In 1965, American Machine and Foundry Co. (AMF) became the second large corporation (after Outboard Marine Corp.) to enter the snowmobile business by introducing its 10 hp Ski-Daddler for the 1966 snowmobile season.
The company was assembling a broad portfolio of leisure products that would include AMF bowling equipment, Ben Hogan golf clubs, Head skis, Voit athletic equipment, Slickcraft boats, Alcort Sunfish sailboards, Roadmaster bicycles, Whitley exercise machines, AMF lawn and garden equipment and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. With all the “fun” in its lineup, snowmobiles were a natural addition.
But the boxy Ski-Daddlers of the late ’60s earned a poor reputation for quality and reliability, and the company realized that it would have to overhaul its product and promotion to survive in the skyrocketing snowmobile business.
So for 1970, AMF transferred snow sled production from Des Moines, Iowa, to York, Pennsylvania, and rolled out a collection of sleek new orange sleds. Failing to comprehend that snowmobilers were more interested in hot rods, pick-up trucks and tractor pulling than sporty imported automobiles, the company began to promote the new sleds as “the sports car approach to snowmobiling.” This was explained as engineering a Ski-Daddler to look and feel like a sports car.
Orange Roll Out
The new orange Ski-Daddlers looked great. A retractable headlight and a chrome wrap-around front bumper aided an unusually sleek and clean execution of contemporary snowmobile styling. They also had a console to separate the engine from the driver, a relatively novel feature in 1970.
But the sleds were cast in the traditional mold. A Hirth engine, or a JLO for the low-end model, was mounted atop a welded steel chassis. With Salisbury clutching, bogie wheels and minimal or no instrumentation, these new sleds failed to advance snowmobile engineering.
Although all the models looked very much alike, there were actually four series of orange Ski-Daddlers. The sporty Mark IV series had 15-inch tracks, while the upscale Mark V series had 18-inch tracks, electric start, a bigger (6-gallon) fuel tank and rear turn signals. The short-lived Mark VI was essentially a Mark IV with a 634 Hirth engine, a cut-down seat and the bigger gas tank. The Mark XX series were limited-edition race sleds. One interesting feature was a rear lift handle that folded down to become a track stand. It was fitted to most of the Mark IV and Mark V models.
Sports Car For The Snow?
The 1970 Ski-Daddler brochure described the Mark V as the “nearest thing to a Porsche you can ride on the snow.” Then it claimed that “the Mark VI takes off like a Ferrari, handles like a Maserati, maneuvers like an Alfa-Romeo.” These comparisons were absolutely laughable to anyone who knew anything about these vehicles, and meaningless to those who didn’t.
Oblivious to the fact that real sports cars almost always had manual transmissions, AMF tried to pass off its snowmobile automatic “variable speed torque sensitive drive” as “sports car-type engineering.” The company also claimed “a rubber track designed for traction under all conditions,” was a further example of this “sports car-type engineering.”
Maybe the biggest disconnect was suspension technology. Sports cars are known for their superior underpinnings, but AMF tried to pass off its dirt-common and already outdated undercarriage as something special. Despite the accelerating move to the better-riding slide rails by competitors, all non-competition Ski-Daddlers were stuck with bogies until 1972 when sliders appeared on just one trail model — the Mark IV 400D. And ski shocks were never even an option, let alone standard. So the sports car analogy made no sense here either.
Yet AMF completely missed one sports car claim that would have made great sense: a disc brake. Popularized by Jaguar’s historic racing victories at Le Mans, fade-resisting disc brakes were not yet an automotive or snowmobile standard. But a disc brake was the lone advanced engineering feature on the orange Ski-Daddler.
Sports car racing was popular, and so was snowmobile racing, so AMF went racing with its new sleds. It did not go well. Aside from one USSA World Series Stock class victory before anyone cared about Stock racing, AMF sleds were also-rans on the track as well as in the showroom.
AMF’s promotional theme lacked any relevance to the snowmobile market and was largely unsupported by its engineering. Sleek and modern appearing as they were, orange Ski-Daddlers were still a “me too” product. It had questionable reliability that saw little development over its brief life in an industry that was rendering last year’s sleds obsolete.
Despite building about 14,000 sleds for the 1970 and ’71 model years, the Ski-Daddler was phased out in favor of the company’s forthcoming Harley-Davidson snowmobile. Only about 1,000 Ski-Daddlers were built for 1972, and all remaining inventory of AMF brand sleds were sold to a liquidator who retailed them direct to consumers at heavily discounted prices.
Even as the orange Ski-Daddlers were being introduced, the basic design was being thoroughly re-worked and re-powered with exclusive Aermacchi engines. Eighty of these improved units were built as prototype 1971 Harley-Davidson snowmobiles. The Harley sleds went to market in 1972, the last year of the Ski-Daddler, and AMF tried to use the Harley mystique to market them. But that didn’t work, either. The snow hogs remained on the market essentially unchanged through the 1975 model year when AMF finally gave up on the snowmobile business for good.
Power Train Specs
1972 AMF Ski-Daddler Mark IV 400D
Manufacturer: Western Tool Division of AMF Inc., Des Moines, Iowa, and York, Pennsylvania
Power Train Specs
Engine: Hirth 210R axial-fan-cooled twin
Carburetion: One Tillotson HD diaphragm pumper
Ignition: Magneto and breaker points
Lubrication: Pre-mix at 25:1
Exhaust: Single pipe into muffler
Power Output: 28 hp
Drive Clutch: Salisbury
Driven Clutch: Salisbury
Type: Welded steel with a fully removable fiberglass hood
Weight: Claimed 355 pounds dry
Front Suspension: Triple-leaf springs
Ski Stance: 25.5 inches
Rear Suspension: Slide rails with torsion springs
Track: 15-inch molded rubber with riveted-on steel cleats
Brake: Mechanical disc
Fuel Capacity: 5 gallons in a removable tank
Standard Equipment: Retractable headlight, low profile seat, under-seat storage compartment, zippered in-seat storage pouch, passenger grab strap, tinted windshield, gas gauge
Key Options: Electric start, cigarette lighter (ES required), tachometer