My First RXL
Back in December of 1976, I got to see the 1977 leaf spring snopro sleds at the race in Alexandria, Minnesota and I wanted one so bad that I could taste it. But there was only three of them. By 1978, I refocused my lust on something slightly more obtainable: a 1978 Polaris RXL.
Actually, I blame T.J. Patrick for that. I watched T.J. win the Superstock 340 class in Alexandria in December of 1977, and that was as fun as watching Bunke win the Super-Mod 250 class, or Steve Thorsen win the 440X class. But T.J. was driving an RXL that the factory made and sold to regular people – like me.
Fast-Forward 22 Years
By the year 2000, I was the COO of my second internet company and had nearly forgotten about snowmobiles. But I got the bug and wanted to restore one. At the time, this ideas was laughable: After all, the only tools in my garage were a hammer, a pliers, two screwdrivers and a vice-grips.
But, working on an old sled seemed like it would be a good way to take a few hours away from the virtual world of software and the internet, and to be able to work on something that was tangible and real.
My first choice would have been a 1977 leaf springer, but I didn’t dare to even dream that it was possible that any existed, let alone that any survived. So once again, I set my sites on something that was obtainable, the 1978 RXL.
“Good luck finding one of those!” my brother informed me. “They are as rare as hens teeth!” For a moment, I feared he was correct. But only for a moment.
God Bless the Internet
Later that night, after talking to my brother Jim, I was fixated on one piece of advice he gave me that was probably the best ever: “Don’t mess with anything unless you are really passionate about it, or you’ll never make it through the process.” That’s good advise for restoring old vehicles, your chosen profession, or your significant other.
So I got on a bunch of different websites, and within minutes, I found a 1978 RXL for sale in Michigan. I agreed to head over and pick it up as soon as I could. $4,500 and a couple days later, I had it home, and this is what it looked like:
It's Got a Rotax
Was it perfect? Ah heck no. But it wasn’t bad! Someone had done a very nice job of sticking a 521 Rotax in it, and it ran well. So well that I had to take it for a ride!
It was not a ton of fun driving it on the snow (after all, and RXL is made to run on solid ice), but none the less, I could now say say I finally got to drive an RXL!
I spent the next few months digging up any history I could on the sled, and figured out it was originally a superstock 340, first owned by John Mclaughlin, from Jackson, WY. How it got to Michigan, and how it got the Rotax is still a mystery.
Restoration Number One
I didn’t trust my skills to restore it. It was too important to me that it be right, so I learned as much as I could, hunted down an original RXL monoblock motor, pipes, carbs, ignition and clutches. That was another $2,500.
Then I took it to the best person I knew of to restore it. He did a good job of restoring it show quality, and that cost another $3,500. But therein lies the problem: It was show quality, not in running order like it would have been from the factory.
But I thought it looked damn good!
Restoration Number Two
Every single nut and bolt in the whole sled had to be replaced. Some were stripped, some we too short, some were the wrong diameter.
The motor had been taped up and bead blasted, leaving material inside the motor. The mount for the Rotax was pulled out, and a replacement welded in, with the holes being randomly drilled – leaving the motor so far out of alignment that the clutch was solid against the chassis. The holes had to be refilled, then re-drilled.
I had found NOS RXL pistons and rings for it, but we opened the motor, I learned it had Arctic Cat pistons in it that did not even fit.
The hood was missing the front grill, was way too heavy, and the decal was not even close to the original. In fact – the logo said “IXL” rather than “RXL”. So I went nuts, and I hunted down an NOS hood at an old Minneapolis area dealership. It was too cracked up to use, but it was perfect for a mold. I had that made, and had them use the original hand-laid fiberglass, making a super thin, super small, super light hood, just like the originals. I then worked with Frank Sadlon to get the original decals I found duplicated.
When it was all done, I probably had another $4,000 in it, but at this point, I stopped counting.
The result? A running, dead sexy, 1978 RXL with only the hood being a reproduction part.
The Real First Ride
The next winter my brother Jim finished up the clutch work and I got to really take it for a ride. This time on an ice-covered road around my brothers house. I went around that corner over and over and over again, enjoying the feel of that nimble, quick little machine that accelerated hard enough to take my breathe away.
Only this time, I could look down on that awesome little hood, and it felt like I finally got to experience a little of what it was like to race one of these amazing little creatures all those years ago.
Letting It Go
After a few years of shows and buying more sleds, I decided to let my first baby go.. after all I was finding more original factory race sleds, and I didn’t have that much room.
In fact, by this time, I had found an original leaf springer, but more on that later.
In about 2004, I let it go to Bruce Patocka in New York.
I’ve learned that since then, it may have changed hands one or even two more times.