Flashback: The 1969 Yukon King Grizzly

Yukon King snowmobile
Yukon King had early success on the racetrack, but on the show floors. Click to enlarge.

Yukon King suffered perhaps the farthest fall from glory of any snowmobile ever manufactured. In less than four years, it went from an undefeated racing season to serving as a bad example in another brand’s ads.

In the early 1960s, veteran marketer Don Thompson at Mercury Marine recognized that the snowmobile could be a counter-seasonal product for the company’s outboard motor dealers. After failing to persuade Mercury patriarch Carl Kiekhaefer to enter the snowmobile business, Thompson left and established his own marketing company to sell a wooden tow-behind sleigh called a Yukon King, apparently named for TV series Canadian Mountie Sgt. Preston’s faithful dog.

Thompson then merged his business with boat builder Moorhead Plastics of Moorhead, Minnesota, and was named manager of its snowmobile division to produce a Yukon King snowmobile for the 1967 season. Soon after, Moorhead Plastics changed its name to Silverline, Inc., after the company’s increasingly popular boat line.

Yukon King’s Undefeated Racing Season

Thompson knew that the fledgling Yukon King brand required something dramatic to set it apart from the other 100-plus snowmobile makes on the market. Boat racing experience at Mercury gave him some important insight. He decided to concentrate Yukon King’s scant resources where the big competitors were not involved, so he chose USSA’s new 295cc Stock class.

Yukon King snowmobile
Returns for manufacturing defects were one of multiple issues that dogged sales efforts of Yukon King snowmobiles. Click to enlarge.

After considerable effort, Thompson obtained exclusive snowmobile use of the German Lloyd alternate-firing, 20 hp twin as a stock factory engine option for Yukon King’s mid-line Grizzly model. Fitted with a Tillotson HD-13A carburetor, the industry’s first silenced tuned exhaust from the Donaldson Muffler Company, the first drive clutch with engagement speed tuned to the engine torque curve, and the first torque-sensing driven clutch, the Grizzly went racing. The team had a $5,000 budget for the 1968 season, five drivers, five of the orange sleds and four helmets, plus one personally loaned to the team by Thompson.

When it was all over, the Yukon King factory team and its Grizzly sleds had won its class at every sanctioned race it entered during the 1967-68 season: the racers dominated their class at Eagle River, won at several other Midwestern events, and notched a first-through-fifth-place class sweep to close the season. The team was slightly over budget, but that seemingly didn’t matter.

And thanks to Thompson’s industry connections, Yukon King joined four of the industry’s biggest manufacturers for a late-season Playboy magazine snowmobile photo shoot. Things seemed to be going great for the upstart brand.

The Yukon King Is Dead

But Yukon King snowmobiles, like the Grizzly 15 that was virtually identical to the race winners other than its 15 hp JLO engine, just weren’t selling very well. The company touted its amazing 1968 race results in its 1969 ads and brochures, stressing that the race team did it with stock-class sleds, but that just wasn’t enough.

Yukon King was financially forced to stop racing and 1969 models were closed out for as little as $450. In February 1969, Gilson Brothers announced acquisition of the Silverline snowmobile business, but the deal fell through. Further negotiations to sell it to Chrysler Corporation were unsuccessful, and Yukon King was dead.

Parent company Silverline Inc. was sold to Arctic Enterprises in fall 1969. Arctic wanted the very viable Silverline boat business, with its considerable fiberglass operations to augment its growing Arctic Cat snowmobile business. Arctic Cat also inherited about 150 brand new, crated Yukon Kings as part of the deal.

Yukon King snowmobile
The orange sled in the ad is a Yukon King, one of the batch that Arctic Cat inherited in the Silverline acquisition. Click to enlarge.

In 1971, Arctic Cat’s advertising agency came up with some attention-grabbing ads for the 1972 Cats. One consumer ad was headlined “What are you doing this weekend?” and showed a snowmobiler puzzling over a torn apart orange sled. The ad talked about doing a lot less tinkering and a lot more riding for riders who own a Cat.

A similar dealer recruitment ad for snowmobile trade publications used a pile of crated orange sleds, also Yukon Kings, as background to help drive home the point that Cat dealers had essentially sold out of sleds in 1971 while dealers handling most other brands had way too much carryover inventory.

These Arctic Cat ads marked the final appearance of Yukon King in any kind of promotional activity, a truly ignominious end for the sled that earned a racing record that will never be beaten.


Manufacturer: Silverline Inc., Moorhead, Minnesota
Engine: 292cc, JLO, rotary fan-cooled, piston-port single with one Tillotson HD diaphragm pumper carb, breaker point ignition and single pipe into “Sof-Tone” muffler
Lubrication: Pre-mix at 20 to 1
Power output: 15 hp
Clutches: Yukon King / Atlas Sense-O-Matic transmission
Chassis type: Welded and painted steel with stirrups, chromed tube steel bumpers and fiberglass hood
Estimated dry weight: 330 pounds
Front suspension: Triple leaf springs
Ski stance: 23.5 inches
Rear suspension: 12 bogie wheels
Track: Scorpion 15- by 22-inch Frigid Flex steel-reinforced molded rubber with dual drive
Brake: Drum
Fuel capacity: 5 gallons
Standard equipment: Primer, fold-down warm-up stand, dual headlights, bustle-type rear storage compartment, passenger grab handles, “Snow Guard” snow flap
MSRP: $799

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.