1981 Arctic Cat Jag 4000: Jag Be Nimble, Jag Be Quick

1981 Arctic Cat Jag 4000
Article reprinted from the November 1980 issue of Snow Goer magazine.

As Snow Goer magazine prepares to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of its founding, we’ll post occasional stories from the magazine’s past here on snowgoer.com. This article, reviewing the 1981 Arctic Cat Jag, was printed in the November 1980 issue of Snow Goer magazine. It was one of the last sleds built by the old Arctic Enterprises, before the rebirth of the brand under the Arctco name in 1983.


When Arctic Cat introduced its Jag series five years ago, it was an immediate success. And why not. The Jag had, and has, a lot going for it – moderate price, excellent fuel economy, good looks, agility and it is relatively trouble free.

The Jag has met all the criteria snowmobilers most often list as prime motivations to going down to the local dealer and picking one up for their very own. Oh, for sure, Dad liked its style and ride and Mom had no trouble at all in maneuvering it around trails or across a lake. And Junior thought it was the neatest thing going since snowball fights. For the first-time snowmobiler and those who seek moderate performance, the Jag was the ticket. Nearly anyone could get on a Jag and make friends with the machine and snowmobiling in no time.

If there have been any whimpers of dissatisfaction, it has been from those who would like a little more performance without giving up all the other good features the Jag has to offer. The Jag is great for a 340, but what is the alternative when you get to the point where you want a little more performance, the rhetorical question was stated.

Ask no more, loyal Jag fans, the Arctic Cat people in Thief River Falls, Minn., have heard your pleas. For 1981 they have come up with everything the Jag does so well plus a 431cc, fan-cooled powerplant. And to make the new Jag 4000 even more trouble-free, this model comes with oil injection – a standard feature on all 1981 model Arctic Cats with the exception of the high-performance El Tigres and Kitty Cat.

Even with about 100ccs more engine than the Jag 3000 fan-cooled, the Jag 4000 weighs in the same as its little brother on the spec sheet – about 370 pounds dry – so none of the lightweight maneuverability Jag owners have come to love is lost with the bigger powerplant. We also found at our annual tests this year at The Lakewoods in northern Wisconsin that the Jag 4000 was the lightest sled among 16 representative models we tested including a number of 340 models. And we found that Arctic Cat was one of the few companies that listed weight that closely matched what we found.

Another strong selling feature of the Jags, and a trait that may have increasing significance, is good gas mileage. The Jag 4000 goes a long way on not a lot of gasoline. When we logged the results after our fuel economy run at the tests, only one other machine scored better gas mileage than the Jag 4000. And our two 440s that led the fuel economy sweepstakes were significantly ahead (about one-third better than most) of the 16 representative vehicles we tested – including a batch of 340s.

(Actual mileage figures are not printed because gasoline consumption will vary greatly according to the condition of the machine, driving habits, snow conditions, altitude, temperature and other factors)

The Arctic Spirit engine is cooled by an axial fan and features a six-port design – one intake, one exhaust and four transfers. Compression is 6.6 to one and the bore and stroke is 65mm for both. Carburetion is a single Mikuni 34mm butterfly.

The Jag 4000 has an Arctic hex-shaft drive clutch with longer bushings than past Arctic clutches for increased life. The driven clutch also has been improved for 1981. A new tool in the manufacturing process produces a flatter, smoother sheave. An improved chrome sleeve and a new, extended bearing also I have been added. These changes result in much more responsive shifting, plus longer belt and clutch life.

Standard on the Jag 4000 are a mechanical disc brake, capacitor discharge ingition, self-adjusting chain and a speedometer. The list of options include electric start, handlebar warmers, temperature gauge and tachometer.

For safety, the Jag features the Arctic exclusive normally closed ignition. As opposed to other snowmobiles with normally open ignition, you cannot start an Arctic Cat without the key. In addition to the key, the Jag 4000 can be shut off two other ways. The first is with a button mounted on the right side of the handlebars- pull up for running, push down to kill the engine. The other method is another specialty of Arctic Cat. The throttle cable is mounted in a fashion that unless there is pressure on the throttle control, the machine will shut off. Should the cable ever ice up or for some reason stick wide open, the engine will quit as soon as you release the throttle control lever.

Also in the safety category is a parking brake on the left side of the handlebars for added safety when hauling on a trailer or those occasions when you have to park on an incline. The front bumper is extruded aluminum with reflective taping. The reflective quality of the tape allows it to be black in daylight and reflective white at night – it’s like black magic.

The extruded aluminum skid frame has one shock absorber for damping, plus four rolled springs. The rear springs have four-way adjustments to suit the track to the driver’s desires. Ski damping is a single leaf, with three and one-half inches of travel, and a shock absorber.

The track measures 116 inches in total length and is 15 inches wide. For aggressive traction, the Kevlar reinforced track is two-thirds cleated. Every third cleat has a star-stud for improved grip in the straights and the turns and an Arctic “A” fills the void in the one-third uncleated portion for additional bite.

Zipping through the woods at this year’s test session, we found the Jag 4000 one of the best all-around performers among the sleds tested. The Jag doesn’t keep up with the liquid-cooled snow stampers we ran and it doesn’t try to. Among the strongest points the Jag showed us on the test ride was how it responded to body English. Liquid-cooled rockets are fast, but the additional weight they carry also tends to make them bossy on the trail – dictating the pace and setting a limit on maneuverability.

The Jag treated us better. It had plenty of snort in the 431cc powerplant and it let us have a freer hand in determining the pace. If we threw our weight to one side, the Jag didn’t pout or try to fight us. Instead, it came right along for the ride and gave us a better ride. It was like telling a kid to do something and he complied without giving a song and dance routine first.


In the styling department, the Jag must regularly exchange notes with the super-performer El Tigres. The same distinctive, racy lines sported on the Tigers also run deep through the Jag line.

The chassis tunnel on the Jag is aluminum and the front structure steel. The belly pan is reaction injection molding, which can take a beating and come back for more. The 6.5-gallon fuel capacity is gauged by a dial in the gas cap and the oil injection is monitored by a sight gauge on the right side of the dash.

In addition to the North American model Jag 4000 introduced for 1981, Arctic also plans to market a limited number of deep snow 4000s for the first time in the U.S. Normally manufactured in Sweden, the special 4000s will feature a 150-inch track for consumers who want exceptional deep snow ability. The super-long track compares to the 116-inch version that will be found on the more traditional Jag.

The Jags always have ranked high on our list of the best snowmobiles in the business today. Jags, Enticers and Citations are among the best all-around snowmobiles and may play key roles in expanding the sport in the 1980s. For a first time snowmobiler, any of these sleds would be an excellent introduction to the sport. They are lightweight. maneuverable, dependable, agile and just plain fun to drive.

The Jag 4000, as far as we can tell, is totally successful in retaining all the best features of the Jag line while incorporating a larger engine. There is a great temptation to take a proven winner and build it up to the point where it no longer satisfies the market it originally was aimed at. The Ford Mustang in the automotive world is a good example of a car that got carried away and lost touch with its market. The Jag 4000 hasn’t done that in 1981 and we frankly hope it never does. You’re a good all-around performer, Jag, keep up the good work.

4 thoughts on “1981 Arctic Cat Jag 4000: Jag Be Nimble, Jag Be Quick

  • Avatar for Walter bodman

    I had 1977 Jag 3000, it was a great sled. Also the free air.. It was a great starter sled.

  • Avatar for Russ

    Walter .. I myself had the original 1976 JAG 3000 .. it was awesome fast had over 11,000 miles on it when the spedo cable broke and i still rode it couple years after that.. ( Had it like 11 Years.) it never made me walk home even after hiting a tree broad side and folding the tunnel up against the seat.. it didn’t have a windshield on it long after new cause i kept braking it of so left it off … lol They don’t make sleds like that any more.. shame..

  • Avatar for GBARCHIVES

    If you can find a good original 4000 1981 Jag, you will probably pay more for it than most other mid size sleds of that model year. They held value, ran forever if maintained well, and were easy to work on. Like the article stated, rather prophetically, the Enticers/Citations and these Jags held value well from that era, because they ran and ran and ran…………. I just wish someone was reproducing belly pans for the Jags in aluminum. 30 years is hard on plastic……

  • Avatar for Kel

    i lucked out and picked up two parts 81 jag 4000, with the 440. it’s now one solid sled and an extra track.. this thing is cool!


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