EDITOR’S NOTE: Each issue of Snow Goer magazine includes one Timeline/Flashback article, celebrating the fascinating snowmobile models of years gone by. This article on the 1977 Arctic Cat Jag 3000 appeared in the January 2015 issue of Snow Goer magazine (Snow Sports in Canada). For more articles like this, delivered to your house 7 times per year, subscribe to Snow Goer today.
A direct derivative of the incredibly successful 1972 EXT racer, the Jag (not Jaguar) began as essentially a budget version of the first El Tigré. Introduced on a limited basis in 1975 with a Kawasaki free air engine, the first Jag was not shown in the 1975 sales brochure or even distributed nationally.
For 1976, the Jag switched to Suzuki power, along with the rest of the full-sized Cat models, and became a full production model, with Arctic building about 15,000 of them – more than any other Cat for that season. And that set it on a path to become one of the most popular Cats of the leaf spring era.
The Jag really hit stride in 1977 when the trim color was switched from a lackluster light gray to eye-catching Cat green. This was also the year that Arctic Enterprises began to use retired Team Arctic racer Charlie Lofton as the spokesman for the Jag. Known as the fastest man on snow from his speed runs in the famous Boss Cat II, Lofton appeared in all kinds of advertising and sales promotion materials.
“I gave up racing,” he was quoted as saying, “but I’ll never give up performance.”
Shown riding the Jag in Cat videos and discussing its capabilities in sales brochures and magazine articles, Lofton lent the sporty lightweight a lot of credibility as a performance sled that anyone could afford. And as an evolved race sled, it did have a lot of performance attributes, from its jackshaft drive and low center of gravity to its lightweight design and excellent handling.
Half a dozen 1977 Jags with unique Charlie Cat identification were used in a major promotion for Revlon’s Charlie and Chaz fragrances for women and men, respectively. Actress and future television star Shelly Hack (Jack in the “Jack & Mike” TV show) became the human face of the promotion when it was continued the following season. Hack appeared with Charlie Cats in fashion magazine ads and on point-of-purchase material in hundreds of major department stores coast-to-coast all winter. This totally unprecedented and very unique two-winter promotion exposed snowmobiling and Arctic Cat to a whole new audience, helping move the sport further upscale.
The Jag was also very well received by the media and the buying public. Then United States Snowmobile Association President Tom Putnam lauded his new Jag in SnoTrack magazine, describing how it incorporated concepts and features that had been tested and proven on the race track. Snow Goer praised its handling and ergonomics, and noted that the 340 Jag outran five 440s at the spring tests. SG testers also found that the machine averaged 23 mpg in a high-energy 20-mile trail ride over a variety of trails, and stated emphatically that the Suzuki Spirit engine absolutely ended all the myths about free airs being unreliable. Meanwhile, Snow Sports magazine concluded that “there are some other machines you could buy for considerably more bucks that aren’t a lick better.”
Rank and file snowmobilers agreed. Snow Sports consumer surveys confirmed that owners were pleased with the machine’s great value and unusually high dependability.
On a personal basis, the ’77 was easily my favorite of the three leaf-spring Jags that served our household. Inexpensive to purchase and operate, this sporty Jag had excellent ergonomics, was an absolute blast to ride, rock-solid reliable and dirt simple to maintain. The free air Suzuki was easy to start, yet provided enough power to move the featherweight chassis with authority at typical trail speeds of the day. And a huge list of options allowed tailoring the machine to personal tastes.
The only shortcomings were lack of storage and a buckboard ride.
The Jag continued evolving further in 1978 with a new hood and a fan-cooled engine option, and cemented its status as Arctic Cat’s best-selling model. A 1979 Jag with the Series 2000 275cc free air engine set a gas mileage mark of 42 mpg in an industry-wide fuel economy test. All Jags were built on the original chassis through 1981 when Arctic Enterprises died.
A heavily redesigned Arctco Jag appeared in 1985, was reworked again to handle the AFS ski suspension for 1989, and remained a solid seller all the way through the 1990s, making it one of Cat’s longest running model names. Unlike many inexpensive trail models, the Jag cashed in on its performance ancestry to become a huge success in the marketplace. Built in large quantities, many still survive and they make great retro-riders or easy low-budget restorations.
So, besides being the fastest man on snow, Charlie Lofton really knew how to pick a winner in the showroom and on the trail.