Halcyon Horicon: John Deere Snowmobiles


01 Deere Brochure

1972 John Deere Green Machines

Keith Thelen has broken the ice, so to speak, on snowmobiles. So now I feel compelled to come out of the closet and admit that I, at one time in the early ‘70s, designed snowmobiles for John Deere while employed by Henry Dreyfuss Associates in NYC.


01 JDX8

1973 Deere JDX8

The original family units were all “green machines,” but in early ‘72 Deere decided it needed to amp up its offerings with higher performance models. To distinguish the new higher performance units we at Dreyfuss suggested that the new line be clad in semi-gloss black and be identified as the X-series. Thus were born the JDX4 and JDX8 which went on sale in the fall of 1972.

02 JDX8

1973 Deere JDX8

In ‘70 many snowmobiles were sold out of gas stations and bait shops. By ‘72 many of the brands sold at these venues were gone. Makers such as Polaris, Bombardier, Arctic Cat and Rupp were fighting Deere’s dealer network and reputation for quality. Yamaha and Kawasaki were not yet players but had a presence.

The JDX series of sleds were built upon the green machine basis. The JDX8, however, may have had an aluminum frame as opposed to steel on the green machines. I can’t remember.

07 JDX8

1974 JDX8-Photo courtesy John Deere

My first contribution to the look of the Deere machines came with the 1974 line. This shot was taken in Rabbit Ears Pass, CO where we tested new Deere machines as well as the best of the competition. Deere also did photo shoots for their sales brochures here.

03 JDX8

Production ‘74 JDX8

I can’t remember the impetus for the change in the nose. Aside from the need to freshen the look, I think it may have been the need for additional cooling. Customers had also let Deere know that the bikini windshields on the ‘73 machines sucked. Full coverage windshields, as shown here, were what customers wanted.

The models for the full-size hoods were developed in automotive clay, the same as was used in Detroit. The clay modeler that we used was in Milwaukee, WI and also did work for Harley-Davidson. The modeler filled me in on all the latest and greatest at H-D. Harley must have given up on the snowmobile business by this time as he made no mention of Harley sleds.

04 JDX8

JDX8 Design Study

Deere was conflicted about the colors that its recreational products sported. Deere green and yellow was so, ah, agricultural.

I’m not sure what metallic green I chose for this study-probably the Ivy Green that my dad’s ‘63 Bel Air was painted, but it never saw production.

06 JDX8

JDX8 Design Study

A side view of the metallic green prototype. Check out the cars in Deere’s factory parking lot in Horicon, WI. The Deere guys dug performance.

05 Hand Controls

Deere Ergonomics

Working for Deere was a designer’s dream. We tested new sleds at Rabbit Ear’s Pass, CO for a week in 1972. Our only instructions were to hop on a sled, drive it like we stole it, and do it for eight hours every day. We actually got paid to do this.

After having spent a week riding and wrecking sleds at the Pass, I determined that the hand controls on the Deere sleds were too skinny. Once back in NYC I had one of our master modelers develop some meatier new grips and throttle/brake controls. These were incorporated into the production machines but didn’t set the snowmobile world on fire. Bombardier continued to build skinny-assed grips and crappy throttle/brake controls.

The two vents atop the engine cover were also of my design. Sic Transit Gloria.

More Deere snowmobile stuff to come if the Commentariat wants it.