A Look Back at the Arctic Cat El Tigre

Fast on the race track, smooth on the trail. That was the story of the El Tigré 6000, a transition model between the new and old Arctic Cat.
The last of the major manufacturers to make the move to liquid-cooled trail sleds, Arctic Enterprises Inc. (AEI) began offering the El Tigré 6000 for the 1978 season with a 440 engine. The Suzuki-built twin delivered power through the proven and popular Arctic hex drive clutch that was pushed to the limit by the power of the new Suzuki water burner.

The Arctic Cat El Tigré 6000 was, fundamentally, a liquid-cooled version of the well-established free-air Arctic Cat El Tigré 5000. The “Six” employed a dual cooling system with tunnel-mounted heat exchangers augmented by a small radiator under the windshield for lake running and other low-snow conditions. It was also the first consumer Cat to be fitted with an all-rubber track for better top-end performance.

Powertrain upgrades came annually, with a 500 engine in 1979, a Comet drive clutch to handle the additional power in 1980, and a new Arctic reverse-cam driven clutch and wider 1-3/8-inch drive belt for 1981. The reverse-cam design made belt changing easier, and the wider belt handled the power better. The ’81 version also got an extruded aluminum rear bumper in place of the chrome steel tube with rubber grips found on earlier models.

Flying Tigers
A pre-production 1981 6000 claimed the title of the World’s Fastest Snowmobile at the Snow Goer Shoot Out in February 1980. But critics contended that straightline lake racing wasn’t all there was to snowmobile performance.

The critics were silenced in December 1980 when retired Arctic Sno Pro racer Larry Coltom rode a 6000 to victory in the industry’s first-ever major snocross, the Dayco Holiday Spectacular Muscle Machine Shoot-Out in Alexandria, Minnesota. Cat opened by winning two of the three qualifying motos.

In the feature, Coltom defeated 11 other muscle sleds – half of them IFS machines – representing the best from the seven other brands available. Doug Oster’s 6000 challenged for the lead until he broke a ski near the end. Dan Oostdyk’s Scorpion Sidewinder, essentially the same sled with the older 440 engine, finished third overall, and the Arctic Enterprises contingent took four of the top seven positions.
However, 6000s reaching customers just weren’t all that impressive. Like many snowmobiles of the day, they were jetted rich at the factory to prevent burn downs. But proper re-jetting of the mains and needle jets for local altitude and temperatures turned them into real flying tigers, or Tigrés.

Maybe the most impressive thing about the 6000’s trail performance was that it was a very docile and comfortable sled at normal trail speeds. You could win lake races with the guys on Saturday, but still loaf it around with the kids during the Sunday club ride. The “Six” simply rode better than most competitive machines, and its low center of gravity and wide ski stance made it a solid, predictable handler. It really did fly well, too, with what seemed like unusually good pitch and roll control when it was off the ground, which was a lot more common in those days of relatively limited suspension travel.

Ergonomically, it put everything else on the trailer with very comfortable controls and seating, secure footrests, full instrumentation, easy starting and an effective windshield. It was relatively quiet, too, due to the liquid-cooled engine.

I recall fondly how owners of directly competitive sleds were always grinning ear to ear when they got off my “Six.” It didn’t matter what other brand they rode, they loved that fast Cat. One, whose father was a big wheel in a competitive company, begged me not to tell her dad how much she liked it.

Shortcomings were minor, such as a tendency for collected snow to block the headlight in some conditions; a brake that required periodic manual adjustment and a need to rebuild the drive clutch every 1,000 miles or so to maintain top performance.

In isolated cases, the water pump drive belt would fail. This happened to a member of my club when his recoil broke and the spring sliced right through the belt. Naturally they were out in the middle of nowhere — but amazingly, one of the other guys had a spare belt in his sled, and they changed it on the side of the trail.

If nothing else, this illustrates the value of you and your riding buddies all having the same sled. In our case, it was six guys in our club who rode 6000 tigers. We were known as, what else, the Cat Six. One of the guys even had Cat Six caps made for us.

Down The Trail
Over-extended financially from a multi-pronged entrance to the marine business and the acquisition of Scorpion, Arctic Enterprises went bankrupt and was forced into liquidation early in 1981. The future of this awesome sled was uncertain as AEI melted away with the winter snow under the warm spring sun.

But the “Six” wasn’t dead yet. It returned as a transition model for 1984 when a new company, Arctco, picked up the pieces and got on with Arctic Cat’s next life. These models can be easily identified by the addition of gold trim to the color scheme, but are otherwise essentially indistinguishable. The 1985 model ushered in the first coil spring El Tigré.

The 1981 El Tigré 6000 was the last and best Cat from the original company, and in this rider’s opinion, the best snowmobile of the entire leafspring era. I had mine for eight years, and I wish I had it back today.

1981 Arctic Cat El Tigré 6000
Manufacturer: Arctic Enterprises Inc., Thief River Falls, Minnesota
Power Train Specs
Engine: Suzuki Spirit AH50L2 liquid-cooled twin
Displacement: 500cc
Carburetion: Two Mikuni VM-38
Compression Ratio: 6.8:1
Ignition: Capacitor Discharge (CD), Normally Closed Ignition (NCI)
Lubrication: Pre-mix 20:1 (Arctic Cat Purple Powerlube or equivalent)
Exhaust: Single expansion chamber into muffler
Power Output: 85 hp at 8,250 rpm, 20 pound-feet at 4,000 rpm
Alternator Output: 120 watts
Drive Clutch: Comet 102C
Driven Clutch: Arctic reverse-cam die-cast aluminum
Chassis Specs
Type: Riveted aluminum with welded steel sub-frame, extruded aluminum bumpers, aluminum belly pan and fiberglass hood
Weight: Claimed dry weight 415-pounds/474 pounds ready to ride
Front Suspension: Tapered mono-leaf springs with hydraulic shock absorbers
Ski Stance: 32 inches
Rear Suspension: Aluminum slide rails with four-position adjustable torsion springs and one hydraulic shock absorber on each suspension arm
Track: 15-inch internal drive molded rubber with Fiber B (Kevlar) reinforcement, 116-inch circumference, 37 inches on the ground
Brake: Manually adjustable mechanical disc with parking brake
Fuel Capacity: 7 gallons (US)
Standard Equipment: Adjustable handlebars, speedometer with odometer and resettable trip meter, tachometer, coolant temperature gauge, Kelch fuel gauge, seat back storage compartment
Options: Handlebar heaters, tow hitch
Price: $4,199

5 thoughts on “A Look Back at the Arctic Cat El Tigre

  • Avatar for Pat ferm.

    Of the el tigr’es which year in the 80s was the fastest.

  • Avatar for Lee Ackerman

    Hi just read your wonderful article on the 81 6000 el-tigre. I have one of those from my father that has been sitting for 30 years. I’m trying to get it running again. It’s in wonderful condition. I’m having problems with it going and not bogging when it gets going faster. Maybe some electrical things. I was wondering if you could maybe help me out. Thank you

  • Avatar for Mark

    I enjoyed your article on the El-tigre. I purchased brand new 1980 El-tigre 5000 and the following year a 1981 6000. I ran and raced both of these sleds. They were the fastest and best sleds at that time. I wish I still had them both/

  • Avatar for Don Daraskevich

    I have a 1981 Artic Cat El Tigre 6000 with about three hundred hours. Cleaning the carbs ever year is a real pain you know where. Hopin there is a way to avoid build up in carbs requiring cleanion every year.
    How uc do yo thin I could get for ny sled in current clean condition?

    Thank you.

  • Avatar for Dan Lors

    My ’79 El Tigre 6000 was a 440 and my ’80 6000 was a 500. Are you sure you have your year/size engine correct?


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