INSIDE TRAX: Priceless Tips on Restoration Project

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By Kent Lester

It’s been about nine months since we purchased a thoroughly flogged 1991 Indy 500 as a Supertrax project sled. You read about it in our March 2009 issue and many of you have been asking how it’s going.

I wish I could tell you we’re totally on top of this project and it’s gone along incredibly well. Fact is, it’s turned out to be a much bigger job than my son Mike and I anticipated and between trying to schedule the time to work on the Indy and magazine deadlines, we’ve been really crowded to make progress.

On the other hand, the time we’ve put in together has been a truly fun father and son experience and like most of these kinds of family deals, it’s made some great memories for the two of us.

It’s always memorable when you’re skinning your knuckles, drawing blood and throwing tools, straightening bent parts and fixing stuff that won’t, can’t and refuses to fit. Stripping threads is also high on the memory list.

We were discussing the project the other day and came to the conclusion we’d have done a few things differently if we were starting over again.

Here are some tips on restoration projects we think might help if you’re undertaking one.

Number one: Make up your mind in the beginning what type of restoration you want to end up with. Is this sled going to be a show sled or is it a driver? Maybe you want it to be both.

You need to know before you buy your “bargain”. The time you’ll need to put into a show sled is incredible. You’ll need a lot of genuine parts and that means visiting websites, flea markets and vintage shows to get the absolutely correct parts you’ll need.

If you’re going to restore the sled as a ride-only project, you can settle for parts from the aftermarket or you can refurb stuff that isn’t brand new. The rougher the beginner, the more work you’ve got ahead of you.

Number two: Pay more for something in better shape. The reason for this advice is it always helps if you start with something that’s pretty good instead of something that’s in terrible condition.

It may be worth spending a few hundred dollars extra to get a decent beginner. It’ll likely save you five times that amount in parts and extra time.

Our Indy was so rough we had to grind rust off every nut, washer, bolt and bushing. Every bearing had sandpaper in it. It was like this thing had been in the salt mines for the last decade and corrosion was an enormous problem for us. We eventually were forced to compromise and let the appearance details suffer a bit.

You just can’t get a mirror finish on skidframe parts if you’re trying to work on a deadline to get the project done.

We decided the most important thing was to make sure the sled runs and is as reliable as possible – we’ll make things look nicer once we get it on the snow.

Number three: Get to know someone in the used parts business. You’ll save a ton of money if you can buy used parts from a snowmobile wrecker who knows the product.

Our friend, Leon Wright at Indy Salvage in Minden has been an incredible source of help and information to us.

Number four: Think about buying a second sled as a parts pig. You’ll still need to buy a lot of new stuff, but you could end up saving big by scavenging from a second sled if you can find one.

Number five: Be in the snowmobile media. I can’t think of the number of times I’ve been so thankful we’ve had access to new parts and services, frankly, just because we’re well known and publish Supertrax.

Camoplast provided us with a track, Ryde FX gave us a set of shocks, Slydog gave us a pair of brand new composite skis! CV Tech has done a top to bottom engine rebuild for us and, yes, it all makes for good promotion and is even fodder for interesting magazine stories, but we’d have gone broke trying to get this Indy into decent condition without their help.

I know what you’re thinking: Yeah, you guys are lucky because you can leverage deals because of the mag. Well, you’re absolutely right. But it doesn’t mean you can’t take on a project like this, too, and stay within a reasonable budget. It all depends what you start with and where you want to end up.

We’ve had a blast working together on this sled and whether or not we can get it working well enough to report our success this season is still a big question.

One thing’s for sure. We’ve certainly lowered our expectations about the end product and, yes, we’re definitely willing to settle for less.

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