Here’s Why Harley-Davidson Stopped Building Snowmobiles

Have you ever heard of the Harley-Davidson Snowmobile Division? Once upon a time, the iconic Milwaukee company had created and sold snowmobiles. Were they any good? Sort of. Why aren’t we snowmobiling on Harleys right now? That’s an interesting story, and we need to start from the beginning.

Unfortunate Choices

Since starting as a brand in 1903, Harley-Davidson has quickly established a respectable reputation and promptly became a leading American motorcycle maker. Moreover, Harley and Indian were the only manufacturers in America to survive the Great Depression. The company not only survived the Great Depression but also thrived later during WWII creating hundreds of motorcycles for U.S. soldiers.

“1963 Harley-Davidson” by twm1340 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

However, although it was a successful company at the time, in 1969, stakeholders sold Harley-Davidson to American Machine and Foundry or AMF.

AMF nearly destroyed the company. They slashed the workforce and “streamlined” production, which led to worker strikes and reduced production. Harley-Davidson motorcycles suddenly became the bane of the States. The bikes became so bad, the term Harley become derogatory and owning one wasn’t something you’d be proud of at all. For a while, the company went bankrupt and was a step away from shutting down.  

The Snowmobiles Saga

During the time it held ownership over the Harley-Davidson brand, AMF also owned Aermacchi, an Italian company that made two-stroke engines. AMF had already been creating and selling snowmobiles in the ’60s under another division. The snowmobiles went under the names Sno-Clipper and the Ski-Daddler Power Sleds, and they actually sold over 3000 unites in 1966 alone.

“Harley Davidson Snowmobile” by Thomas Herzinger is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In 1971, AMF decided to drop the name Ski-Daddler and opted for Harley-Davidson snowmobiles instead. The first model came with a 398-cc engine and 30 horsepower. The next model packed a more powerful engine with 440-cc, and both of them offered pull or electric start.  However, there never was a third model.

They offered the Harley Snowmobiles to dealerships as an entirely new line and even included former Ski-Daddler dealers in the selling network. For some time, the Harley-Davidson snowmobiles were assembled in Missouri along with Harley-Davidson golf carts. But that’s a whole different story.

How Bad Were the Sleds?

Real bad. The snowmobiles lacked almost all safety and comfort features that were pretty standard at the time. No handle-pad for comfortable riding, no storage compartment, no gas gauge, no kill switch for emergencies and much more suggested that the snowmobiles were nothing but a well-branded debacle.

“Harley AMF Snowmobile” by Hugo-90 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

AMF hoped the relaunch of their snowmobiles under the Harley name would spike sales. Sadly, it has dan quite the opposite, many thanks for the trashy quality of the products. At the time snowmobiles hit the markets, the sales at Harley-Davidson were at their all-time lowest. AMF didn’t understand motorcycle enthusiasts have little to no interest in snowmobiles, and the other way around. More than anything, they didn’t realize that you can’t put a shiny name on a lousy product and call it a win.  

All this mess led to the Snowmobile Division’s closure and killing off the entire project in 1975. Soon, AMF sold the now nearly shuttered brand.

Around 10,000 Harley-Davidson snowmobiles were created and sold. Today, you can see Harley-Davidson snowmobiles in museums and as parts of vintage collections. They are a part of anecdotal history, and there’s no sign of them coming back to production any time soon.