The ads for the 1973 Massey Ferguson Ski Whiz announced, “This one’s the most improved sled on the trail.” And strictly speaking, that was true.
The Canadian agricultural giant had entered the snowmobile business for the 1969 season with a big, well-built machine from the company’s Des Moines, Iowa, plant. Styled and hued after the company’s very successful line of farm tractors, and propelled by an industry-first internal drive track, Ski Whiz sleds were sold predominantly through a well-developed network of rural dealers and backed by Massey’s established parts and service operations. The company thought its snow machine would be a solid hit.
But by the time Massey had a couple of seasons under its belt, the company understood that it had to add some style and sizzle to its heavy, homely, under-performing snow tractor or it was not going to succeed. So for the 1973 season the Ski Whiz was redesigned.
“Dramatically new from the handlebars right down to the snow,” the brochure read. And they weren’t kidding. Advertising and sales literature pointed out 28 areas of improvement that took 50 pounds off the new 1973 Ski Whiz snowmobiles compared to the older models.
It started with a decidedly better overall appearance. Clean, new styling rounded off the corners and sharp edges while maintaining the basic Ski Whiz shape. The trademark red hood remained, but the chassis changed color from silver to black.
Many details were upgraded including the windshield, seat, front bumper, ski spindles, storage compartment, gas tank, drive belt, passenger hand holds and snow flap. Safety improvements included an engine kill switch, side reflectors, larger taillights and a bigger handlebar pad. Germany’s JLO continued as the only Ski Whiz engine supplier, but the new models had more horsepower across the board and better mufflers made them quieter, too.
The company also made a serious effort to improve the ride and handling of the big sleds. The skis were shortened to reduce steering effort and brackets for optional ski shocks were added to most models. The three-position front spring mount for ski pressure adjustment was retained from earlier models.
Engines were moved lower and further forward for improved stability and the bogie wheels were repositioned further forward to improve deep snow performance and hill climbing ability. A new polyurethane track featured a deeper, more aggressive profile and had easier tension adjustment, too. Finally, two new well-equipped wide track (WT) models with 18-inch tracks were added to the lineup, the balance of which continued with 15.5-inch tracks. Unfortunately, all these changes did not dramatically improve the ride and handling, and side-to-side stability remained unimpressive.
Drive clutches also continued to be a problem. Unhappy with the off-the-shelf Salsbury, St. Lawrence and Drummond pulleys used on early Ski Whiz snowmobiles, Massey Ferguson had engineered its own drive clutch and began using it on 1972 models. The 1973 Ski Whiz sleds had a major drive clutch recall, and updated machines received a Series II decal, but placement of these decals on the machines was not uniform by any means.
Success Doesn’t Last
Sales jumped about 60 percent for the redesigned Ski Whiz, but success was fleeting. The expanded 1974 Massey lineup was essentially some warmed over 1973 models with a red-trim-on-black color scheme and some additional equipment choices. The energy crisis from the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the growing industry-wide glut of unsold inventory hurt sales of all brands, and Massey was certainly no exception.
But the heart of the problem was that the redesigned Ski Whiz retained too much obsolete technology — particularly the heavy, steel chassis and bogie wheel suspension. It’s sub-standard ride and handling received tepid magazine reviews when it got press at all. And lacking any kind of a performance image — because the company was one of the few recognizable names that wasn’t into racing — Massey could not compete for the trail racer buyers who were becoming a key segment of the fast evolving snowmobile market.
Massey discontinued production of the Ski Whiz in 1974. It turned to competitor Scorpion to supply its snowmobile needs starting with the 1975 model year before exiting the market for good following the 1977 snowmobile season.
The redesign of the original Ski Whiz had definitely improved the company’s snowmobile, but just didn’t go far enough to drive Massey Ferguson to lasting sales success in the highly competitive snowmobile industry.
1973 Massey Ferguson Ski Whiz 440WT
Manufacturer: Massey-Ferguson, Inc., Des Moines, Iowa (Subsidiary of Massey-Ferguson Industries Limited, Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
Engine: Rockwell JLO L-440/2 axial fan-cooled twin
Carburetion: One Tillotson HD diaphragm pumper with M-F air-intake silencer
Compression Ratio: 7.5 to 1
Ignition: Magneto and breaker points
Lubrication: Pre-mix at 20:1
Power Output: 40 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Exhaust: Single pipe with a Donaldson muffler
Drive Clutch: Massey Ferguson
Driven Clutch: Massey Ferguson
Type: Welded and painted steel tunnel and belly pan with molded fiberglass hood
Weight: 390 pounds
Front Suspension: Triple-leaf springs with 3-position front end adjustment
Ski Stance: 26 inches
Rear Suspension: Bogie wheels with torsion springs
Track: 18-inch wide internal drive, molded polyurethane with ice cleats
Brake: Mechanical disc
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 U.S. gallons
Standard Equipment: Speedometer/ odometer, fuel primer, engine kill switch
Options: Electric start, tachometer, hour meter, ski shocks, rear view mirror, tow-behind sleighs
Price: $1,275 MSRP