Merc Project Sled: Part One (Jim Tucker)
Published on December 15, 2010 in Guest Columns, News & Updates, Snowmobile Tech, Vintage
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Vintage Madness! Well I’ve finally done it – I took the plunge into vintage sled restoration. This has been an idea brewing in my head for years now, which finally came to fruition. Earlier on in my life I owned a 1975 440 Mercury Sno-Twister. I never forgot that sled and oftentimes I would say that it was the best machine I ever owned. It had a custom “flip flop” paint job on the hood and I meticulously cleaned that machine until the paint started to wear off! I have very fond memories of almost falling off the back of that sled, so hard was the punch when the clutches spooled up. For those of you in this same boat, you know what I am referring to, for it doesn’t matter what color the hood was, you loved that old sled and all the quirks that machine possessed. Of course time does have a way of distorting things and most folks who owned high performance sleds back then would say it was the fastest machine in the world – that’s what I’m talking about!

I had always said that I would own vintage sled before I passed onto the pearly white gates, and there was never a question about what make of sled it would be. I looked at what was out there for 30 year-old sleds and met some very nice folks along the way, but nothing was to prepare me for what happened next. I found a “barn fresh” 1975 Mercury Trail Twister which is a fan cooled high performance sled. It had the venerable Kohler engine in it pumping out about 50 horsepower, an engine used in some Rupp and Skiroule sleds as well. Not only did I get one sled but also a parts sled to keep the first one running! The sled came complete with its share of acorns, leaves and probably some very deadly spiders!

My friend, who is into this way more than I, said “didn’t you hear about the rule of threes? You need three machines of that vintage to keep one running!” So, I said, “Well then, I’ll keep looking!” My wife says this is an obsession and I can’t believe how the bug has bitten me in just the short time span of about two months!

The first thing I wondered about the vintage market is how old sleds get priced fairly. I do not claim to be an expert and there are no books I know of that can value sleds this old, but I would like to share the little info I do know about this very hot hobby. When looking at these sleds, try to find out what the key pieces would cost to replace. These pieces are the hood, belly pan, and tunnel. This is assuming the engine is running, of course, or has at least good compression. For this sled, it was about $800 for the hood and belly pan. I took this into account when bargaining for price.

Obviously, to replace every part on the machine would cost a small fortune and one has to determine what you are going to do with a particular unit – restore it, use it for parts, or resell it for profit. Older racing sleds command way more jing, and typically are the most sought after. As an example: a very good condition ’76 liquid Sno-Twister commands about $3500-$8000! Wow! Most people I know don’t buy with an eye at making a profit if they resell, and that is what makes this sport so unique. Most folks do it to relive past memories, to race, or for the love of the sport. Having access to a sandblaster, machine press and a heated garage are definitely advantageous if you plan to go vintage.

Check the sold price on E-bay for vintage sleds, but remember, the price reflects what it goes for in each particular area and may not reflect what it would be here on the East Coast.

Next, let’s take a look at what is involved to restore a sled to running condition. No one doubts that they can fix anything on the sled that is broken, but keep in mind the shear total of all that needs repair. It can be overwhelming! As we all have lives, family and commitments that are not snowmobile-oriented, a project that looks easy now can take on a life of its own. Try to keep your madness in check! There are plenty of folks out there that sell repro parts for these machines and the internet has leveled the playing field here, so use it to its maximum potential. Remember money goes fast and before you know it, you have spent serious greenbacks and still do not have a running sled!

I started out with the goal of first getting the engine running. Without this simple dynamic, nothing else will be right – after all it is a motorized vehicle, you know! The sled I picked did have a motor with good compression and spark, and the seals seemed to be okay, so it was a go. Now it’s cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning. If you are not patient with this fact than you can forget about restoring anything.

In part two I will keep you abreast of this on-going project. My goal is to get this sled on the snow for this winter. Let’s hope! That’s it for now –Happy New Year!


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