One of my favorite things about the noisy old air-cooled boxer four-banger that powered millions and millions of Volkswagen Beetles, Buses, Ghias, Things, Type IIIs and more is just how incredibly adaptable these little engines were. It ended up in aircraft and boats and zambonis and running sawmills and ski lifts and pumps and all sorts of things. It was in plenty of vehicles, too, all kinds, mounted at the front or rear, but only one production vehicle I’ve found dared to do things differently: the Kristi snowcat.
Now, there were other similar VW-powered “snowcats” the most famous of which may be the Tucker Sno-Cat, which gained some more mainstream fame thanks to its appearance in The Shining, even though it never gets to drive because Jack Nicholson’s character yanked the distributor cap and cut the wires:
Hey, you know, it makes sense that Jack would have known how to do that, because the car they’re driving up to the lodge, in the beginning, is a ’73 Beetle!
Man, that Stephen King, he thought of everything.
Oh, but back to the important stuff, the way the engine was mounted in that Kristi snowcat. You’ll notice that in the Tucker Sno-Cat, the engine is upfront, which, sure, is unusual for an air-cooled VW motor, but by no means unheard of.
Volkswagen themselves built and sold two cars that featured the air-cooled flat-four mounted upfront, the Gol hatchback and the Basistransporter truck. So, while front mounting is unusual, it’s not unheard of.
What I do think is unheard of is this, which you can see in this picture from an ad selling a Kristi KT2A on The Samba:
Can you tell why I’m freaking out here? The VW engine is sideways. It’s a transverse-mounted air-cooled VW engine. I’m pretty sure this is the only vehicle to use an air-cooled VW motor that does it this way.
Every other application of VW boxers in things you can drive has a longitudinal mounting, whether the engine is in front or rear or somewhere in the middle. I’ve been obsessing over VW-powered whatevers for decades, and I’m pretty certain this is the only transverse setup.
Lemme just breathe into a bag for a minute here.
I suspect the reason for the layout here is that in this case, I think the VW engine was powering a hydraulic pump system that drove most everything on the Kristi, and as such didn’t need to be connected to the usual VW-type transaxle, which freed it from needing to be longitudinal.
While Colorado (later Washington)-based Kristi was never as popular or successful as Tucker or Thiokol or most other snowmachine builders, this is a pretty cool little machine. Look how capable this thing looks climbing up this snowy hill, set, for some reason, to the Jaws music:
You can see the transverse layout here in this lubrication diagram, too:
I’ve highlighted the VW engine in blue there. These Kristis used Volkswagen industrial engines, 36 HP ones at first and then later 40 HP and even wildly powerful 53 HP ones in the early ‘70s, with optional Porsche industrial engines (modified 356-type engines, very similar in design to the VW air-cooled flat-four, as you likely know) if you wanted a bit more oomph.
Kristi also made this amazing-looking tracked vehicle from a 1960s Chevrolet pickup, and seemed to make use of both chassis and some body parts:
That’s the Kristi KTW, and I really love how they modified that front end there, keeping the truck’s original “face.”
It looks like VW-focused magazines back in the day at least took some notice of the Kristis, so I bet my VW-geek delight at this thing has happened to other VW geeks many decades earlier.
If anyone here decides to buy this crazy thing, please let me know. I’d love to check it out, and I’ll try not to embarrass myself too much.
CORRECTIONS: In my impaired state of excitement at seeing a transverse VW air-cooled engine, I allowed myself to get sloppy with some facts, many of which were firmly and sternly corrected by Gary Roth of KristiSnowCat.com.
So, to start, as other commenters have mentioned, the snow cat from The Shining is not a Tucker, but an AKTIV, from Sweden. I have reached out to the estate of Stanley Kubric to make amends.
Also, the Type I engine in the Kristi is not, as I speculated, driving a hydraulic pump. Gary filled me in on the actual setup:
“It is connected to a drive axle differential that has the steering brakes attached to the this differential. This Kristi designed differential is connected to a Kristi designed transmission that has 8 gears forward and 2 gears reverse. The most unique thing that a Kristi snow cat has is the patented ability to drop or raise either track or both so that they could go abound a slope without sliding down or to gain ground clearance. NO OTHER SNOW CAT HAD THIS ABILITY.”
My apologies to the Kristi corporation, the greater snow cat enthusiast community, and Gary, who I hope has stopped seething at this point.
(thanks for showing me, Tom!)