Detroit native Bob Bracey was an automotive engineer who had worked for each of the American Big Three automakers and for the company that built Ford’s successful GT-40 racecar. Bracey also loved snowmobiles and was intent on producing a revolutionary sled that would outperform conventional snow machines.
After two years of development, his original Raider twin track appeared in 1971, with about 500 built by Michigan manufacturer Leisure Vehicles Inc. The radical Raider wasn’t the first twin-track snowmobile by any means because big, double-track utility sleds like the Ski-Doo Alpine and Valmont had been around for years. But this was really different.
The Raider was more like a racecar because the operator sat in it instead of on it, and relied on its low center-of-gravity with four points of ground contact for excellent stability and superior handling. It also provided excellent protection for the rider, so it was promoted as offering safety with sports-car maneuverability.
Enlarged and heavily re-engineered for 1972, Raider moved into the mainstream by adding distribution across the Snowbelt, and the sled started to sell in significant numbers. But the design still had a lot of issues, so the basic machine was heavily re-worked again for 1973.
While this work proceeded, Honda attempted to buy Raider, or to partner with the company, and a number of Honda-powered prototypes were built and tested by Honda dealers. But Honda was not impressed with Raider management and business practices, and terminated the partnership.
Refined & Rewarded
The model year 1973 refinements included smoothing the body contours and windshield, and adding new reflective graphics. The chassis got shocks mounted forward of the coil spring ski struts and revised springs on the rear suspensions to improve ride quality. Urethane foam on the inside of the engine cover helped meet new industry noise emission standards.
The engine was tilted to make room for a larger carb, and this further lowered the center of gravity and also reduced vibration. Power choices were reduced to a 400 (in the 34TT) or a 440; a kill switch was added and a Salsbury 850 drive clutch replaced two other Salsbury models previously used. But weight increased to 100 pounds more than the original 1971 units.
The resulting machines were rewarded with generally favorable magazine reviews.
“Its ride is much improved over last year,” Snow Goer editors commented. And they loved the new front bumper. “Smash it, and all you have to do is remove the screws and it pops back to original shape since it’s the same miracle ‘memory’ plastic used in Pontiac LeMans front bumpers.” They were also very impressed with the Raider’s incredible stability and overall ease of operation, but not with its thin seat cushion or the acceleration of the 34TT that they tested. They were also disappointed that the machine was too wide to fit on their chassis dynamometer.
Invitation to Snowmobiling magazine editors were generally impressed with the machine except for comfort issues, starting with the thin seat cushion. They noted that with the weight of the engine in the rear, the skis tended to skitter and bounce more than a conventional sled, affecting comfort but not steering. Reviewers commented that the ski shocks helped, but were “not a final solution.” One editor said she never realized until late in the test that the foot bar inside the cowling was adjustable for operator leg length.
The magazine noted that the 1973 44TT went even farther on its tip-over test than the ’72 model, offering a good 12-degree stability advantage over the best conventional sleds. Plus, it was even quieter than the (already quiet) ’72 Raider models. “Performance is not the Raider’s long suit,” the editors reported, but they did love its climbing ability and novelty value.
The Tracks Get Faint
Model year 1973 turned out to be the high water mark for Raider snowmobiles, with more machines built and sold than any other model year. But despite generally good media reviews and increasing acceptance of the radical concept, the ’73 Raiders failed to sell out as industry overproduction, declining snowfall and the 1973 oil embargo shook the entire powersports world to its core.
The Raider’s last year was 1975. Leisure Vehicles succumbed to trends affecting the whole industry as well as to the loss of visionary President and Chief Engineer Bob Bracey, who had resigned partly due to the Honda situation situation to pursue a new project – the ARBE Manta twin track racer. In fact, Bracey’s pursuit of the twin tracked, cockpit-style snowmobile continued all the way to 2001, with his Trail Roamers. But that’s another story.
Still, Raider had reportedly sold something approaching 20,000 sleds in five years, substantially more than many well-known snowmobile manufacturers of the vintage era, and proving that the radical twin track trail sled that resembled a race car actually had something going for it.
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