We were talking about the efforts back in the 60’s to adapt snowmobiles to summer use.  Local inventor Marcel Boivin looked at the problem and reasoned that a snowmobile is designed specifically for travel in snow, and trying to use it in summer mostly resulted in damage and maintenance.  He noted that the most expensive part of a snowmobile is the engine, and decided the way to go was by way of a small, inexpensive wheeled vehicle made to be run by the engine and belt drive from the snowmobile, rather than using the entire snowmobile.

This vehicle should be small enough to fit in the bed of a pickup truck.  It should have four large wheels, so it would have lots of ground clearance, and big tires relative to the size of the vehicle so air pressure could be low to smooth out the ride and give it better traction.  It needed to be adapted to quickly and easily install or remove the snowmobile engine.  It didn’t need to go fast as trails are rough, but needed lots of torque so it could for example pull a moose out of the bush.  It should be light enough that it could be moved by hand, but rugged enough to stand rough treatment.  The result was his “Boivin Buggy”.

It had a rugged but simple frame, with the rear axle fixed in place and driven by a chain from the snomo engine above, no differential so both wheels drive all the time.  The front axle oscillated like that of a small tractor, so all the wheels would be on the ground however rough it was.  It had no suspension but the soft tires and generous seat were all the ride improvement it needed, after all, snomo’s in those days rode pretty rough too.  Front wheels were on automotive spindles, early models steered by a cable mechanism like that on a boat, later models with automotive type steering.  It used car wheels and tires, which are light, cheap, and rugged, in fact, one could say the whole vehicle was light, cheap, and rugged.

The first Boivin Buggy was produced in 1969.  The first really successful commercially produced ATV using those donut tires we talked about in a previous column was the Honda 3-wheeler, first introduced in 1970, and the first 4-wheel ATV on those tires was introduced by Suzuki in 1982.  These motorcycle company offerings were more expensive as they needed their own engine rather than one transplanted from your snowmobile, and arguably less useful in the bush as they were not as rugged, but they had the marketing and ‘cool’. Also perhaps Marcel was more of an inventor and less of a manufacturer, in any event he discontinued making his Boivin Buggies in 1985.  He made a total of 35, some still around, but none in operating condition as far as I could find.  Bill Saunders has one relic, and Bob Dickson reputedly has two.

It would be easy to say that modern ATV’s just naturally developed out of motorcycle technology.  But look again.  They are all made to Marcel’s criteria of 45 years ago – they fit in the bed of a standard pickup, they have four large, low-pressure-tired wheels with automotive type steering, close together so they have high ground clearance, they are light and rugged.  In fact, if you look carefully at his machine you have to see the ancestor of the modern 4-wheeler!  Indeed, it is as handsome as any of them.  Boivin buggy DNA is in them all; I can imagine that Honda and Suzuki had a Boivin buggy in their lab for reference when designing their own entries.

So my claim is that the 4 wheel ATV was invented right here in Dryden.  Prove me wrong.

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