Growing rapidly from a modest beginning in 1965, Sno Jet became one of the most successful of the smaller manufacturers of the Vintage era. In 1968, the Quebec firm was acquired by Conroy Corporation of Texas, who made it a subsidiary of its Glastron Boat Company. Sno Jet production peaked out at a little over 31,000 machines for model year 1970, good enough to put the bright blue sleds on the marketshare leader board, although well behind the very top sellers.
Early Sno Jets were built in the classic Ski-Doo style. A European engine, usually a Hirth, was positioned on top of a steel tunnel with stirrups on the sides and a bogie wheel suspension underneath. Other than gradually migrating to Yamaha power (using pre-mix rather than oil injection) all Sno Jets for the trail used this basic format throughout the early 1970s.
But a new development project altered the way that Sno Jets for trail riding would be built. An independent racer named Jim Adema had revolutionized oval track competition in the early ’70s with his Duane Aho-engineered Sno Jet Thunder Jet modified racers. These very successful oval sprint racing sleds used materials like aluminum and titanium to save weight, front-mounted engines for better handling and slide rail suspensions to put the power on the ground more efficiently.
The 1974 model year saw the debut of a sporty new Sno Jet trail sled that incorporated materials and engineering concepts from the Thunder Jet, and according to Calgary, Alberta-based Sno Jet expert Blake Read, this new machine was designed at least partly by Adema.
The Sabre Jet Takes Off
Sno Jet offered many trail sport models for 1974 — probably too many — with the bogie wheel Astro Jet, the slide rail Astro SS, and the more powerful SST, each with three engine choices. But the Sabre Jet was the best looking, most powerful (along with the top SST) and technically most advanced Sno Jet of the season.
This almost all-new machine used the race sled approach of a stirrup-less aluminum chassis, slide rail suspension and a forward-tilted, front-mounted engine with a racer styling cue. The top of the Yamaha 440 power plant stuck through the hood just like on Thunder Jet’s and other free-air modified race sleds of the immediate past. But this engine had a fan for cooling instead of fins sticking up in the air stream, so the top shroud was chromed to make it more interesting visually.
New features on the Sabre Jet included the Positrack-Plus performance track that was said to allow the new model to match the climbing ability of any sled on the market, and the Ethafoam firm-flex seat for extra comfort. The skidframe was Sno Jet’s unique Multiflex II slide rail suspension that allowed the steel rails to flex up and down.
Sno Jet claimed a “wide” ski stance, but at a fraction under 25 inches, it wasn’t anything special. However, the Sabre Jet’s lower center of gravity did make it a good deal more tip resistant than other Sno Jets and many competitive machines. Standard equipment included a fuel filler overflow guard on the large-for-the-day 7.5-gallon gas tank and a sleek, low, tinted windshield.
Heavily promoted with product publicity photo placements, in-store posters and magazine ads featuring a lumberjack-like character called Big Blue to embody the brand, the distinctive Sabre Jet quickly found a receptive audience.
Testers from snowmobile magazines of the day were favorably impressed with the Sabre Jet’s appearance, performance, ride quality, stability, handling and low noise emissions. Invitation To Snowmobiling magazine lauded it as “the best pure-production sled yet from Big Blue,” although they did have a few negative comments on safety because the machine lacked a handlebar pad and the engine kill switch was placed in a non-standard position.
Then in mid-season, Sno Jet upped the ante by announcing the Sabre Jet 650. Mounting a Hirth 281RO 650cc axial fan engine that delivered its 50 hp through a Comet 100 drive clutch, the big Sabre was visually very similar to the 39 hp, Yamaha-powered 440. The only giveaways were the Hirth’s black engine cover, with the center section of the hood painted silver instead of black. Just 281 of these super Sabres were constructed. They were quickly snapped up by enthusiasts back then and are greatly prized by collectors today.
Big Blue Gets The Blues
The Sabre Jet certainly wasn’t the first model that featured racetrack engineering, which led to a better trail sled. Yet good as it was, it still became just one more of the industry’s many one-year wonders when Glastron slashed its trail sled selection from 13 models to just 7 for the following season. But the Sabre Jet did usher in the aluminum chassis and front mounted engine for almost all subsequent Sno Jet trail sleds.
Big Blue’s production was already falling annually by the time of the Sabre Jet’s introduction. The company’s marketing simply didn’t match its major competitors’ and despite some impressive models like the Sabre Jet and the Thunder Jet competition series, Sno Jet was just one more manufacturer being overwhelmed by market forces and bigger companies with greater resources.
Gross industry overproduction compounded by a lighter winter in 1973 had made it hard for any company to make a profit by selling snowmobiles. And Sno Jet’s unsuccessful 1973 lawsuit against the United States Snowmobile Association (USSA) over Stock class racing rules had taken a financial and psychological toll, too. Then in November 1973, the Arab oil embargo put a major hurt on sales of anything that used gasoline.
Sno Jet sales slid to unsustainable levels in the following light winters, and in 1976 Conroy sold the brand to Kawasaki USA, Inc., which merely wanted the large Sno Jet dealer network as a quick entry into the snowmobile business.
1974 Sno Jet Sabre Jet 440
Engine: Yamaha Sport (S) series axial-fan-cooled reed-valve twin
Carburetion: One Keihin SD42 butterfly type with silencing air box
Compression Ratio: 6.5:1
Ignition: Magneto and breaker points
Lubrication: Pre-mix at 20:1
Exhaust: Single pipe into an ACS muffler
Power Output: 39 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Drive Clutch: Yamaha
Driven Clutch: Sno Jet
Type: Riveted aluminum with steel sub-frame and chromed bumpers, aluminum belly pan, and fiberglass hood
Claimed Dry Weight: 390 pounds; pre-production model wet weight 450 pounds per Invitation To Snowmobiling magazine
Front Suspension: Triple-leaf springs with chromed hydraulic shock absorbers
Ski Stance: 25 inches
Rear Suspension: Multiflex II flexible steel slide rails with torsion springs and one centermount hydraulic shock absorber
Track: Positrak-Plus cog drive 15.5-inch nylon-reinforced rubber with molded-in rubber cleats and 42.5-inch footprint
Brake: Borg-Warner self-adjusting mechanical disc
Fuel Capacity: 7.5 gallons
Standard Equipment: Speedometer, tachometer, Kelch gas gauge, under-hood tool bag, kill switch, tow hitch, snow flap