At 110+ years of age Harley-Davidson must be counted among America’s most successful and long lasting corporations. But looking back into the 1960′s and 1970′s there were partnerships, buy-outs and product experimentation that, in hind sight, were not always well thought out.
Looking for new ways to make use of technology, manufacturing capability and existing distribution channels, several powersports corporations ventured into the world of snow machines. AMF, American Machine Foundry, at that time soon to be the owner of Harley-Davidson and many other brands, was among them. An internal written study for AMF dated in 1964 offered “Proposed Specifications for the AMF Snow Sled.” It presented the huge growth potential of the snowmobile market and specs for AMF’s proposed concept vehicle. The study said the sled should feature a front-mounted two cycle engine, rugged drive belt, top speed of 25 mph, smooth and flowing styling, be lightweight, comfortable and focus on dependability. In 1965 AMF Western Tool made the decision to proceed with the new AMF snowmobile and production came fast!
Through 175 dealers, 3000 units were sold in 1966. After AMF’s acquisition of Harley-Davidson in 1969, the facility in York would produce Harley-Davidson motorcycles and snow machines. Then, making use of their recently acquired power-house brand, in late 1971, AMF made the decision to again re-design and re-brand their snow mobile line. They dropped the Ski-Daddler name in favor of the hugely popular Harley-Davidson brand.
A handful of 1971 Harley-Davidson Snowmobiles were produced and the 1972 model year was the first full year for the Harley-branded sleds and the last for the Ski-Daddler sleds, both AMF offerings. Harley-Davidson dealers were offered the Harley snowmobile line as a separate product and some former Ski-Daddler dealers were also offered Harley snowmobile franchises. Promoting the brand, the Harley-Davidson sleds were advertised as using Harley engines, two-stroke singles which were conveniently sourced through the Italian Aermacchi connection; Harley had bought 50% of Aermacchi about 1960.
It was believed by AMF that they would sell more snowmobiles through the Harley-Davidson network with the Harley name. Soon the Harley sleds were assembled at the company’s Oak Creek, Missouri facility, sharing production facilities with the Harley-Davidson (AMF) golf cart. But, at the end of the 1975 snowmobile model year, it was announced that production of AMF Harley-Davidson snowmobiles would be discontinued. The eight year experiment had not been much of a success. And to complete the picture of that era in Harley-Davidson history, in 1981 Willy G. Davidson, Vaughn Beals and 11 other partners bought the company back from AMF. After a few tough years refocusing and rebuilding the company, profitability came in the late 1980′s.
The Sno-Clipper, Power Sled, Ski-Daddler and Harley-Davidson snowmobiles have remained popular with vintage collectors. We thank David Borre for loaning his 1972 Harley-Davidson Snowmobile and rare matching snow “trailer” for display at the National Motorcycle Museum.