positively to cleaning. Hopefully this year it'll just go, I hate working outside in the snow.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Time for a change?

Now has finally returned to north central MA and as usual I'm caught completely flat footed. Fortunately the '78 Pantera fired up nicely yesterday, took a bunch of pulling but we got there. It needs the tinwork pulled to release a mouse nest but other than that no worries.

The big '95 Ski-Doo was a different story. I put the battery charger on it even though the charger said the battery wasn't taking charge, after sitting all summer the battery should have at least been a little flat, especially considering how little exercise its had for the last 2 years. After an hour I hit the key and the starter goes "thunk" but nothing else happens. I pulled the starter rope to ensure that the engine wasn't seized which it isn't but theres NO WAY I can start the big 670 with the rope. I feel like an 8 year old trying to start a 440cc...

Battery should be here...

So the battery is pooched, hardly a surprise its 5 years old. I headed down to the shop for the bad news, Randy says I'm in for $65 which isn't bad, $13/yr which puts a pretty positive spin on things.

However I've never really fallen in love with this machine, its huge, its heavy, I can't start it without the electric start. I think its time to move on. The boys hanging around the shop knew of a couple 440/500cc fan cooled 2up machines in the $1000 range. We refinanced the house this year so money is actually more available than it has been in the past. A quick look at Craigslist shows a bunch of machines in the $1500 range, some with reasonably low miles.

So I guess I'm in the market for a new machine:
Fan cooled
Electric Start

At this point in my life reverse is something I really like. I'm thinking 2up because then Angie can ride with me, I think 2up sleds also have a smoother ride just from being longer. That said I could give up on a 2up since Angie rides with me very infrequently and we've got extra machines so she could ride her own. I could also give up electric start if I had a machine I could pull over myself although I really like estart.

Finally I'd like something with a lot less throttle weight. The 670 is a wrist breaker. I spent some time last year lubing all the cables and it got a little better but its got 2 huge carbs with big springs, its never going to have an easy throttle. Apparently theres a throttle lightener which costs you some top end. I don't really care about top end but I've never been find one...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thinking snow

Here I sit in sunny California and all I can think about is snow...

Lately I'd been considering selling my Wankel Panther but then I got an email from another enthusiast looking to make my primer mod and it got me thinking about that machine and how I've really hardly ever ridden it. Its done maybe 5 miles in the whole time I've had it. That makes me sad and makes me want to ride.
I've had 3 main problems with that sled in the time I've owned it:

#1. It was hard to start. This was actually an easy fix, my primer mod makes it start with just a couple pulls.

#2. It loses spark over the summer. This isn't something I've been able to prevent but its not that hard to fix. A shot of Deoxit and a swipe with clean paper and the points are clean again and stay clean for a whole season, unlike that stupid Polaris.

#3. Poor carburation. The Tillotson HL carb is crap. There are wicked flat spots in the power band and tuning makes it either not idle well hot or have poor takeoff power. The fix is a Mikuni conversion but considering its a machine I rarely ride I've never sprung for it.

#4. Rotten muffler. The muffler for the 303 is specific to that engine. Its just a can laying horizontally in front of the engine but unlike some of the other mufflers the one for the 303 has square corners like a coffee can. Most other mufflers have rounded corners like a propane canister which makes them not rust as bad on the inside. All the 303 mufflers I've ever found for sale were totally rotten so I finally made one out of a Cub Cadet tractor muffler. Its better than what I had but still not great. The biggest issue is that the can is narrower in diameter than stock so its hard to mount. Additionally I need to go back and open it up again so I can add more baffles as its still pretty loud.

Anyway I'm thinking when I'm back home I need to spend some time with the old buggy and see about getting it tuned up for winter. If I can make a satisfactory muffler maybe I'll be able to get myself to spring for a Mikuni conversion...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Still at little snow left

In theory I have 4 out of 5 snowmobiles in running condition so today I decided to get them all going and lined up. I started with the '71 Arctic Cat Panther (the Wankle Panther) and was delighted when it fired right up. In fact during a quick ride around the yard it went better than ever before. I'm kicking myself now for not taking this sled when I went riding a few weeks ago. Its relatively light and has a fairly long track, I think it would have handled the deep soft snow well.
Second was the '78 Arctic Cat Pantera, again an easy start and as usual I'm delighted with how the sled rides, this is definitely one of my all time favorite snowmobiles.
Next I tried the '79 Polaris Cobra. You might remember this one being a brat a few weeks ago, last night I pulled the plugs and had spark on both sides but something told me that just having spark was only part of the picture. Today that was proved out, while I have spark I don't think the PTO side is giving good fat spark like it should. After some farting around I got the machine to run but not well and it wouldn't pick up RPM. After running 30 seconds the MAG side cylinder is warm to the touch while the PTO side is cool. I predict some time with Deoxit in my future.

Finally I tried the '95 Ski Doo Grand Touring, I'd had this running back in October and then when we first got snow but it was sidelined from that first snow by holes in the exhaust. A long afternoon of welding fixed the exhaust but I temporarily lost interest in the sled being distracted by my vintage machines. Surprisingly this sled fired up with barely a touch of the key. One of my favorite things about Ski-Doos is the push/pull primer that makes getting them started a snap which is why I put one on the Wankle Panther.

I knew getting the sled started was only half the battle, as you can see in the picture it was still pretty well buried and after the fight with the Pantera I knew the Ski-Doo would be frozen to the ground. What I didn't realize is how BADLY it would be frozen to the ground. With the cooling and re-freezing cycles we've been having each of the skis is contained in a solid block of ice. I let the sled run and warm up while I grabbed a shovel and dug around some but finally gave up. I'll let nature do its work and thaw the skis out naturally.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Triumphant return!

After Saturday's difficulties and knowing there wasn't much time left I thought maybe I could head out early enough in the day so I could avoid the wet snow problem. Sunday I was up early and hit the snow around 9am. I was right, freezing temperatures the night before made a crust on top that looked real good.

The stupid Polaris wouldn't go, the left carb was leaking at the fuel line which I fixed with an added zip tie but then it seemed to have iffy spark. I left it and pulled the Pantera off the trailer, it started on the first pull and off we went. This is actually home territory for the Pantera, I bought it from the guy who owns the land here.

I found that the crust gave me just the advantage I needed and as long as I kept moving things were okay. It took a great deal of effort to stay balanced and while riding standing up seemed to offer and advantage I actually did best while sitting down. At first I just rode near the house but gradually got more adventurous until I was out on the big trails. The area near the house hadn't been ridden but people had walked the trail and packed down a nice path. I followed that down to a good turn around spot and returned just to make sure I could. I was nervous about the transition from my friend's land to the trails, theres a steep drop off and a mistake here would leave us stuck, stuck... The return went alright so I headed back out to the trails, this time I screwed up leaving and managed to stick the cat:

The hard crust was hiding powder underneath and ice under that, once you loose momentum its tough to get going again. I did managed to get loose with relatively little effort by following a trick I'd mostly forgotten. These old sleds have not much rear suspension and usually get hung up on the footboards. The trick to getting out is to stand and shift your weight side to side squashing the snow (in this case dry powder) out from under the boards, then inch forward and rock some more, then again. Finally with a blast of power I broke free.
Beyond where I'd turned before I found a track where a 4wheeler had ridden. It was much easier riding where he had already broken trail so I followed his tracks. Unfortunately the old Pantera is narrower than the 4wheeler so I was constantly being thrown side to side but as long as I kept the speed down it was never a real issue.
I was more concerned about walkers and dogs. The last thing I want to do is have an accident so I was looking way ahead and keeping my speed low. I was surprised how close I could get to people before they seemed to notice me, in most cases I saw them well before they saw me. Most dogs seem completely unconcerned by the sled, its like they know I don't want to bother them and they let me alone.

Anyway one trail I got on had particularly deep snow, the 4wheeler was clearly dragging its belly pan and while I really wanted to follow that particular trail through to go back to my friend's house, when I found the 4wheeler's turn around spot I figured I'd be smart to do the same.

On the way back to the house I found some areas I'd ridden over twice which were now packed down nicely and I could really make some speed over. This caught me when I headed into an area I'd only been over once and a particularly big bump caught me by surprise and tossed me completely off the machine. Fortunately as we parted ways I hit the kill switch and the sled stopped just a few yards from me. I'd been buffered by the snow and wasn't injured other than a small scrape. A good reminder to be careful out there!

By noon the weather had warmed considerably, the thermometer at home said 60 degrees although I suspect that was a bit optimistic. I could smell the heat of the Pantera's engine and while I was having a grand time I didn't want to push my luck. My friend helped me load the Cobra which would run but wasn't running well, I suspect one set of points isn't as clean as I'd like it to be which would explain somewhat the difficulties starting it. The Pantera was even somewhat reticent to start which is a sure sign of it being warm out so I knew I'd made a good choice.

In total I rode about 10 miles which for modern machines on a nice groomed trail is nothing but for an antique on a goat path is a big deal. We will definitely be back again next year, the area by my friend's house was recently logged and they've made a very nice area for sledding. I love blasting around a big field with friends so for sure next year I'll have my fleet of relics out there!

I promised and I did it!

I've been promising to hit the snow for some time now and I finally did. Was it a perfect day? Nope, not even close but I enjoyed myself and thats what matters.

Anyway Saturday dawned and after running a few errands I loaded up and headed for the land of little trails since I didn't have any registered sleds and wasn't about to pay to register any at this late date.

I arrived around noon and as I was alone I unloaded just the Polaris Cobra and got to work. I'd ridden this area last about 2 years ago and buried the big Ski-Doo in soft springtime snow so I was cautious. Interestingly this year I made it to EXACTLY the same spot:

You can just see the house in the background so I clearly didn't get far...

It was around 50 degrees and the snow had the consistency of mashed potatoes, it was sticky and deep. At low speeds I couldn't get the sled up on top and of course if I opened it up I'd have no reaction time. I used to ride this area a lot but there have been many changes since I did so I wanted to go slow for awhile. I finally managed to hump the machine around in a circle and get it extracted only to get stuck again and again everywhere I went.

So not exactly the exciting conclusion I'd hoped for but not a terrible day if I'm honest.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Good and good

So the snow-quester was a washout in DC but it hit north central MA pretty good. We got our 4-6 inches of wet sloppy snow. After work Friday I rushed home and fired up the mighty Polaris Cobra. It starts kind of hard so I'm guessing it needs a little more carb work but its good enough for now. I rode around the Pantera a little to pack down the snow then got that sled uncovered and started and into the garage where I pulled the carb AGAIN. I hate doing a job over again but I clearly hadn't done a good enough job last time. This time I remembered my carb cleaning rods and rodded out every jet. I found a big chunk of schmutz in one of them which was comforting. Its a little un-nerving when you clean and don't find anything obvious. With the carb reinstalled the sled fired right up and idled perfectly.

After having such success with the carb I replaced one of the hood hold down straps, it'd broken a couple years ago and when I ordered new points for the Cobra I noticed replacement straps and ordered a set. Surprisingly the bolt holding the broken strap came right out, I thought it would fight me.

The replacement strap is very tight, with any luck it will stretch a little. Because of that and because the other side isn't broken I left it alone, I'll keep the other strap in reserve.

The oatmeal like snow we've got is not great for the Pantera, its short track wants to dig and slip on the ice under the snow, the Cobra's long track rides up better than the Cat. That said you can better your sweet whatever I'm going to get out and ride, fresh snow this late in the season is a gift I'm not going to turn down. As soon as I post this I'm going to cut the old sticky hitch off my snowmobile trailer, run to the parts store and get some bolts for the replacement I'd bought before Christmas, with that installed I'll need to figure out how to load the sleds alone which is a challenge but I think I can use the snow bank to my advantage...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Almost went riding

So the plan on Sunday was to go for a ride. Then things got ugly...

The '78 Arctic Cat Pantera would start but it wouldn't idle and it was frozen to the ground, frozen HARD. The normal trick when you're only frozen down a little is to stand on the sled and tip it back and forth until it breaks free. That didn't work so I got out one of my ramp boards, thats an 8 foot 2x8" board, I braced the board under the grab handle on the rear of the sled and HEAVED, nothing...

So I gave up and went to the '79 Polaris Cobra, that started up pretty easy but quit. I'm pretty gun-shy with that sled since the pump leaked into the bottom end. After much farting around I got it going again. I think I've become too stingy with the choke, that sled needs to warm up for a minute with choke (which is actually a fuel enrichener) before its ready to go. With the Cobra running I was determined to get that Cat loose. I roped the Polaris to the Cat and PULLED.

The Cobra is a trooper and with its long track was really designed for work like this, its geared low and has great traction. Finally I managed to shift the Pantera forward about 3 feet, I thought it was free but what was actually happening was the rear of the track would free from the ground, the front was stuck way worse than the rear. With most of the track finally free I managed to use my ramp board to break the rest free. Unfortunately then the sled was stuck on the ice in its hole. Finally after much mucking about the Polaris was able to pull the Cat forward another couple feet to get it onto good snow and out.

After all that I had no energy to pull the carb off the Pantera one more time to get it right. Hopefully I'll be out of work Friday early enough to do the job, I didn't rod out each of the jets when I cleaned it last and I'd guess the pilot jet is plugged, should be no big deal to fix.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

2 Weeks away from snow!

What a time to get sent to California! Okay so there hasn't been any real new snow but a trip right after President's Day meant I spent a day doing laundry and packing when I should have been riding!
Anyway, I'm back. Theres still some snow, tomorrow with any luck I'll get a chance to get out and enjoy it.

In the mean time I've been watching the "Skidoods" on Youtube to keep my excitement high. Check 'em out, heres a sample from this season:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Probably missed out

President's Day usually marks the end, or near end of our southern New England snowmobiling season. This one has been a season of ups and downs for me.
Downs mostly because of poor snow, its been a season of feast and famine, specifically 2 weeks of rideable snow during which I (typical) had to work. I did get one trail ride in this year which is one more than last year, even if it did result in a breakdown.

A victory was the purchase and subsequent resurrection of the Polaris Cobra. I'm extremely pleased with how that one turned out. I'm also pleased to have gotten the Wankel Panther running again. Though I'm disappointed that I didn't get the Ski-Doo Olympique going I did make substantial progress and I'm planning on getting some serious work done on it later this year. The nice thing about that one is that it doesn't want any serious amount of money, just some time.

Looking back I realize that I didn't mention the pipe on the Grand Touring. I did mention how easily the sled started and how happy I was about that. Well when we finally got snow and I wanted to ride it around the yard it was WICKED loud. Turns out the exhaust pipe which I knew had some little leaks actually had some MAJOR leaks. The whole bottom of the pipe just forward of where it meets the Y pipe coming out of the engine was missing on the underside. Interesting that it let go in the week or so between when I'd gotten it started and when I wanted to ride it. I spent an afternoon welding some spare metal I had into it. The metal I used is from a pickup bed repair piece and is quite heavy and should last a long time. I should spend another afternoon on it but I'm not sure I will. Randy had shown some interest in selling it for me and I should have jumped right on that idea, frankly I could use the money and lately I'm having more fun with the older stuff.

Anyway Monday was probably my last best shot at riding this year as today I had to head out for southern California, no snow here as you might guess. I'd loosely planned to go ride Leominster State Forest which is where I got into riding again back in 2001. That said life intervened. Angie had to work, it was wicked cold, the trailer was buried behind a literal wall of snow and I had plenty of chores around the house.

Well anyway I'll be back March 2, with any luck we might have one or two more chances to ride yet.

Re-resurrecting the Cobra and having fun!

After my success getting the Panther going I spent some time giving its seat a good dose of leather treatment and reinstalled, even a few days later the sled still ran well so I pulled it out of the garage and pulled the 1979 Polaris Cobra back in. When we left it the Cobra was running well but just after that it wouldn't start, the plugs would foul immediately upon pulling the cord.
Turns out the fuel pump was leaking into the case on the PTO side. I put new gaskets into the pump but what a pain it was to get the gas out. Finally I had to let it run for about 5 minutes with the pump totally disconnected. I also added a fuel shutoff so we shouldn't get into this mess again.

With that done I pulled both the Polaris and the Cat out and Angie, our neighbor Bill and I had a fun time chasing each other around the yard with the two sleds. It was fun to compare the difference 8 years of development made. The Cobra is so much more civilized. Part of that can be attributed to the Mikuni carbs on the Polaris but most of it is the improved clutch and suspension. Bill said it best "You've got so much more control".

I like this shot, Angie is all sweetness and light, you can't tell that she'd just moments earlier been stuck and I'd had to bust my spleen to get the sled moving again. I don't know how she can stick a sled from a standing start like she does but she seems to manage it...

Through out it all the Cobra ran like a champ never missing a beat. The Wankel Panther with its stupid Tillotson HL on the other hand. Theres a kit to replace the HL with a Mikuni but its over a hundred bucks...

Saturday, February 9, 2013

100th post! Wankel Panther back from the dead!

More adventures with the Wankel Panther, when we last left off the carb was in pieces. In disassembling I tore a gasket and then the tip came off the needle when I tried to clean it so we clearly needed a carb kit. My local guy didn't have a Winderosa so I got some other crazy "universal Tillotson kit" which had fine gaskets but the worst needle and arm I've ever seen. Fortunately I had a Winderosa HR kit on the shelf that donated a needle. Got it all back together and it'd still run on the primer but wouldn't pull gas. What the hey? I farted around with it during the blizzard yesterday (with the garage door open and the wind blowing just right, it was pretty cool) and finally this morning discovered that the gas line in the tank was leaking at the fitting and wouldn't hold prime.

So it fired up and for the first time in 3 or 4 years it moved under its own power. I pulled it out of the garage and since the travel ban was still technically in effect I headed off down the street. We live on a dead end street so this is no problem anyway. Turned at the end of the street and had to put on my thinking cap, "which is the low needle?" Got back to the house, that wasn't the low needle... Finally got it running a little better and in a moment of foolishness headed around the yard in the 2.5 foot deep powder. I'd been told these old Panthers were really good in deep snow and I'm inclined to agree, once I found my balance we were going good until I ran out of yard and had to turn, I lost my footing (I'd taken the seat off to run a new fuel line) and lost momentum, whoops! Finally got the sled turned around and headed back the other way in my tracks. A little more fiddling with the carb and its running real good so I turned around again and headed back into the yard, made the turn but couldn't make it over the snowbank to the shoveled area where we walk the dog. Had to get Angie to drive the sled while I pulled a ski, it came out real easy doing that but during a quick stop Angie lost her balance and hit her nose on the handlebars. Be careful on these old machines!

Heres some proof:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Panther in the garage

My '71 Arctic Cat Panther 303 Wankel hasn't had any love in several years now so the other day I hauled it into the garage. No spark, again... We went through this a few years ago and I managed to clean the points with contact cleaner. I tried that again 2 years ago but got nowhere. After my success with the Polaris I figured I'd give the Caig Deoxit a try here too.

Just as a side note this: Deoxit Contact Cleaner Mini Spray UPS Ground Only (Google Affiliate Ad) is an ad but honest to goodness Caig Deoxit is the best contact cleaner I've ever used. Supposedly it leaves a preservative film, we'll see how the points work on this sled next summer.

Anyway I sprayed the stuff on and swiped a piece couple pieces of card stock through the points a few times. They were much less dirty than the Polaris was that much I can tell you. So throw the flywheel back in and we've got spark, easy as that, score for Deoxit.

No go on anything else though and the primer pump won't pump so I bought another pump (every single year I need at least one) and later some more hose, the 1/8" hose doesn't seem to last as well as 1/4" fuel line does. Got the primer priming and the sled lights right off. It won't stay running unless I pump the primer though so the carb has to come off, right now it looks like this:

I think the only problem it really had was a sticky needle but I've decided to clean it good anyway, besides one of the gaskets tore as I was taking it apart. I drilled out the welch plug and hosed everything down in carb cleaner and scrubbed with a toothbrush. Some of the crud is really baked on, I need to go back with a brass brush but its a lot better. I left the needle and seat soaking in some carb cleaner, tomorrow I'll toss them in my ultrasonic cleaner, the carb body is too big for my cleaner, some day I should upgrade, the ultrasonic cleaner is the bomb.

My fingers got really cold from using the carb cleaner so I quit, tomorrow I'll get everything back together and should have a running sled.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Closing in on the finish

Headed out to the garage tonight all ready to pull one of the carbs and clean it within an inch of its life. I decided I'd start with the mag side and pulled the choke cable. Thats when I noticed how little slack there was in the choke cable which prompted me to remember how the choke lever had felt weird yesterday. I pulled the other cable and it seemed short too. I followed the cables back to the lever and found the back had popped off and pulled back on strangely so the choke was always half engaged. Got that re-arranged, got the cables back in place, fired the sled up and it still ran like crap. For some reason I kept it running and after maybe a minute it make a little noise and idled perfectly!

I think that yesterday in running with the choke on I'd loaded some gas into the bottom end of the engine and what I saw today was that burning off and once it did the sled running right. It was late when I started so I didn't want to run the sled too much, make a bunch of noise and piss off my neighbors but I'm pretty pleased.

Unfortunately I noticed the headlight is out, I put my trouble light on the line to the seat and it lit up so either the bulb is burnt out or disconnected. I wouldn't be surprised if its burnt out.

Anyway I decided that since the carbs don't have to come off (probably) I'd put the seat on. That was an exercise in frustration. Here's a free hint that I should have already learned from farting around with the Ski-Doo, test fit the plywood before attaching it to the seat. I didn't make the cutout at the front deep enough or wide enough. Now I need to take the seat apart again, recut the base and reattach. I'll definitely trial fit the base before I reattach the foam though!

Anyway, getting closer, nearly there!

Monday, January 28, 2013

One other note on brakes

I got chastised by the boys around the table of truth over on the Yahoo Group "Vintage-Snowmobiles" for adding DOT 4 brake fluid in my Cobra. Apparently it originally came with DOT5 and as DOT 4 and DOT 5 are not interchangeable or even compatible my using DOT 4 is bad mojo. I'm reasonably sure what came out was DOT 4 as one of the guys says DOT 5 is usually tinted.

Anyway on Saturday I picked up a bottle of DOT 5, they sure don't give that stuff away! I pulled the drain at the caliper and mopped out the master cylinder. Then I refilled with DOT 5 and left the plug out of the caliper until only purple DOT 5 ran out. Its handy that its tinted... With any luck since I only topped up with DOT 4 it won't have had time to hurt anything.

This whole incident makes me wonder if the leaking brake on my TX-L was inadvertently caused by my use of DOT 4...

Straighten out!

Dug into the steering on my '79 Polaris Cobra today, the tie rod was bent badly:
It was a bugger to get out, had to shift the engine out of the way... I bent it back straight using an old brake disc as a mandrel and my 3# hammer to finish it, got it pretty good but apparently forgot to take a picture.

Installation was no big deal and I moved on to welding up the turn stop. It'd been welded, maybe several times before and I had to grind off a lot of old weld. Then I learned what the last welder knew, its a hard spot to weld in, the engine is really in the way, this is something that should be done with the engine completely out of the sled. Anyway I got it welded back on, its such an ugly job I won't post a pic, just know that its there!

So finally all ready I took it for a shake out ride before installing the seat and found its bogging badly on the low end, won't idle good once it warms up either and when it quits won't restart unless I hold the throttle wide open. I'm guessing I didn't get one or both of the carbs clean enough when I cleaned them. Interestingly this is similar symptoms to my Pantera. I'll have to pull the carbs and do a better job this time...
I also noticed that the sled doesn't seem to shift gears, which is to say it doesn't seem like the secondary clutch is opening. That said its really hard to tell what with the short space I've got to run it in my yard and the problems with the carbs. The secondary moves, I've had it open a couple times to remove and re-install the belt. I'll lube it good and see if that helps.

Oh well, one step forward, one step back. Fortunately we're closing in on the finish!

Take a seat

The seat on my 1979 Polaris Cobra was basically trashed. The cover had pulled back from the base which is a pretty common problem, and the sled had been left outside. That had caused the foam and wooden base to get totally saturated with water. I let it sit near the woodstove for a few days which got it basically dried out but the wood base was totally ruined. So I got a sheet of 3/8" plywood (which will help me with the '70 Ski-Doo as well) and cut out a new piece. Its actually a fairly complicated shape, it needs to fit around the light assembly at the rear and then around the lip that holds it up front. Plus there need to be two holes to attach at the rear. I painted the whole thing in a thick coat of black Rustoleum which makes it look original and should protect the wood. If I get another 30 years out of it I'll be satisfied. :)

The original base was molded into the foam so getting them apart without destroying the base (which I needed for a pattern) took some doing. When done I'd cut the foam in a couple places. I glued those back together and then glued the base onto the foam to keep them from sliding apart. Finally I wrapped my new seat cover over the top and stapled it to the base.

I bought the seat cover on eBay and I'll warn you that there are 2 versions, 1 is black, one is blue. I didn't notice that until I'd bought and received the black one. The original cover was blue. At this point after I'd cut the cover to make a hole for the taillights I'm not going to spend the money to get the correct one, after all it gives me a story to tell.

Anyway, once I get the rest of the sled completely ready (which means fixing the ski that only makes right turns) I'll mount the seat, but at this point I'm so close to being done I can taste it! If we only had some snow...

Friday, January 25, 2013


After coming to grips with the grips I decided it was a good time to take the Cobra for a rip around the yard. I'd had a little difficulty getting it started but considering it'd never really run enough to warm the engine up properly I'm not really concerned. This would also be the first ride since freeing up the brake, on the maiden voyage the sled was dragging badly because of that brake.

So the good news is with the brake released everything feels pretty spritely. The bad news is this:

Turns out the stop which should keep the ski from getting into that position is broken. It looks as though it was broken and rewelded poorly at some time in the past. Further forcing the ski back into place has bent the tie rod so that the right side ski is perpetually turning right. I'll have to fix the stop and straighten or at least shorten that right side tie rod to fix it.

On another note the seat is nearly ready. In getting the seat foam dry I finally had to resort to ripping the plywood base off. It was soaked and badly degraded. I got another sheet of plywood (which will help me with the Olympique too), cut and painted the base. Now I'm just waiting for it to dry before I finish. I'm debating gluing the base to the seat. Not sure what to do about that.

Got my grip on!

Last jobs on getting the heated grips wired up were to connect ground and power. For ground I pulled one of the screws that holds the handlebars in place, the Polly Heater grips come with a ring terminal that fit perfectly though I should have shortened the leads a little before crimping it together.
Finally for the hot lead there was a wire with a banana plug lying next to the fuel filter which was t-tapped into the voltage regulator. My test light show it was hot, I ran it through a 4a fuse to the switch.

I couldn't get the spade lugs Polly Heater provided to work with the wires since with the exception of the hot lead you're connecting 2 wires at a time so I used some other larger (and more protected) ones I had.

With everything connected I fired up the sled and flipped the switch, the headlight dimmed so clearly 2 things are true:
  1. Everything is wired up correctly
  2. The electrical system is marginal for these heaters.
On low its not so bad, the headlight dims but its not the end of the world. I don't think running the electrics full on will hurt anything but I should ask. Maybe I'll look into swapping in the lighting coils from a newer sled.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Work continues

Got just a few minutes to work on the Polaris today, got one more fuel line cut and installed. I'd started this last weekend but ran out of zip ties. I always zip tie the fuel lines on since the time I had them fall off the El Tigre while I was riding...
I tried to reinstall the left carb which I'd removed Sunday to install a jet I'd accidentally left out. I'd left the carb off because it made it much easier to install the fuel lines but I found with the carb boot cold (about 5F) I couldn't get the carb to go into it, the rubber was too hard.

So I'm kind of stuck, I can't finish wiring the grips until I can run the sled to prove the wire I think should be a hot lead really is. I can't run the sled until I get the left carb installed and I can't get the left carb installed without it being warmer. I dare not run a heater near the carb boot because the left fuel line is disconnected and I don't want to start a fire. Until I figure out how to warm that carb boot up I'm sunk.

On the seat front I finally had to tear the plywood base off the seat, it was holding moisture like crazy and I didn't want to install the seat with the new seat cover knowing I'd have to redo it soon. Although in the spring I still want to pull the seat, sand the tunnel and repaint. Clearly the moisture buildup there has been a problem for some time. Unfortunately I don't have any 3/8" plywood on hand and Angie took the pickup truck to work today so I could put the snow tires on my car. Tonight I'll plug in the car's block heater (its supposed to be below zero tonight) so she'll have no excuse not to take the car tomorrow.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Arctic Cattin around

My '78 Arctic Cat Pantera has been sitting for a couple weeks now, I took it for a ride after our first snow of the season and on the way back decided to open it up and "blow out the cobwebs". That turned out to be a big mistake, as soon as I got to full throttle the sled bogged and died. I got it started again but didn't get far before it quit again. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Finally I called Angie to come get me and we towed the sled home the last half mile with the pickup. What an inglorious way to arrive. The sled restarted easily and seemed to be back to running normally until I once again went for full throttle. This time when it died it stayed that way.

Finally today I got a chance to get out and clean the carb, in doing so I found a mouse nest in the airbox. Clearly when I went for full power I pulled crud into the carb... Wasting no opportunity I shot a video as I cleaned, hopefully in a week or two I'll have it up here for you to see.

So now the sled runs, it doesn't idle well though, I can't tell if thats watery gas or if I didn't get the idle jet clean enough. I may just run it a little more and see if it cleans itself up.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Coming to Grips

The mailman delivered my new Poly Heaters grips today so even though it was 10F in the garage I knew I needed to put in some time.

Outside grip Poly Heaters are nice because they're easy to install, slide 'em over the bar, drill a 1/8" hole, install a screw and you're done. If they need to come back off its no big deal, especially if you spray the bar with something like WD-40. Normally WD-40 is something to avoid, its not a lubricant although most people use it for that purpose. In this case it makes a nice water seal between the bars and the grips and it dries to a film that sticks around and resists rust a little.

I had to spend a little time on the throttle side because at full throttle the grip would grab the thumb throttle a little and hold it wide open, obviously not something I want to encounter on the trail! A few seconds with the drum sander in my rotary tool plus installing the throttle side grip a little farther out cleared up the interference issue and I got both grips installed.
I routed the wiring for the heaters down the bars with a couple zip ties and found there was already a hole drilled to install the switch near the keyswitch.
Here you can see the switch for the heaters installed between the keyswitch and the choke control. Its not wired up all the way yet, I wired from the heaters to the switch but I still need to figure out where my ground is coming from and where I'm going to pick up power. Theres a wire tapped out of the voltage regulator already which I suspect will provide ground and ground shouldn't be too hard to come up with. Before I do anything else though I need to get a fuse to install between the switch and the power lead. There aren't really any fuses on this sled at all as it has such a simple electrical system and I don't want a shorted heater to burn my sled down...

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Got to spend some time in the garage the other night, one of the problems with the '79 Polaris Cobra is the lack of brakes. The brake caliper on this system has 2 pads, one the caliper pushes against another which stays still in the caliper. Polaris has long used hydraulic brakes and in this case the driven pad is hydraulically actuated and on my sled that pad was stuck.

I found that using a big screwdriver I could pry the pad back away from the disc but when I applied the brake and the pad moved back in it would be stuck against the disc again. I pried and applied and pried and applied and while it seemed like it was getting a little better I wasn't gaining much.

Realistically I knew I needed to pull the caliper and properly clean everything. Unfortunately on this sled the brake caliper is attached to the chaincase inboard of the driven clutch. The driven clutch has to come off for this to happen and the chaincase has to come apart for that. I got as far as opening the chain case and pulling the chain and top sprocket before I gave up. Fortunately with the top sprocket removed the driven clutch can turn since you're not trying to push the track which helped with freeing the pad.

Finally in desperation I carefully squirted a little PB Blaster around the edge of the pad, now when I worked it back and forth I could feel it getting looser and eventually I could apply the brake and it would release easily. With that accomplished I sprayed some brake cleaner on the pad and disc so the PB Blaster wouldn't grease the brakes and everything seems good.

Its a good feeling to make progress.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Back from the dead

This blog isn't the only thing back from the dead, today I managed to revive the '79 Polaris Cobra!

Apparently my points cleaning was good enough, this afternoon I got some fresh gas, put the exhaust back in place, drained a gallon of varnish out of the tank, primed the carbs with a squirt bottle and it fired right up. Strangely I noticed I wasn't getting any gas from the tank, a little troubleshooting later and I found:

What you're seeing in my hand is the bung that goes in the tank. To the left there should be a piece of fuel line with a brass filter and check valve. The lack of fuel line means gas could only come out of the tank when it was full.. I took a run down to the sled shop to pick up some new fuel line and the check valve. With that installed and a little more prime the sled fired up and ran nice. I ran around the yard a couple times but its very warm and our snow is like oatmeal, very slippy and hard to ride on, fortunately the long track on this sled helps with that.
After my short ride I pulled in front of the garage and gave the sled a bath, it looks a lot better with the worst of the grunge off. It needs spraying down but my hose is unusable until spring. In the spring I'll wash it again and polish/wax.

Still on the to do list:
Free up the brake
Inspect the suspension - there doesn't seem to be any suspension travel at all right now. Considering how rusty the ski shocks are I suspect the skid shock is dead.
Recover the seat - I ordered a replacement seat cover on eBay
Replace the grips - Amazon is providing Polly Grips which are the same heated grips I had on my Centurion.

All in all not a bad day. If the sled still starts tomorrow I'll consider it a major win.

Bought another!

Well friends its been several years now since the Dead Sled Wrencher has bought a new machine but here we go again, once more into the breech!

My 37th birthday is coming up and I'd decided I was due a present, I'd found a '73 Pantera online but luck was not with me and it was sold before I could get to it. Then fate took me to the New Hampshire Snowmobile Museum classifieds just minutes after the posting of a '79 Polaris Cobra 340. I contacted the seller and we made the deal.

Thats a before picture in the seller's garage. The sled hadn't been run in a year which is no big surprise as we had almost no snow last year so the carbs will of course need to be cleaned. More vexing theres no spark. This is a magneto ignition sled which means breaker points. Back years ago lack of spark on a breaker points system was why I had to get rid of my '76 TNT so I'm a bit gun shy...

Over the next two days I spent about 4 hours cleaning, cleaning, cleaning the points and managed to get spark so last night I pulled and cleaned the carbs, they were as nasty as any I've ever seen.
With that done its all ready to start I just need to go get some fresh gas and give it a try.

A few other notes, the seat cover is ruined, fortunately theres a seller on eBay who is manufacturing new covers. The grips are for a dirtbike or ATV, I plan to replace them with Poly Heaters. I had a set of those on the Centurion and although I never wired them up for heat they were comfortable grips.
Finally theres no speedo, the seller supplied one but no cable or speedo drive, again theres one on eBay. That said I'm not buying anything more until I'm sure the sled will run...

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Props for Spaulding Vintage

I mentioned the new seat tabs in my last post, I picked them up From Spaulding Vintage Snowmobile online at and they're fantastic!
The whole process was great, I ordered online just before Christmas the parts arrived just after Christmas and they're exactly what I expected. Shipping was CHEAPER than actual, he charged me $1.29, actual was (from the USPS label) $1.92. In a day when so many places make a profit on shipping its nice to see somebody who doesn't cheat you.

I'll definitely be ordering from Spaulding again, they have a tunnel repair plate should I need one and I definitely need the rubber strip that holds the windshield down. Speaking of which I may go order that right now!

One step forward, two steps back

Got some spare time yesterday to start welding the old '70 Ski-Doo back together. This is the first work I've done on this sled since 2008 and its sorely needed.

First I pulled the old seat tabs off. The old tabs were held on with screws which of course means each leaves behind two holes in the tunnel so step one was to weld the holes back up. This is kind of a fiddly job involving a small rosette weld. With that done I welded on the two front tabs:

Today I went out to test fit the seat and ensure the spacing was correct, I'd only tack welded the tabs in case my spacing was off. I rapidly discovered that although my spacing seems good the board I used for the seat base is too thick and the tabs won't fit it. I used 1/2" plywood which I thought was the same as what was there, apparently it was originally 1/4" ply.

If you look carefully at the picture you can see that the top of the tab just barely pokes through the ply. Part of the problem is that the wood is thick, the other part is that there are stiffening ribs that run perpendicular to the tunnel which raises the wood a little. This raising is actually a good thing because it means that the bottom of the wood has a chance to dry and not rot out as quickly. To help that I've polyurethaned the wood within an inch of its life and just before I install the seat I'll wax the wood which should help it shed water even better.
With the seat not fitting I didn't know what the problem was and still didn't know if my spacing was any good so I removed the million staples that hold the seat base to the seat so I could look. In reality I shouldn't have attached the base to the foam before making sure the tabs fit right...

So my options are to bend the tabs until the seat base fits right, go with a thinner seat base, or put the tabs on spacers. I measured and played and found some 1/8" strap steel in my garage that will make the perfect spacer. So I'll weld the tabs to a scrap of the 1/8" steel and weld that to the tunnel. Further investigation reveals I had the tabs 1/4" too far forward anyway so its a good thing I didn't finish weld the tabs in.

Before anybody says anything, yes the paint I put on the tabs is a terrible match, I had some Cub Cadet yellow that is a much better match but I can't find the stuff so thats just Rustoleum to keep rust at bay. You'll also notice the tunnel is very rusty. I'm thinking this summer to strip the whole chassis down to nothing and have it sandblasted and repainted. That might require the tunnel top be replaced but we'll see...