During the summer of 1973, the Roll-O-Flex snowmobile brand announced that it would produce a new and advanced high-performance model called the Roll-O-Flex Wild One. First shown with a free air engine, the company intended to replace all existing Roll-O-Flex models with this new state-of-the-art product, so it was also to be built with fan-cooled power.
Sadly, the 1974 Wild One didn’t get much of a chance to succeed. One of the most sophisticated sleds of its day, it had tremendous potential as a stock or modified racer as well as a high-performance trail sled that could have easily adapted to cover other market segments. But overtaken by adverse circumstances, it was just too late arriving in the marketplace.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Each regular issue of Snow Goer features a Timeline/Flashback article about a classic or vintage snowmobile, written by International Snowmobile Hall of Fame journalist David Wells. This one is from the March 2015 issue.)
Betting The Company On Sleds
Saskatchewan-based Roll-O-Flex (ROF) was a deep-tillage farm machinery manufacturer that got into the snowmobile business in the 1960s as a distributor for Sno Jet and Boa-Ski. ROF General Manager Larry Fay had Boa-Ski build a private-brand sled called the Wild One which became the first Roll-O-Flex snowmobile for model year 1969.
In September 1970, Roll-O-Flex received a funding grant from the provincial government to set up facilities to produce its own sleds. But the money came with conditions that included stopping manufacture of all current products. So ROF continued servicing its previously sold agricultural equipment, and bet the company on the booming snowmobile business.
By 1973, ROF had built a reputation for quick and fast sleds. A product development team led by Vice-President Gene Glaze coaxed prodigious power from Yamaha fan-cooled engines though careful development and extensive dynamometer testing with exhaust system supplier A.C.S. Ltd. of Toronto.
ROF also developed its own Super-Flexion hybrid track suspension. Similar to the Scorpion Para-Rail, the Super-Flexion had large wheels on and between two rails that were fixed to the front and rear arms. It transferred weight very well so it was ideal for drag racing, but despite long travel for the day (6.5 inches), some magazine testers rated the ride quality as no better than bogie wheels. And according to one Snow Goer reviewer, it exhibited a disconcerting side-stepping trait at speed. Nevertheless, the Super-Flexion suspension was licensed to Auto-Ski Inc. for use in its Auto-Ski and Pro-Am snowmobiles.
Meanwhile, financially-constrained ROF expanded geographically, relying on local racing results and word-of-mouth rather than advertising and marketing programs to gain distribution to sell its sleds. By 1973 the company had sales coverage across most of the Snowbelt.
The New Roll-O-Flex Snowmobile
Unlike the previous tall, narrow, maroon Roll-O-Flex sleds with tunnel-mounted engines, the low, wide and sleek ’74 Wild One was white, with the engine forward and a jack shaft drive, plus the shaft had a unique center support to eliminate flexing. A cast aluminum motor plate extended back and up to tie the engine to the jackshaft support, ensuring a constant center distance for the clutches. Outer ski edges were turned down for better bite in corners.
But a major last-minute problem arose. “Yamaha would not agree to sell us the free air engines for production sleds,” Glaze said in a more recent interview with Snow Goer. So Kohler power was substituted for both free air and fan blown Wild Ones, the latter with the 338cc K340-2AS axial fan-cooled engine. The last-minute change meant that carb jetting, exhausts and clutching were not fully calibrated, resulting in sub-par performance for the production machines.
That wasn’t the only problem, either.
“We were using a lot of the same vendors as Arctic Cat and Polaris and a few others,” Glaze said. “These vendors gave them delivery priorities. We were at some fault, too. We were making last minute design changes, which didn’t go well with their tooling departments.” These component delivery problems hampered efforts to ship sleds.
Two Wild Ones were built as featherweight Sno Pro racers with modified Kohler 340 and 440 free air power. They saw limited action as a series of events on and off the track took their toll.
But the biggest problem was increasingly difficult market conditions for smaller manufacturers like ROF. Declining snowfall in some parts of North America and tough competition from industry giants were compounded by the 1973 oil crisis that killed markets for anything that ran on gas.
ROF was about out of time and money. Sleds were completed and shipped as fast as possible, but no service manuals were produced for the Wild One. Total production for the 1974 season was only about 2,600 machines, including less than 400 Wild Ones, roughly half of 1973 total production. The bet on snow sleds had been lost, and Roll-O-Flex was liquidated in April of 1974.
1974 Roll-O-Flex Wild One F/A
Manufacturer: Roll-O-Flex Ltd., Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Roll-O-Flex Wild One Powertrain
Engine: 338cc Kohler K340-2RS “sunburst” free-air, piston-port twin with two Mikuni VM-34 slide valve carbs, breaker point ignition and single pipe into ACS muffler with internal tuned cone
Lubrication: Pre-mix at 20 to 1
Power output: 43 hp
Clutches: Comet 100C drive and 90D driven
Roll-O-Flex Wild One Chassis
Type: Aluminum with zinc-plated steel bulkhead, aluminum bumpers, fiberglass hood and pan
Claimed dry weight: 320 pounds
Front suspension: Triple-leaf springs with chromed hydraulic shock absorbers and three-position front ski mounts
Ski stance: 34 inches
Rear suspension: Super-Flexion hybrid with 12 wheels on parallel rails, torsion springs and one rear-mounted hydraulic shock
Track: 15- by 118-inch Bombardier nylon-reinforced molded rubber with internal drive
Brake: Kelsey-Hayes mechanical disc
Fuel capacity: 5 gallons
Standard equipment: Speedometer/odometer, tachometer, engine temp gauge, kill switch, tether switch, padded knee protectors, non-slip footrests, passenger grab handles, snow flap
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