The history of snowmobiling is littered with memories of brands that have faded away like melting snow. There are however, certain brands that were major players for three decades until they closed their doors in the early 80’s.

Scorpion was a major player in the industry in the 70’s and like Polaris and Arctic Cat was built in the state of Minnesota. Scorpion originally entered the market as TrailASled Inc. building propeller driven air sleds. This was long before the first tracked vehicles started to become popular. The company became a major supplier of fiberglass body parts for a company called Polaris in 1963. A spinoff company known as Rubber Drives Inc. had also been started by a cofounder and was the first manufacturer of a continuous rubber track in the United States.

The Company soon realized that the snowmobile was on the verge of exploding across the Snow Belt. Trail-A Sled just like Ski-Doo was able to manufacture the majority of its components, which gave it a huge cost and quality advantage over its competitors. With the in house capability to build a snowmobile, the company built their first sleds for the 1964 season and the name “Scorpion” was born!

The Scorpion brand quickly exploded on to the winter landscape and by 1969 Scorpion was building 20,000 sleds annually. Scorpion would continue to innovate with the Para-Rail track suspension and the Power Thrust Primary clutch. Two stroke engines built in Germany by Sachs, Hirth and JLO were the predominant engine suppliers to the entire snowmobile industry. Scorpion had become partial to using JLO engines in a number of its models over the years. Japanese engines started to become more popular as the main sled builders looked for exclusive engine suppliers in the early 70’s (Kawasaki for Arctic Cat, Fuji for Polaris, etc.). The Scorpion management team began talks with JLO parent company Rockwell to purchase the JLO engine division. The entire JLO manufacturing machinery was moved to Crosby, Minnesota. While not the first domestic two-stroke engine builder, they did beat their Minnesota rivals Polaris and Arctic Cat to the punch. Polaris would not have this capability until 1997 and Arctic Cat most recently in 2014.

Scorpion would attract many of the top motor engineers from its competitors including Gerry Reese from Brutanza Engineering, designer of the first American made liquid cooled two strokes. The new made in America engine was known as the “Cuyuna” and they would build primarily fan-cooled twins from 300cc to 440cc including a 340cc Rotary Induction Liquid Cooled twin.

The company management team seemed to be using the motto, “Go Big or Go Home” as they continued to grow through key acquisitions in the industry. This homework was setting them up for a ‘clean sheet of paper’ snowmobile called the “Whip”

The consumer back in 1975 still had 20 manufacturers to choose from. Names like Alouette, Sno-Jet, Evinrude, Boaski were still pumping out sleds. The following year the count was down to 15. Scorpion with its new engine plant and now a completely new chassis was entering the ‘75 season full of optimism.

Chassis

The new sled featured an all-aluminum chassis, a first for Scorpion. The design placed the motor over the skis which was a major departure from previous years, which still had the engine mounted on top of the tunnel. While the company had lagged behind the industry leaders with their tunnel mounted engine chassis, the new Whip now featured a low wide ski stance of 29” contributing to less inside ski lift when cornering and a lower centre of gravity. The 440 Whip was the lightest 440trail sled on the market in ‘75 tipping the scales at just 385 lbs. with a 6gallon fuel tank. The ‘75 Whip was now 63 lbs. lighter than the popular Super Stinger model it replaced!

Para-Rail Track Suspension

Back in the early 70’s Scorpion engineer, Gerald Irvine was looking at how to improve the performance of the track suspension. The predominant suspension system back then was the “bogie wheel” system pioneered by Ski-Doo. The endless rubber track invented by Bombardier worked well with this system but a rough ride and lack of adjustability to improve weight transfer were its drawbacks. Arctic Cat in the mid 60’s had developed the slide rail suspension that worked well with the other popular track option (cleated track) which was a three belt construction with steel “U” shaped grouser bars known as cleats holding the belts together. The drawback with this track/slide rail combo was running on ice and limited snow. The Hy-fax would heat up, increasing drag and wearing out quickly. Scorpion’s Irvine came up with the “Para-Rail” suspension that was a combination of both and could be used with the more durable all rubber track. The Para-Rail was one of the first track suspensions to utilize a front torque arm, which was controlled by torsion springs. The front torque arm improved weight transfer to the rear of the sled during acceleration. Scorpions were always hard to beat off the line and this design also improved its deep snow capability. What was missing was a shock absorber attached to the front torque arm to control damping. That feature was still a number of years away. The rear of the suspension utilized a single vertical mounted shock with twin torsion springs. The rear shock assembly was connected directly to the rear track wheels of the suspension. The independent springing on the rear arm allowed the rails to flex keeping more of the track on the ground for improved traction. The suspension was patented in 1971 and Para-Rail and Scorpion were forever linked much like Ski-Doo and R-Motion are today.

Clutching… Power Thrust

Scorpion not only assembled their own engines they had also designed their own clutch. In the mid 70’s the big four had been working on their own clutching solutions and Scorpion was no different. The ‘75 Whip continued with the original Power Thrust primary, which featured three roller weight arms, which acted against primitive ramps stamped into the clutch cover. The moveable sheave portion containing the roller arms and the cover transferred power through a spline torque bushing. The Power Thrust functioned similar to the original Skidoo TRA primary clutch without the adjustability. The owner easily removed the clutch from the motor without any special pullers, which was handy for service work.

Power from the primary was transferred to the chain-case-mounted secondary. While many manufacturers were using disc brakes and jackshaft mounted secondary clutching, the ‘75

Whip was still old school in this department. Scorpion in fact used the stationary side of the secondary as the brake drum. The mechanical brake acting on the 10” secondary provided the stopping power. A double row chain enclosed in a die-cast aluminum chain-case transferred the hp to a Gates 16”x 118” rubber track wrapped around the Para-Rail suspension.

Made in the USA Cuyuna Engines

The original Whip was offered in three popular engine sizes of the day. All were fan cooled twin cylinder four port engines. A single Walbro butterfly carb metered the fuel into the engine and a two into one exhaust kept the noise to a dull roar. The snowmobile industry in ‘75 was really focusing on reduced intake and exhaust noise levels. Air intake systems were in their infancy and Scorpion had implemented a 90degree bend to reduce noise. Liberal amounts of acoustic foam under the hood made sure the sled met the noise standards. Scorpion continued to use magneto ignitions on the Cuyuna engines while most of the competition had long moved to CDI. The engines would prove to be reliable and the 440 produced hp in the low 40’s.

Putting it all Together

Scorpion had a lot on their plate back in ‘74. First they had purchased Brutanza Engineering and the Brut Liquid Cooled snowmobile lineup. Moving an entire engine plant from Germany, installing machinery, training employees and manufacturing motors followed. If that was not enough, the engineering group had designed a completely new snowmobile called the Whip. Scorpion pulled it off and the brand loyal Scorpion customer snapped up the Whip in droves. Scorpion built 16000 snowmobiles in 1975.

Scorpion‘s Quality Policy was simple. “Make sure that whatever can go wrong won’t.” Most of us avoid a first year model until all the “bugs” have been worked out. Scorpion was confident enough to take a production Whip from a dealer showroom and enter it in the 1975 Winnipeg St. Paul 500 mile cross-country race that year. The result? Well they didn’t win, but out of 377 starters only 22 finished and the Whip finished 7th!

 

The Scorpion Whip and the people behind the brand were as passionate about their product as their competitors were. Perhaps the company expanded too big too fast; or perhaps the perfect storm of two back to back years of low snow and a bad economy conspired against the company; otherwise, Scorpion might still be in production today. What we know for sure is that in a brand loyal industry, the Scorpion faithful were as passionate and committed to their brand as their Minnesota cousins to the north of them. 

 

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