1969 Custom Mercury
The Zephyr is a vintage snowmobile build with a look inspired by a GM gas turbine train
The biggest and best winter snowmobile show! At least that’s what I think about the Waconia Ride-In at Lake Waconia Park in Waconia, Minn. It’s held on the last weekend of January every year. Here you’ll see so many cool and unique snowmobiles from all genres, and many that have since been modified with custom features.
Every year, a certain group of guys from Belle Plaine, Minn., comes up with at least one great looking and working totally custom snowmobile. Jason Johnson, Paul Maluchnik, and Andy Viszlay are the guys that are always trying to figure out what to build next. For the 2015 Waconia show, they wanted to make a stylish snowmobile that looked similar to trains from decades past. What they came up with was the GM Gas Turbine Train Zephyr sled! They started with a 1969 Mercury Model 250 hood that looked like the Zephyr train and epitomized that long, sleek look, then went from there.
Making a new sled
The power source under the hood was a used Tri-King lawn mower – an 18-hp Briggs & Stratton twin cylinder engine with hydrostatic drive for forward drive and reverse. Without the muffler, the Briggs & Stratton twin sounds like a Harley, as it has a cool little “lope” to it.
Jason, Paul and Andy made a pedal to control sled motion. Pushing the top of the pedal would propel the sled forward, and pushing the bottom of the pedal would send the sled in reverse. They used a 1970 Arctic Cat bulkhead to hold the drive system. To handle the weight of the power system, they used four leaf springs from an Evinrude snowmobile, as well as Polaris skis for steering.
To get that “train” look, they needed a long track, so they used two Arctic Cat slide suspensions with four mounting bolts. The suspensions were not straight, and it took 10 hours to make them true so they would work well in the sled. Jason called up a friend, Don Soukup, to see if he could build him a 17x175-inch track with 61 cleats. Plus, a special steel tunnel had to be made at 18 inches wide. Jason works for a truck body shop, so he has the metalworking experience and talent to do it right. They mounted the hyfax inside the top of the tunnel to protect it from the cleats wearing.
The hood had stress cracks all over it, but that didn’t stop the three guys. To help it look like new, they put in four weeks of work on the hood, tunnel and dash alone! The hood looks great in PPG YN Ford Silver paint. For the headlight, they added a Peterbilt truck light with a yellow center that moves out to a blue color.
To streamline the Zephyr even more, they added a 1969 Motex Allied Rustler rear compartment that was originally made in Minneapolis. The finishing touch on the rear is a 1959 Cadillac bullet-style taillight assembly that just looks soooo cool.
The seat is a custom-made 1970s-style checkerboard design. It’s 18 inches wide, six feet long and five inches thick for rider comfort. The rear kickstand is from the rear bumper of a John Deere.
Since there isn’t much room under the hood for fuel, the guys plan to make a tow-behind sled with six gallons of fuel plumbed by a boat fuel line with quick connectors. It will double as another seat, and finalize the train look they guys were after.
The Zephyr’s weight is around 700 lbs. At 14 feet long, it’s a little hard to get around on, but people sure like it. I think you could haul the whole neighborhood along!
Jason said he has put about 2,500 hours into the Zephyr. It’s certainly a labor of love and an incredible piece of snowmobile history, and it was on display at Waconia for everyone to see.
Minnesotan Les Pinz is a vintage sled expert with an extensive collection of historic and other antique sleds, and is a former snowmobile racer. He is a member of the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame and one of AmSnow’s regular test riders.