Word trickled out of Ohio this afternoon that Herbert “Mickey” Rupp – the man behind the popular Rupp snowmobile brand and other power products – died earlier this week. He was 87.
Rupp is a brand for which many longtime snowmobilers have a deep affinity. The bright red snowmobile line started with a Sno Sport moniker in its first few years in the middle 1960s. It blossomed into a broad line of machines. Names like Rogue, Yankee, Nitro and American became part of the snowmobiling lexicon.
Mickey and his brand are often credited for creating the first aluminum chassis and plastic gas tank in the snowmobile market.
The Ohio-based Rupp Manufacturing, though, started as a go-cart company in 1959 and quickly moved to mini bikes. Mickey’s first snowmobile prototypes were built in 1964, and production models were made for 1965.
The snowmobile line grew rapidly. In fact, the company became one of the five biggest makers of snowmobiles by the early 1970s, according to longtime Snow Goer contributor and historian David Wells.
Depending on which source you believe, the brand peaked at an annual production of somewhere between 29,000 and 35,000 units per year.
A rapid collapse of the snowmobile market in 1972-73 was largely brought on by an international oil embargo. It was further spurred by massive industry overproduction. Together, those factors put a lot of companies in a tough spot, including Rupp.
The company declared bankruptcy in 1973 and ended up being purchased by Mr. Gasket. Mickey was officially ousted from the company that bore his name.
Later versions of the company went through bankruptcies again in 1976 and 1977 before the brand disappeared in 1978.
In 2021, Rupp was honored by the Edgar Hetteen Memorial Award Of Merit by the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame. The description on the award includes this statement:
“Mickey felt confident he could improve on snowmobile designs that other manufacturers were currently using, with an emphasis on performance. This was to be done by making them more light weight employing aluminum tunnels and bulkheads. Also, he was one of first sled manufacturers that designed an aerodynamic down swept hood. This would give the machines a sportier look and allow the drivers to see better in front of them rather than the common boxy designs of the time.”
Please click through to the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame website to read the rest of the award details.
Mickey Rupp himself was seen as an innovator and a horsepower junky. He famously dabbled in cart and auto racing. In fact, he finished sixth in the 1965 Indianapolis 500. He also won the nation’s first 300-mile and 500-mile endurance kart races, according to the Mansfield News Journal article about his death.
Mickey’s affinity for speed was reflected in snowmobiling in many ways, including the Super Sno-Sport speed run sled he had built to resemble a drag car. It was reportedly 24 feet long and was powered by a 525-horsepower automotive engine.
Mickey competed in speed runs with the vehicle himself, but there is some dispute over whether he or another person was in it when it went 95.5 mph in 1969 at West Yellowstone, Montana.
After Mickey Rupp lost his namesake business, he continued to innovate in other markets, including marine and fishing tackle.
There’s an interesting video about him that includes an interview with him pasted below. It was created by the North Central Ohio Industrial Museum. It was from when he was an Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame Inductee in 2012.