John Deere Rumors Create Some Spitfire Flashbacks

As the rumors continue to circulate about John Deere’s potential interest in acquiring Arctic Cat from Textron, thoughts of interesting old John Deere snowmobiles come to our minds.

One such sled is the Spitfire. Unveiled in model year 1978, it was in essence built upon the same concept that more recently was behind the Arctic Cat Blast chassis sleds. It was made to be small, light and inexpensive, with fewer parts and a simplistic design.

1978 John Deere Spitfire
The 1978 John Deere Spitfire, as pictured in the 1978 Buyer’s Guide issue of Snow Goer magazine. The sled in the inset is a 1978 Yamaha Exciter 340 that was featured in the same issue.

Below is text on the 1978 Spitfire as printed in Snow Goer after it was first unveiled. The words and photo were lifted from the 1978 Buyer’s Guide issue of Snow Goer. It was published in the fall of 1977. Elsewhere in the same issue, the Spitfire was also featured in a short article with the headline: “6 Brand New 78s That’ll Give You An Honest 20 MPG.” In Snow Goer’s test at the time, the spry little Spitfire logged 27.4 miles per gallon. It was only bested by the Arctic Cat Jag 3000 in the 34-mile test drive.

For a more long-term look on the Spitfire, check out David Wells’ Flashback article that was published in 2021. It showcases the sled’s strengths and weaknesses, and its place in snowmobiling history.

And, for the record, we don’t know at this point if John Deere is seriously considering making an offer to Textron for Arctic Cat. Or if Textron would even consider an offer. Yes, we can confirm that a group of John Deere officials definitely visited the Cat factory in late May. But there are many reasons that such a visit could happen. For instance, Deere has “jobbed out” the making of its Gators in the past, and even had BRP private label it a line of ATVs for a while.

So, while you stew in those rumors, enjoy some Deere memories. Everything below is text directly from our 1978 Buyer’s Guide.

AFFORDABLE SLEDS: John Deere Spitfire 340

The long-awaited Lil’ John is here and the brand new Spitfire 340 is a welcome addition to John Deere’s line-up for 1978.

Based on Snow Goer’s 1978 new model tests, the Spitfire is light, comfortable and easy handling on tight, rough trails that it was built to conquer. At 310-pound wet weight and 272-pounds dry, the Spitfire is also the lightest sled we tested.

In addition to its light weight and easy handling characteristics, the Spitfire also houses a number of firsts. John Deere’s newest sled features the first direct drive that has ever been produced in quantity. The Spitfire’s secondary sheave is mounted directly on the track drive shaft. Thus, power is transmitted directly from the secondary clutch to the track drive. Gear reduction is determined by the size of the track drive sprockets used.

By going direct drive, Deere has eliminated the secondary shaft, bearings sprocket, chain and tensioner, plus the chaincase.

The Spitfire is also powered by another first. Its 340cc Kohler twin is the first free air ever marketed by John Deere’s snowmobile division. Rated at 25 hp at 5500 maximum rpm, the Spitfire free air front mounted engine is detuned to produce the flat torque curve necessary to power the direct drive system successfully.

Getting the torque to the track is brand new Comet drive clutch that is an extremely simplified design that uses series of nine pucks instead of the conventional ramps, rollers and springs. Centrifugal force causes the wedge-shaped pucks to go in an outward direction against the cover and the immovable face. This causes the two to separate and force the sheaves closer together and moves the drive belt into a higher ratio. The pucks are made of a long lasting material – mineral-filled nylon with a trade name of Minlon.

A new soft seat and all-aluminum slide rail suspension, similar to that used on the Liquidator cross country sleds, accounts for the quality ride of the Spitfire. Beneath the suspension is a 15-inch three piece rubber track with full length, riveted grouser bars.

Ski stance on the Spitfire is 30 in. Suggested retail is approximately $1,399.

Editor’s Note: Every Snow Goer issue includes in-depth sled reports and comparisons, aftermarket gear and accessories reviews, riding destination articles, do-it-yourself repair information, snowmobile technology and more. Subscribe to Snow Goer now to receive print and/or digital issues.

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11 thoughts on “John Deere Rumors Create Some Spitfire Flashbacks

  • Avatar for Smyles

    Really that would be Sweet, hopefully they can stop the recalls that are starting to affect Arctic cat that Polaris can’t seem to under Textrons ownership as well, I was going to jump ship from Polaris because they cant seem to GET IT TOGETHER on the recalls, I had my Polaris sitting in my trailer ALL WINTER LONG because of it ,zero mile that’s a big fat 0 ,in fact I put more miles taking it to the dealer who did FA for me to try to get back on the trails asap,so insurance,license,and trail pass I spent $1000 for absolutely nothing but frustration and headaches from Polaris and when I called their customer service I complained about them too as it went nowhere, imagine that a complaint against a complaint dept,I’m not hard to please I just want someone held accountable for the problems and do something for the people who get SHAFTED by these big companies.

    Reply
  • Avatar for Claude Larocque

    Just imagine how many sleds you could sell today at that price. The good old days.

    Reply
    • Avatar for John

      I would buy this for my kids or even myself as a small sled over anything on the market today.

      Reply
  • Avatar for Clay

    Trail fire 440s where badass as well

    Reply
    • Avatar for Fred Gross

      I had both a ‘79 Trailfire 440 and a ‘80 Liquifire 440. The Trailfire was fun; the Liquifire was exciting with ~2X the HP! Both were well made – little to no problems with either one.

      Reply
  • Avatar for Viking

    Great news if John Deere does buy Arctic Cat and builds Arctic Cat and John Deere sleds.

    Bring back the Liquidators and Traifires and SportFires and Spitfires.

    They built great sleds and did well in the Winnipeg to St. Paul International 500 Cross Country races.

    The sleds were well built and lasted a long time.

    Need a quality sled builder now that Yamaha no longer makes sleds.

    Be nice is SnoJet, Rupp, Aloutte, Scorpion, SKIroule and MotoSki came back as well.

    Reply
    • Avatar for Wes

      We had an added line about the add that said ‘SnoJet gets you there!’. …. Snowshoes get you back!

      Reply
  • Avatar for Viking

    Chapperal and Mercury would be welcome back as well.

    Maybe if JD comes back they can make a similar ad campaign as Yamaha’s Johny skeptical with Johny and Bunny.

    Reply
  • Avatar for Griz

    Arctic cat needs to dump Textron asap. Textron invested in Cat only to be more excited and building their golf carts than aggressively rebuilding a newly acquired company. They made a huge mistake by trying too kill the Arctic Cat named and put there name “Textron” on sleds and ATV/UTV’s and that move BACK FIRED it was huge a mistake.
    I truly feel bad for the people at cat that are giving their blood sweat and tears to make Arctic Cat a dominant player again. If Cat was smart they would purchase Yamaha building rights on the snowmobile line. (would make a lot of Yamaha owners thrilled) and patents on a true leader of quality and dependability, then tell textron to step up or get out of the way!! Especially in ATV/UTV market and dominate like they should have done back when Wild Cat performance side by side was first introduced. They had the market and could have dominated on this area but due to poor management of original owners they delivered a huge gift to Polaris.
    Go John Deere!! Buy Cat because Cat can run like a Deere. 😊 what a strong future for all involved. Let Cat engineers shine and production flourish and people at Arctic cat hold their heads high once again.

    Reply
  • Avatar for David

    Arctic Cat’s mismanagement was a major reason my favorite Arctic Cat Dealer to go out of business. That and of course the economy and the poor winter also did not help any. But well before high interest rates and the poor economy and the poor 2023-2024 snow season, Textron/Arctic Cat was really hurting their dealers. Had a new Catalyst ready to be purchased. I let it sit and purchased a new Ski-Doo MX-Z 600R instead.

    Reply
  • Avatar for John Zeglin

    I would think the debut of the Spitfire may have had been due to Yamaha’s instant success with their little, short track 1977 Enticers. Wow was that thing an instant hit and an over achiever. Shortly the 300-twin followed with the same success. Enticers that survived in good shape are worth brand-new price or more still today. The Bravo also found a strong market waiting for it for it later on.

    I am very much pulling for JD to buy Arctic Cat and keep the snowmobile line alive as I don’t have a good feel this will happen under Textron and we CAN NOT afford to lose Cat. I thought JD had something going on with BRP back in the early 2000’s. I loved that JD colored REV that showed up on the internet. That should have gone into production.

    Reply

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