J.C. Penney snowmobiles were marketed from 1966 through 1973. Just like their competitor Sears, Penney sold only “catalog sleds” under its brand name. However, the machines were engineered and built by outside manufacturers like Arctic Cat, Somovex, and later on Dauphin. If you want to learn all about these iconic vehicles and find out where you can still find one, you are in the right place.
We at PowerSportsGuide have compiled all you need to know about vintage Penney snowmobiles under one roof!
J.C. Penney Snowmobile History
J.C. Penney Foremost
The history of Penney snowmobiles goes back to the mid-‘60s. At that time, snowmobiling had gained in popularity, and the skyrocketing market attracted more than 100 new manufacturers into the industry.
The majority of J.C. Penney snowmobiles were manufactured by Arctic Cat and the Canadian Somovex, which was acquired by Dauphin in 1970. Besides snowmobiles, the company from 1965 through 1966 also sold ‘Foremost’ outboard engines produced by Chrysler Marine.
The first J.C. Penny snowmobile, the 1966 Penney Foremost, was developed and manufactured by Arctic Cat. According to the Snowmobile Museum, about 200 of these sleds were built in the first year, and most of them were sold to people living in Alaska.
The sled was powered by a 4-cycle, single-cylinder Kohler engine that cranked out 8 HP and offered a top speed of 28 mph. Its dark blue steel chassis and tunnel were perfectly complemented by the white hood and seat cover.
The 14” wide and 46” long track utilized steel cleats and did a great job on hard-packed surfaces as well as in powder. Thanks to this advanced track design and the automatic variable speed transmission, the Foremost automatically adapted to different loads and terrain conditions.
Standard features included a disc brake, leaf-spring front suspension, recoil start, and a seat for two riders.
The shipping weight of the J.C. Penny Foremost was only 340 pounds, and the company offered it for $699. This vehicle was available from 1966 until 1968.
In 1969, J.C. Penny didn’t sell snowmobiles under its brand name. Instead, the retail company offered the entire Arctic Cat Panther family through its catalogs.
These sleds were available with various engine options, from the tiny 246cc Hirth to the most powerful 744cc JLO and 793cc Hirth units.
Each model was built on an aluminum chassis and utilized a “forward” engine design. The low center of gravity ensured outstanding stability and safer rides.
The advanced steering system offered responsive and fast steering, while the “Flip-Top” hood and removable chaincase cover made maintenance easy.
Additional features included an improved exhaust system, toolbox, passenger handrail, removable ignition key, hand-lever brake, and twin taillights. An electric start was also available on most models as an option.
Penney also sold single and double snowmobile trailers and a wide range of snowmobile suits through its catalogs as additions to its sleds.
J.C. Penney Snowtamer
J.C. Penny snowmobiles made a comeback in 1971 with three new models, the mini Snowtamer, the Manhandler, and the Swinger.
The 1971 J.C. Penny Snowtamer was a kid snowmobile manufactured by Somovex in Quebec, Canada. This model was initially labeled the “Mini-Manhandler,” but finally, Penney changed its name to Snowtamer.
Powered by a 147cc, two-cycle, 10 HP Husqvarna engine, the Snowtamer could reach speeds of up to 30 mph. This machine was surprisingly small as it only measured 27” long, 31 ½” high, and 12” wide and weighed just 175 pounds.
The sled was propelled by a 62 ½” long, 12” wide cleated track that ensured sufficient traction. This charming mini snowmobile was also equipped with a 1.2-gallon fuel tank, hand-lever brake, and a 3-position ignition switch with settings for ignition on, off, and on with light.
The vehicle’s body was predominately orange, as the hood, chassis, and skis were painted this color. Also, the seat cover and molded plastic grips were orange as well.
The Snowtamer remained in production through 1972 and was also marketed under the names Somovex Chimo and Sno-Chief Papoose when it was manufactured later by Dauphin.
J.C. Penney Manhandler
Besides the Snowtamer, the full-size models in the 1971 Penney snowmobile lineup were the Manhandler models produced by Dauphin. These vehicles were available with three engine options, 19 HP, 24 HP, and 28 HP.
Standard features included a 5.4-gallon fuel tank, 75-watt generator, disc brake, bogie-wheel suspension system, hand-lever type throttle and brake controls, 4-position ignition switch, and air filter. An electric start was available as an option for an additional $100.
The entry-level model in the lineup was the 1971 J.C. Penney 19 HP Manhandler, which utilized a 292cc, single-cylinder Hirth engine. Regarding dimensions, the sled was 102” long (with skis), 31 ½“ wide, 36 ½“ high, and weighed 355 pounds.
The 102” long x 15 ½“-wide track propelled the 19 HP Manhandler with speeds of up to 50 mph.
Compared to its smaller brother, the mid-range 24 HP Penney Manhandler was 1 ½” wider and 3” higher and weighed 370 pounds. Powered by a 399cc Hirth twin, it topped out at 65 mph.
The flagship model in the fleet was the 28 HP Manhandler, which shared the same body as the 24 HP model. As the name suggests, this sled utilized a 438cc, 28 HP Hirth engine, which ensured an impressive top speed of 70 mph.
J.C. Penney Swinger
Although this machine was also known as the 1971 J.C. Penney Swinger, it was built by Grisworld Industries and marketed as the “Swinger.” Unlike the rest of the offering, this “budget sled” was not released under the brand name of Penney.
The Swinger was famous for its lightweight as it only weighed 175 pounds. Thanks to its small dimensions (72” L x 30” W x 27” H), the sled easily fits into a station wagon. What’s more, it was easy to store in a standing position on its rear bumper.
The Swinger was powered by a tiny, 134cc Chrysler engine. This 2-stroke, single-cylinder power source cranked out 10 HP and propelled the sled with speeds of up to 35 mph.
The Swinger came with a bogie-wheel suspension, storage compartment with a tool kit, 12V coil lighting, recoil start, 2 ½”-gallon fuel tank, unique “double kingpin” steering, and a small single-seat that offered convenient rides for one adult or two children.
The 12”-wide track was made of specially compounded rubber and utilized steel cleats.
For the 1972 model year, the Swinger’s engine was upgraded to a single-cylinder 15.5 HP Rockwell JLO, which utilized a new 500 Salsbury clutch. Additional changes included an upgraded secondary drive, hinged hood, torsion spring rear suspension, and a wrap-around bumper.
Because of these adjustments, the weight of the machine jumped up to 255 pounds.
The Snowtamer, Manhandler, and Swinger were available in the 1972 season as well. But unfortunately, that was the year that Dauphin went bankrupt. So, Penney decided to cease its snowmobile line and cleared its inventory throughout the following season.
Finally, Penney snowmobiles permanently disappeared from the market after the 1973 model year.
Penney Snowmobile Model List
For your convenience, we’ve compiled all J.C. Penney snowmobile models into one list:
- 1966 J.C. Penney Foremost (8 HP)
- 1967 J.C. Penney Foremost
- 1968 J.C. Penney Foremost
- 1971 J.C. Penney Snowtamer (10 HP, mini sled)
- 1971 J.C. Penney Manhandler (19, 24, 28 HP)
- 1971 J.C. Penney Swinger (10 HP)
- 1972 J.C. Penney Snowtamer
- 1972 J.C. Penney Manhandler
- 1972 J.C. Penney Swinger
(The 1972 lineup was sold through the 1973 model year.)
For informational purposes only! For exact specifications, please refer to the factory manual.
Vintage Penney Snowmobiles for Sale
Although Penney snowmobiles are already pretty aged machines, they are still popular among vintage sled enthusiasts and private collectors.
Since today’s snowmobiles come with hefty price tags and are hard to work on, these old sleds are gaining in popularity. In general, vintage snowmobiles have a much simpler design and fewer parts, which results in easier maintenance.
If you’re considering buying one, be prepared for a lot of research.
But if you are lucky, you can find a vintage Penney snowmobile for sale on Craigslist, eBay, Snowmobiletrader, Sledswap, and other snowmobile classified ad sites. Sometimes they appear on auction sites as well like Classic.com.
Also, you can’t go wrong by visiting a Penney snowmobile forum or FB group. Besides good deals, you can also find a lot of helpful information on these machines!
Takeaways – What Happened to Penney Snowmobiles?
As a takeaway, we’ve compiled the most common questions about vintage Penney snowmobiles under one roof.
What years did Penney offer snowmobiles?
Penney snowmobiles were marketed from 1966 through 1972, but some leftover 1972 models were sold in 1973.
Who made the Penney snowmobile?
Penney snowmobiles were produced by Arctic Cat, Somovex, and Dauphin.
What happened to J.C. Penney snowmobiles?
J.C. Penney’s snowmobile line was ceased because of the recession in the snowmobile industry. In the mid-‘70s, high oil prices and mild winters led to poor sales figures. Besides, in the late ‘60s, more than 100 new snowmobile manufacturers appeared on the market, which caused a massive oversupply. All of these circumstances forced Penny to drop snowmobiles from its catalogs.