Snow Bustin' Fun: 1979 Sno-Runner

1979 Sno-Runner, an engineering first from Chrysler
1979 Sno-Runner from Chrysler
The perfect find! The 1979 Chrysler Sno-Runner as Gary Ilminen discovered it sitting outside an antique shop near Black Earth, Wis.
“Super-sizzling” was how one print advertisement described the Sno-Runner built by Chrysler Marine in the late-1970s. Chrysler claimed the Sno-Runner was, “A winter sprinter that’s versatile, maneuverable, fast, affordable, and fun.” So in other words, it sounds like the perfect snow vehicle.

Portable design

Similar to the concept of today’s snowbikes, but smaller, the Sno-Runner employed a narrow track and was designed to be more maneuverable than a snowmobile, which has a relatively wide ski stance. A close look at the Sno-Runner shows it actually had two fiberglass skis – one in front for steering and one underneath the rider for stability. Unlike today’s snowbikes, it was not a conversion kit for running your dirt bike on snow. It was a snow-specific vehicle with a twist grip throttle, left-hand brake lever, working tail/brake light, high-low beam headlight and a kill switch next to the rider’s right hand.

Other features
Power came from the loop-charged 134cc 2-stroke Power Bee engine with CD ignition putting out 7 hp, transferred to a 3.125x63-in., 21-cleat track by a single-speed transmission with an automatic centrifugal clutch. Top speed was said to be around 25 mph. A contracting band-brake that squeezes the clutch housing is activated on the left handlebar. A 90W alternator operates the high/low sealed beam headlight and taillight with brake light.

A hidden 1.3-gallon gas tank was built into the welded aluminum frame. That small amount of fuel provided a claimed three hours of run time. There were also four-position adjustable foot pegs for your feet. The rear suspension was constructed of steel components.
1979 Sno-Runner from Chrysler
1979 Sno-Runner from Chrysler
More than a toy, the little Sno-Runner was first designed as a military mobility option for winter operations.
The back story
There are a few theories about this early snowbike. One of the more popular ideas is that Chrysler’s clever little Sno-Runner may owe its existence to the federal government. There’s a strong belief it was originally designed as a winter mobility solution for the military in the mid-70s. Military specs called for it to be able to be disassembled and reassembled in the field without tools so the machine could be put in a large pack and air dropped.

By 1979 the 72-lb. snow-cycle was taken to the consumer market and was sold until 1982. The consumer version retained the disassembly feature. Five quick release pins were all it took to put the Sno-Runner together, or break it down into three main pieces. This made transporting very easy; no trailer required. Chrysler claimed more than one would fit in the back of a small car.

Chrysler targeted snowmobilers and motorcyclists with the Sno-Runner nationwide. They retailed for a price of $699, making for an attractive alternative to traditional snowmobiles in the late 1970s.

A fair number of consumer models are still rumored to be out there. Part availability is good with OEM parts available online at

Special thanks to Gary Ilminen for sharing his Sno-Runner restoration project with us.

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