In most eras, there are certain snowmobiles that have panache and a major cool factor that gives those machines timeless appeal. One legend from the booming late-1990s is the 1997 Arctic Cat ZR 580 EFI.
Fitted with a bright green hood and seat, and adorned with waving checkered flags, it was modeled similarly to the dominant 1996 ZR 440 race sled. “The colors and styling connected with so many people, and because of that it still does today,” said Tom Rowland, owner of Arctic Cat dealer Thomas Sno Sports in Ogilvie, Minnesota. “It was just such a damn cool model. As snowmobilers we either owned one of them or wished we owned one of them.”
The 1997 ZR 580 EFI continues to be a sought-after machine, though no longer as a race sled clone, but instead as a vintage or classic machine for Generation X snowmobilers.
In an era when all other snowmobile manufacturers were suspending their chassis with trailing arms Arctic Cat was perfecting its razor-sharp, double-wishbone setup. ZRs were regarded as the best handling sleds on the snow, and they could mow down deep moguls. The 580cc engine with triple exhaust port cylinders was class competitive for the era at nearly 100 hp.
Given the fact that the model is now 19 years old, the chance of finding a clean, problem-free 1997 ZR 580 EFI is slim. For people who find a cream puff, they ought to buy a lottery ticket, too, but for everybody else whose ’97 ZR might need things like a seat cover, clutch rebuild and suspension repairs, they should be working on it for amusement.
“Where the risk always comes with these things is just about any repair is going to exceed the value of the sled, so you’d better make sure you want one as a hobby or for fun,” Rowland said.
The 1997 ZR 580 EFI introduced important and lasting technology to production snowmobiles. It was the first year of Arctic Cat’s batteryless electronic fuel injection (BEFI) system – a reliable set-up that’s used on 2016 Arctic Cat models powered by the 8000- and 4000-Series engines. The system relies on the first recoil pull to generate electrical current that powers the electric fuel pump and pressurizes the fuel rail, plus it provides power to the ECU so it can read input from the sensors. The second pull starts the engine.
The kinked Extra Travel Tunnel (ETT) that allowed the rear suspension to cycle farther into its travel was mated with the FasTrack Long Travel rear suspension and the torque-sensing link – a short aluminum arm that connects the rear torque arm to the tunnel – that also allows more travel. The torque link has also endured, as a similar design is part of current Arctic Cat Slide-Action, Polaris Indy and Ski-Doo rMotion rear suspensions. Some 2016 factory race sleds utilize a tunnel design similar to ETT.
Rowland said there weren’t any gremlins that first year with the weight-saving fuel system, but his shop has replaced a few stators every season since 1997. The problem isn’t widespread, he said, but it’s consistent. Look for elongated holes where the front torque arm attaches to the suspension rails, as many Arctic Cat models show wear there. Most parts for the 1997 ZR 580 EFI are still available from Arctic Cat, Rowland said, including engine, chassis and suspension parts, plus stators, seat covers and complete secondary clutches. Most parts to service the primary clutch are also available, and for clutch parts that aren’t offered by Arctic Cat the aftermarket can be a good source.
Editor’s note: Each Issue of Snow Goer magazine contains an article on a sled that would be worth considering if shopping on the used sled market. This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of Snow Goer. To subscribe and get similar content delivered to your house seven times per year, click here.