Thirty years ago, our former sister magazine aptly called Snowmobile Magazine rolled out its Rode Reports issue, featuring first test drive information on the 1985 snowmobiles. Tucked way in the back of the magazine was a glowing review of the cockpit-style, twin-tracked Manta. We all know now that cockpit style snowmobiles haven’t exactly taken over the sport, but they hold a unique place in the history of the sport.
Below is the full story from the September 1984 issue of Snowmobile Magazine.
Should A Snowmobile With Cockpit Seating, Wheel Steering, Foot Controls And A Mid-Engine Be Taken Seriously? Take A Ride Before You Decide
“Please don’t call it a ‘specialty sled’”
The men behind the Manta straightened us outduring the 1985 Rode Reports saying the specialty designation makes the Manta sound like something designed for trappers, far-north Eskimos or groomingtrails. After experiencing the Manta on the powder and hardpack trails of the Black Hills in March, we found ourselves agreeing… the Manta is not a specialty sled in any sense of the word. The Manta is a sport sled that just happens to be very different than other sleds and, in the world of snowmobiling 1985, it represents not special use or function but simply a snowmobiling alternative.
Different is the word and you discover just how different the Manta is the moment you settle into the cockpit with your feet out front on control pedals and your hands on a cutaway steering wheel. No sledder sits closer to the snow and this characteristic hints at the unique approaches to snowmobility found everywhere on this mid-engine twin-track.
The chassis is aircraft aluminum monocoque construction that takes the jolts with no trace of flex . The sled looks like it might be outrageously heavy, but the liberal use of light metal keeps overall weight to within 30-40 lbs of other cruiser sleds and the positioning of the drive components and driver in the middle of the chassis between the suspension components places the weight in the right places, i.e., low and balanced.
In an effort to dial out the last bit of undesirable feedback from the trail, the 1985 Mantas will feature a clever spring seat designed to dampen the harmonic motion created by the smaller, more rhythmic bumps. Driver position together with this new refinement adds up to a plushness unlike anything you’ll experience in a rider-over-tunnel sled.
The position of the driver is a key factor in the ride and handling of the Manta. Unlike the rider-over-tunnel design used on all other snowmobiles in 1985, the Manta driver sits between the ski and track suspensions where maximum effect can be obtained. With a trailing arm/coil spring ski suspension and twin torsion spring track suspensions, the sled delivers 6 inches of travel in front, 6.5 in the back and the ride is as plush as these numbers imply.
On the trail, the near-equal weight balance front to rear and the very low cg of the vehicle/rider package allows the Manta to carve the corners amazingly well. With twin tracks to distribute the weight shift forces and a 38% inch ski stance in a system designed to control sway, the Manta is very, very stable in the turns.
Most of the riders at SNOWMOBILE’s Rode Reports had never experienced the Manta and all took advantage of the opportunity to drive it. Reactions were positive all around with most calling it “a real snowmobile” and some even climbing out and saying, “This is my kinda sled!” We ventured into the powder on several occasions, too, and we impressed with the flotation of the sled, greater than the footprint figures would indicate. While the design is clearly aimed at trails, owners of the Manta have no need to fear fresh powder.
For all its unusual qualities, the Manta’s engineering is actually quite straightforward. Under the lift-away fiberglass body are proven water-cooled twin-cylinders from Suzuki in either a 500cc or 440cc electric start. The primary and secondary clutches are familiar Polaris units and the drive is directed through a tough-looking alloy chaincase to a long, well-supported jackshaft which in turn drives the involute drive for the twin tracks. While the powertrain directs power forward from the mid position, there is nothing “experimental” in the look of the sled to scare us off.
As a sit-in vehicle, the Manta can use foot control alternative with throttle on the right foot and a very effective hydraulic disc brake on the left. Our riders reported familiarization with the admittedly unusual control layout takes from “no time” to “one minute.” A hand throttle on the side of the cowl provides for motion control for testing, starting, loading and unloading.
Our encounter with the Manta left us with deepened respect for the twin-track concept. There have been other sleds designed around this idea, but none in our experience approached the Manta for effectiveness. After getting familiar with snowmobiling’s only mid-engine, we’re convinced the modest numbers being built for 1985 will find ready buyers among winter riders who do two things: Keep an open mind and spend some time in the cockpit at the controls.
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