“I have a 1975 Arctic Cat 250 Lynx, a 1974 440 Ski-Doo and an endless number of the best sled ever — the Ski-Doo 500 Everest SS — but this takes the cake: a personal snow tank,” he told us.
Indeed, what he found was no average snowmobile. Young uncovered a PasseParTout Model 400, an over-the-snow vehicle made by Coucelette, Quebec-based Valcartier Industries Inc. in the 1970s.
The owner said he could take it — in exchange for some tobacco and gasoline. In addition to the PasseParTout, she handed over the original sales slip, the owner’s manual and two sets of keys. Then, Young began a seven-hour odyssey of dragging the machine down the mountain.
It wasn’t in perfect condition, but darn close. “It was parked and forgotten,” Young said. “The engine is still free and the tracks and bogies don’t look too bad.”
When he got home, he lubed the machine and poured fresh gas in the cylinders, sloshed some new pre-mix in with the old gas and pulled the recoil. Much to his surprise, it started.
Now, Young and his dad are spending time getting the machine ready for this winter, and they can’t wait to see how it will ride and handle.
The original owner purchased it to haul wood around his property, Young said, and the owner’s daughter — who sold the machine to Young — remembers riding around on the back as a small child. “She remembers it being noisy and smoking like crazy,” he said.
PasseParTout, PPT for short, is French for “go anywhere,” and from the looks of this machine that may not be too far from the truth. From the start, it was classified as an “all season vehicle,” though most people associated it with snow use and just about all advertisements showed it in a winter setting.
It wasn’t initially created as a recreational vehicle or with the PPT name. Valcartier was then — and still is today — a munitions factory near Quebec City and was a large supplier of ammunition to the U.S. military for use in Vietnam. On the side, the company started to dabble in developing a machine that would work well in the soft ground of southeast Asia. Early prototypes had guns mounted to them, said Bob Cantin, of Edmonton, Alberta, who distributed, tested and eventually owned PPT.
The war ended before any vehicles were sold, and it left Valcartier with tooling, materials and parts. It turned its vehicle toward the recreation market, and, following a naming contest with Quebec school children, was christened the PasseParTout.
The first PPT was introduced to consumers in the late 1960s. The machines didn’t go by a model year, just a model name. A dealer network was established through the United States and Canada through snowmobile dealers and lawn and garden stores. In the early 1970s, PPT had an 88,000-square-foot plant in Quebec with 65 employees working on the machine, Cantin said.
“The problem was that the machine was not used for the market it was designed for; it was used as a recreational vehicle,” Cantin said. “As a snowmobile, it worked well enough in the snow, but it was heavy. It had quite a varied amount of uses, and the guys who really wanted it were in industry.”
By the mid-1970s, the PPT was heading in a different direction, away from the recreational vehicle market and more toward utility use. In 1977, the Valcartier’s president of the PPT division died.
“The next person who knew the most about the machine was me,” Cantin said. “They asked if I’d move to Quebec to run PPT. When I said, ‘No.’ they said, ‘Do you want to buy us out?’” Cantin agreed, and 1.5 million pounds of production materials were shipped from Quebec to Alberta.
Now under the company name of Valquentin Industries, Cantin continued to change the direction of PPT. “We beefed them up from an adult toy to an industrial machine,” he said.
He kept the company for three years, before selling to a Livonia, Michigan — based company that wanted to make the PPT to sell to the U.S. government. Production of the PPT ceased in the mid 1980s.
The Early Years
When the first PPTs were sold, they used a Sachs single-cylinder engine and a transmission from a washing machine.
The second generation PPT used a two-cylinder, fan-cooled two-stroke 30 hp Canadian Curtiss Wright (CCW) snowmobile engine until PPT went four-stroke in 1973. The 800-pound-plus PPT was simply the wrong application for a two-stroke engine, Cantin said. “It was like a race horse pulling a plow.”
From the cockpit,Young describes how the driver’s legs straddle the engine, and the carbs are dead center in the seat. The machine has a throttle lever on the right with a brake lever on the left. The hood opens automotive style. “I don’t know how it misses the handlebars, but it does,” Young said.
The third version, is the Model 400. It was built starting in 1971, has a continual transmission, a CCW-399cc fan-cooled engine, a single HR model Tillotson carb with diaphragm pump on base and seating for three. The passenger seats are all removable, which allows room for more storage.
It also created one of many problems with the PPT, Cantin said. The exposed plastic fuel line, which ran across the machine, was prone to puncture, whether from a passenger’s boots or an in-transit chain saw. That, combined with problematic shorts in the taillight, caused many PPTs to combust, he said.
The machine steers with handlebars, but the track is actually a clutch system similar to Caterpillar heavy equipment. The president of Valcartier was also on the board of Renault Canada, so the PPT used the clutch pressure plate out of a Renault car. The PPT had so much low-end torque, it would cause the clutches to slip, Cantin said, so they were made stronger.
Cantin talks about the old PPTs with mixed praise. He’ll compliment the engineering design, but complain about poor field performance. In the beginning, testing was primarily done in a clinical environment.
“They built a whole bunch of neat stuff, but there would always be a weak link,” he said. “They’d get a widget they knew would fail, but they’d use it anyway.” He calls the early PPTs the “biggest piles of junk.”
The sealed bearings in the bogey wheels would often seize up, sometimes while the machine was still in the crate. The high-tech polycarbonate idler wheels were impact-resistant, but not wear resistant. “If you ran it in sand, it would chew the idler wheels right up. I doubt if you could go 10 miles,” he said. A polyurethane coating later solved the problem. The cosmetic decision to have a skirt around the track caused wet snow to get trapped above the track, and if it went through mud and water, air would get trapped and the PPT would float, he said.
It was so bad, Cantin said, that he gave his dealers a list of two dozen quick fixes they could make.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Before the PPT ceased production in the 1980s, Cantin was given the option to buy the company back. He declined.
He says he still gets calls from people with late-model units looking for replacement parts and collectors like Young, trying to find information on their machines. He’s proud of his contributions to the machine’s development and still uses his old sales pitch, “If something can be broken, I’ve broken it,” to describe his exhaustive personal testing.
He still has several early-70s units, as well as a register of serial numbers and production dates. He can even identify units with no apparent serial number, as the company stamped the number — in secret — under the transmissions.
Cantin does have one final warning to collectors with a fiery ending: He knows of a man who did a detailed and costly restoration of an early PPT. When it was complete, he had a “coming out party” for the PPT, and guests were taking test rides around his property. One guest was at the far end of the field and, as it was getting dark, decided to turn on the headlight, which sent a spark to the leaking fuel line…
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