Flashback: The 1980 Kawasaki Invader LTD

An advertisement for the 1980 Kawasaki Invader LTD.

When Kawasaki introduced its new-for-1980 LTD 4/6, there was some confusion over whether it was a performance sled or a luxury sled – or if it was some of both. No matter, Kawasaki made it clear that it regarded this model as “the most advanced snowmobile ever made,” and that it would be built in limited numbers, so the LTD nomenclature would be appropriate.

A Technological Tour de Force

When the original Kawasaki Invader ap­peared for 1978, it was almost the last gasp of a dying breed, a performance sled that still had some basic passenger capability like a family sled. This sort of ambigu­ity continued with the new Invader LTD, starting with an extra-plush version of the “king and queen” seat that was used in var­ious forms on all Invaders and Intruders.

The LTD certainly looked like a per­formance sled under the hood. Power came from a standard Invader engine that had been upgraded to breathe bet­ter with new jugs featuring four transfer ports feeding six cylinder-wall intake ports (thus the 4/6 in its name), slightly different pistons and a twin pipe exhaust system with individual mufflers instead of the usual single pipe. 

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This engine also featured two spark plugs per cylinder, something that Ka­wasaki had done on some engines it had previously sourced to Arctic Cat. The ex­tra plug was supposed to provide a faster and more complete fuel burn that theo­retically results in more power. I remem­ber a top Kawasaki snowmobile executive commenting off-hand that “one of our engineers wrote a paper on it (dual plugs per cylinder) once.”

A Mikuni-engineered automatic fuel shut off kept gas out of the crankcase if the sled was parked facing downhill, so no manual shut-off was needed unlike on other machines. This feature was also standard on all 1980 Invaders and Intrud­ers. Kawasaki’s dual cooling system in­cluded heat exchangers in the tunnel, but the cross-flow radiator under the hood of the LTD was repositioned for better ef­ficiency, and warm air exited behind the windshield to improve operator comfort.

Externally, the unique LTD hood fea­tured an asymmetrical raised section on the rider’s right side, just above the radia­tor, with an Invader 4/6 logo on the front end of the bulge. Consequently it required a different windshield. The classy looking glacier green and silver color scheme with gold pin striping looked really sharp and further differentiated the LTD from the rest of the line.

Underneath, the new Vari-Ride vari­able rate skidframe improved ride qual­ity. Oil injection, full instrumentation, an adjustable handlebar and two stor­age compartments were also included. But electric start was optional and other luxury touches available on competitive models – like mirrors and heated hand grips – were not included.

On the other hand, the twin pipes, dual ignition, hood bulge and complete instrumentation added up to a claimed 15 pounds more than a standard Invader that had the same basic engine, though the single-piped version was officially rated at 10 fewer horsepower. And al­most all competitive, serious perfor­mance sleds were still running pre-mix engines, too, which allowed operators to theoretically optimize their oil mixture for their particular needs.

Neither Fish Nor Fowl

On the snow, the big bad Kawi received mixed reviews, which is somehow ap­propriate. When Snow Goer tested the LTD 4/6, the riders were impressed with the power, calling it “consistently one of the fastest machines” at the spring Shoot-Out. They also praised the over­all handling but disliked the heavy steer­ing effort that was required, particularly at low speeds.

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In the fields across North America, Kawasaki fans loved its performance, but many riders of competitive sleds considered it easy-pickings in impromptu drag races.

Was the LTD a performance sled, a luxury sled, or both? In the end it really doesn’t matter. With a very stiff price for the day, the technologically advanced LTD was intended to be a brand flagship, not a high-volume seller. However, initial demand failed to meet even the limited supply, so many went unsold and were offered a $20 factory rebate the following season.

Meanwhile, the 4/6 engine was a one-year wonder, replaced by a new eight port engine with Keihin butterfly carbs and two-stage ignition in the 1981 Invader LTD that was offered in both manual and electric start models. For 1982, the company introduced the single-seat Interceptor as its serous performance sled and discontinued to base Invader model. 

Kawasaki corporate had pulled the plug on snowmobiles and was simply clearing out inventory, so the LTD never really had a chance to evolve into either a full-blown luxury touring sled or an all-out performance sled or a hybrid of both.

Editor’s Note: Every issue of Snow Goer magazine includes in-depth sled reports and comparisons, aftermarket gear and accessories reviews, riding destination articles, do-it-yourself repair information, snowmobile technology and more! Subscribe to Snow Goer now to receive issues delivered to your door 6 times per year for a low cost.

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