Harley-Davidson snowmobiles were manufactured by AMF and powered by Italian Aermacchi engines. Therefore, these sleds were actually rebranded AMF snowmobiles rather than real Harley-Davidson products! The two available models were the Y 400 and the more powerful Y 440, produced from 1971 to 1975. If you want to learn all about the history of these sleds and find out where you can still buy one, this post is for you.
We at PowerSportsGuide have compiled all you need to know about these iconic sleds under one roof!
Harley-Davidson Snowmobile History
The Origins of H-D Snowmobiles
Harley-Davidson is one of the most well-known names in the motorcycle market. It was established in 1903 and shortly become one of the major motorcycle manufacturers in the U.S.
But it’s a lesser-known fact that besides bikes, Harley-Davidson also sold snowmobiles in the ‘70s!
The story of Harley-Davidson snowmobiles started in 1969 when AMF (American Machine and Foundry) acquired the legendary motorcycle manufacturer.
Besides producing recreational items like tennis or bowling equipment AMF had some experience with snowmobiles as they started to design and produce sleds in the mid-‘60s.
The manufacturer entered this market by releasing three sleds, the Ski-Daddler, Sno-Clipper, and Power Sled, respectively. AMF sold about 3,000 of these machines in the 1966 model year.
Harley-Davidson Snowmobiles Hit the Market
To take advantage of the reputable brand name of Harley-Davidson, the company not only redesigned its snowmobile lineup but also completely rebranded them. In 1971, the odd “Ski-Daddler” name was dropped, and Harley Davidson snowmobiles were born.
Let’s face it, Harley-Davidsons and snowmobiles aren’t closely aligned, but AMF wanted to use this popular brand name to market their new products and make them more popular!
The first model was the Harley-Davidson Y 400 released in 1971. It was powered by a 398cc, twin-cylinder engine that cranked out 30 HP at 6000 RPM.
The dry weight of the machine was 399 pounds and featured a 5.5-gallon fuel tank. This meant that the Harley Y 400 wasn’t the lightest sled on the trails!
Although the company positioned this model as a “performance snowmobile” it offered only 30 HP. This power, combined with such a hefty weight, resulted in a moderate performance.
The welded and painted chassis was equipped with chrome bumpers and a fiberglass hood. The steel-reinforced molded rubber track was 17.5 inches wide and the rear suspension featured bogie wheels with torsion springs.
This sled was famous for its unique front suspension system, which utilized quadrupole-leaf springs with hydraulic shock absorbers. The ski stance was no less than 25.5 inches.
The standard equipment on this sled included a large 10-inch disc brake, adjustable handlebars, a non-slip footrest, a tool pouch, twin headlights, and a snow flap.
The suggested retail price of this Harley snowmobile was $1,105 in the 1972 model year.
For this season, the manufacturer built about 2,000 sleds under the H-D brand name and the last 1,000 orange AMF sleds were also manufactured. After this model year, the AMF brand vanished from the snowmobile market.
Keeping performance-minded buyers in mind, AMF expanded its fleet with a more powerful sled. This was the larger Harley-Davidson Y 440, powered by a 433cc, parallel-twin engine.
This sled was designed to compete with rival sleds in the 440cc category. The pull-start was standard, but both of these models were available with an electric start as an option.
Harley snowmobiles were manufactured in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in the same factory where H-D golf carts were assembled.
However, it’s a lesser-known fact that Harley snowmobile engines were made by AMF’s other subsidiary, the Italian Aermacchi. According to National Motorcycle Museum, Harley had purchased 50% of this company in the early ‘60s.
Surprisingly, the Italian roots of these engines were never mentioned, and they were simply referred to as H-D products.
Issues with Haley Snowmobiles
Although Harley snowmobiles had some advanced systems like the custom front suspension and the adjustable handlebar, they still lacked many important safety and convenience features.
For instance, the storage compartments, handlebar pad, shut-off switch, and the gas gauge were available only as an option.
Removing the hood was also tricky as it was secured by two latches and the gas tank cap. Also, you had to unplug the wires of the headlight before opening the hood.
Another drawback of AMF Harley snowmobiles was their noisy engines. Unfortunately, the Aermacchi powerplants generated a lot of vibration and air-intake noise at higher RPMs.
What’s more, these power sources weren’t known for reliability either. The electric components of the engines were especially prone to causing malfunctions, which led to a lot of headaches. On top of that, the chrome parts of the sled also tended to rust easily.
Some riders also complained about the comfort of the passenger seat and even the overall quality of the ride.
These reliability issues combined with their poor performance led to a bad reputation for H-D snowmobiles. In the later years, the manufacturer tried to lighten its machines by using aluminum tunnels, but these changes did not bring about a significant change in sales figures.
The Odd Marketing Strategy
Another reason why these sleds didn’t become more popular was arguably the company’s failed sales strategy.
Simply put, AMF wanted to market Harley-Davidson snowmobiles through the company’s own motorcycle dealer network. In retrospect, it wasn’t the best idea! Why?
First, at that time there were less than 200 Harley dealerships in the U.S., many of them located out of the snow belt. Although H-D sleds appeared in a couple of former Ski-Daddler dealerships, they weren’t available in Canada until the last year of production.
The manufacturer tried to introduce its sleds in the neighboring country in 1975, but it seems it was already too late.
Another problem was that the majority of these dealers had little to no knowledge of snowmobiles. According to SnowGoer, some of these dealerships only accepted sleds to get a quota increase for motorcycles.
The main problem with this strategy was that AMF didn’t realize that Harley riders were simply not interested in snowmobiles. Although both of these machines are powersport vehicles, they are in completely different worlds.
Unlike Harleys, dirt bikes and snowmobiles are much closer, and it’s not uncommon that some riders own both of these machines. That’s why snow bikes are gaining in popularity!
But Harley riders didn’t show much interest in sleds, so finally the well-known brand name didn’t help sales.
What Happened to Harley-Davidson Snowmobiles?
In the mid-‘70s a recession hit the snowmobile market. High oil prices and poor snow conditions all contributed to low demand. More and more manufacturers left the market and Harley sleds couldn’t escape this fate either. Eventually, to the greatest regret of many fans, production of Harley-Davidson snowmobiles ceased in 1975.
Over the years, about 10,000 of these famous sleds were produced. Some of them still appear on the trails while others landed in private collectors and museums.
Just like Harley-Davidson motorcycles manufactured in the AMF era, these sleds couldn’t benefit from the potential of the famous brand name either.
Let’s face it, it’s not the brand name that ultimately matters, but the quality and dependability of the machine. And unfortunately, in these years Harley’s vehicles lagged behind the competition.
After AMF acquired Harley, the company wanted to “simplify” the production to cut costs. As you might assume, this led to strikes and declining product quality.
It’s sad to say but these AMF Harley products didn’t prove to be reliable or dependable, which resulted in a bad reputation for the brand name.
What’s more, besides the recession, competitor snowmobiles and Japanese motorcycles became more and more popular.
Finally, a couple of years after the Harley-Davidson snowmobile division was closed, AMF sold the entire company to a group of investors.
Harley-Davidson Snowmobiles for Sale
Unfortunately, not too many vintage Harley snowmobiles are left out there, as many of them landed in museums and private collections. However, some of them still run on the trails and in vintage races.
Since new snowmobiles come with hefty price tags and feature a complex design, many younger buyers prefer vintage sleds over the new pricey models. Vintage sleds are not only much easier to work on but also far more affordable.
If you are lucky, you can still find a Harley-Davidson snowmobile for sale on Craigslist, eBay, Snowmobiletrader, or on other dedicated sled classified sites.
It’s also recommended that you check out some Harley snowmobile forums and Facebook groups. Besides some potential deals, you can find a lot of valuable info on these iconic sleds on these sources.
Takeaways – FAQs About Harley Snowmobiles
As a takeaway, we’ve compiled the most common questions about vintage Harley-Davidson snowmobiles under one roof!
What Years did Harley-Davidson Make Snowmobiles?
Harley-Davidson made snowmobiles from 1971 until 1975.
Who Made the Harley-Davidson Snowmobile?
When Harley-Davidson snowmobiles were produced, the company was owned by American Machine and Foundry (AMF). Another lesser-known fact is that the engines of Harley snowmobiles were manufactured by the Italian firm Aermacchi.
Why did Harley-Davidson Stop Making Snowmobiles?
Harley-Davidson snowmobiles were ceased because of poor sales figures. The poor reliability and weak performance of these sleds combined with the wrong marketing strategy kept buyers away from these sleds. Furthermore, in the mid-‘70s the snowmobile market faced a recession because of mild winters and skyrocketing oil prices. This forced several snowmobile manufacturers to leave the market, just like H-D.
When did Harley-Davidson Stop Making Snowmobiles?
Finally, Harley-Davidson stopped manufacturing snowmobiles after the 1975 season.