Raider snowmobiles were unique “sports car-like” sleds that featured an enclosed cockpit built on a tubular chassis. Unlike conventional snowmobiles, the rider sat inside the cockpit instead of on top of a saddle. These fantastic vehicles featured twin tracks, rear-mounted engines, and many other advanced features. If you are looking for a vintage Raider snowmobile for sale, you are in the right place. Besides learning the history of these unique machines, you can also find out where to find one!
Raider Snowmobile History
Who Made the Raider Snowmobile?
Michigan-based Leisure Vehicles Inc. manufactured the legendary Raider snowmobiles from 1971 through 1975. The company was founded and operated by Bob Bracey, who started developing Raider snowmobiles in 1969.
Mr. Bracey was a talented engineer who previously worked for some of the most prominent American car companies. He also contributed to the development of a victorious Ford Mark IV race car when he was working for Kar Kraft.
The performance-minded Bracey was also a large snowmobile fan, so over the years his attention turned towards these vehicles.
His dream was to cross snowmobiles and race cars to create a “snow race car” that could outrun regular snowmobiles.
The Evolution of Raider Snowmobiles
Mr. Bracey started to work on the prototype in 1969, and in 1970 the revolutionary Raider snowmobile was born. Production began in a 4,000 square foot facility in Romulus, MI, but was soon moved to neighboring Troy in April 1971.
There’s no question that the Raider was different than conventional snowmobiles in many ways.
The distinguishing feature of these machines was arguably their car-like design and driving experience. They had an enclosed fiberglass cockpit built on a tubular perimeter frame. Front and rear bumpers were also welded to this metal chassis.
Instead of a regular saddle, they had a car-like seat. Therefore, the driver could comfortably sit inside the vehicle rather than on top of it.
This meant that driving a Raider required much less bodywork as the driver didn’t have to lean into the turns.
The machine utilized a rear-mounted engine, two 8-inch wide tracks, and a slide rail suspension system. These innovative tracks were made of fiberglass-reinforced molded rubber and featured replaceable steel drive cleats.
For efficient cooling, the body had two large vents on each side.
These were radical ideas in the world of snowmobiles, as competitor manufacturers were getting stuck on an “industry-standard” ATV-like design.
The first Raider snowmobile lineup was launched in 1971 and featured two models, the Roamer and the Raider.
The Raider initially had a single-cylinder, 2-stroke 290cc JLO engine, which was soon replaced with a 340cc CCW twin. The weight of this sled was 309 pounds and it utilized a 4-gallon fuel tank.
In contrast, the Roamer got a 320cc, 4-stroke Briggs & Stratton engine that cranked out 10 HP. This sled weighed only 290 pounds, and its fuel capacity was 3½ gallons.
Both sleds were 86 inches long and 36 inches wide, and unlike the competitor models, they had a motorcycle-like twist-grip throttle. Unfortunately, it didn’t provide smooth control on rough surfaces.
The sleds’ prices ranged from $1,095 up to $1,375 depending on the model and the engine option.
Raider sold its sleds through 300 dealerships in 16 states in the snow belt of the U.S. and some provinces of Canada.
In the first model year, the manufacturer sold only 450 sleds for $226,000. Sales jumped up to 2,750 units for the next season, which resulted in a whopping $2.3-million income.
In the 1972 model year, the Roamer was dropped, but the 1972 Raider was radically improved with many new features.
The body of this sled was built larger and utilized redesigned skis, shocks, and an advanced track. Some of the models were available with an optional electric start, tachometer, and speedometer.
The redesigned Raider was available with several engine options.
The “basic” 1972 Raiders came with 290, 340, 400, and 440cc CCW engines, but a few finally got Hirth engines. The bestselling model was the Raider 400, but sales of the 290 also went well.
Although the manufacturer used various engine sources to power its sleds, all Raider snowmobiles utilized Walboro carburetors.
There were also some limited-edition Raiders manufactured that year. This sled was built for racing purposes and was named Bandit.
For a better power-to-weight ratio, engineers reduced their weight, and for more efficient cooling, they redesigned the rear of the sled. The passenger seat was removed to make room for a large air intake.
The other features of the sled included a wide, single-piece snow flap and front ski shocks. The machine got a black and white paint job with stripes on the front.
A few Bandits had CCW engines, but most utilized 340, 400, 440, and 650cc fan-cooled Hirth twins.
Since this model was intended for racing purposes, it was carefully assembled by hand in a separate facility. Despite its unique manufacturing and advanced features, the Bandit wasn’t competitive because of its heavy weight.
By 1973, the entire Raider lineup was fully redesigned. In this year, the company offered two models, the 1973 Raider 34TT and the 44TT.
The latter featured a 440cc CCW engine that cranked out 36 HP.
Contrary to its name, the 34TT had a 400cc CCW twin that provided 32 HP.
These engines featured a tilted design that resulted in less vibration and a lower center of gravity. This setup also allowed the manufacturer to mount larger carbs and longer intakes on the engines.
Although for the 1974 season, the company offered three different models, most of them were unsold 1973 sleds sitting in dealer inventories.
The model names for this season were borrowed from birds, so the sleds were called Eagle, Double Eagle, and Hawk.
Because of mild winters and high oil prices, snowmobile manufacturers faced poor sales figures, and Leisure Vehicles was no exception. What’s more, in the late ’60s, more than 100 new players entered the snowmobile industry, causing a significant oversupply in the market.
Because of this, a lot of Raider snowmobiles remained unsold, so the manufacturer decided to “rebrand” these machines for the next season.
This upgrade meant a set of new 1974 decals and operator’s manuals. Dealers were advised to carefully change all decals on the sleds and make sure to replace the manuals.
Therefore, the 1974 Raider Eagles were nothing but leftover 34TT and 44TT sleds.
Another “recycled” sled in the fleet was the entry-level 1974 Raider Hawk, which was put together from the unsold parts of 1972 Raiders. This machine was offered as a cheap “budget sled,” so it didn’t have many vital features.
For instance, it lacked front shocks, electric start, gauges, and brake lights. It was powered by a smaller 340cc CCW twin that still featured the standard vertical engine layout and utilized the smaller carbs and air intakes.
Unlike its smaller brothers, the 1974 Raider Double Eagle was a new model in this lineup. Compared to its predecessor, this sled featured fewer parts, resulting in faster production and lower manufacturing costs.
The Double Eagle had a larger injection-molded body, an advanced rear suspension to handle the extra weight, and a wider ski stance.
As the name suggests, this sled was designed for two riders. However, the passenger seat was on top of the chassis. It looked like a pillion seat on a sportbike!
As you might assume, it was neither comfortable nor safe, mainly because of the high center of gravity.
The Final Year
The 1975 Raider snowmobile lineup was again pieced together from unsold models, meaning that the company produced only a couple of new sleds for this season.
However, the engines were upgraded with fan-cooled Kohler twins that already utilized CDI ignition.
A 340cc twin powered the entry-level Hawk and the Eagle, and the 1975 Double Eagle got a more powerful 440cc engine.
It’s a lesser-known fact that the company worked on a brand new model, the “Twin Eagle,” which would have been a unique side-by-side snowmobile. Unfortunately, only a couple of prototypes were built of this machine, so it never reached mass production.
Finally, Leisure Vehicles stopped manufacturing Raider snowmobiles after the 1975 model year.
Why did Raider Snowmobiles Fail?
There is no question that Raider snowmobiles had many advantages. They were super stable but still fun to ride. What’s more, they were safe and offered an opportunity for disabled people to get into this sport.
So, why didn’t these sleds become successful?
Many riders say that these machines were nothing but a poor execution of a fantastic concept.
The biggest claim against Raider sleds was that many of them were manufactured without a reverse gear. As you might assume, it was a huge problem when the machine got stuck in a tight place or in deep snow!
The sled was quite heavy, so one man could not lift or move it around. Therefore, if the rider couldn’t escape by going forward, he was definitely in trouble.
Another common complaint against Raider sleds was their small and inefficient rear suspensions, which resulted in bumpy rides and handling issues.
They were also underpowered, which resulted in poor performance and low top speeds. Besides, the machines suffered from various engine and clutch issues and lacked many advanced “industry-standard” electronics and features.
Therefore, they never become really popular, not even with their custom design.
Besides the issues above, the company faced many other problems as well. The string of light winters, high oil prices, and the considerable oversupply pushed the snowmobile market into a recession.
New sleds had to comply with many new noise and emission restrictions, which also caused many headaches for the engineers. On top of that, the founder Bob Bracey left the company.
Surprisingly, Bracey never gave up on his dream, and he was working on new prototypes all his life. He and his prototypes appeared on the trails in Montana until the late ’90s!
Raider Snowmobile Models
For your convenience we’ve compiled the production Raider snowmobile models into one list:
- 1971 Raider 290 (later 340)
- 1971 Roamer 320
- 1972 Raider 290
- 1972 Raider 340
- 1972 Raider 400
- 1972 Raider 440
- 1972 Raider Bandit 340
- 1972 Raider Bandit 400
- 1972 Raider Bandit 440
- 1972 Raider Bandit 650
- 1973 Raider 34TT (400cc)
- 1973 Raider 44TT (440cc)
- 1974 Raider Hawk 340
- 1974 Raider Eagle 400
- 1974 Raider Eagle 440
- 1974 Raider Double Eagle 440
- 1975 Raider Hawk 340
- 1975 Raider Eagle 340
- 1975 Raider Double Eagle 440
- 1975 Raider Twin Eagle 440 (prototype)
Vintage Raider Snowmobiles for Sale
As only 20,000 of them were made, so Raider snowmobiles rarely appear in vintage shows and on the trails.
So, if you’re considering buying one, be prepared for a lot of research. But if you’re lucky, you may find a vintage Raider snowmobile for sale on Craigslist, eBay, Sledswap, Snowmobiletrader, or other dedicated sled classified sites.
It’s also recommended that you visit Raider snowmobile forums and Facebook fan groups. Besides some potential deals, you can find a lot of helpful information on these sleds through these sources.
Takeaways – FAQs About Raider Snowmobiles
As a takeaway, we’ve compiled the most frequent questions about vintage Raider snowmobiles.
What Years did Raider Make Snowmobiles?
Raider Snowmobiles were made from 1971 through 1975. Leisure Vehicles produced about 20,000 units before it closed its doors in 1975.
Who Made the Raider Snowmobile?
Raider snowmobiles were manufactured by Leisure Vehicles Inc. In Troy, MI. (Production originally started in Romulus, MI.)
Why did Raider Stop Making Snowmobiles?
Production of Raider snowmobiles was stopped because these sleds never became successful. Another issue was that in the early ’70s, mild winters and high oil prices pushed the entire snowmobile industry into a recession, which resulted in low sales figures.
When did Raider Stop Making Snowmobiles?
Finally, Raider snowmobiles were ceased after the 1975 model year.