Lynx GLS 3300

Lynx sport snowmobile’s birth story

The GLS 3300 started a new chapter in the Lynx story. It was the first factory-built sports sled for a Finnish manufacturer and changed the image of Lynx, previously known only as a manufacturer of utility sleds. With the GLS, Lynx made its first foray into the growing recreational sled market.



The early 1980s meant a huge shift for Lynx, which thus far had been known mostly as a utility snowmobile manufacturer. A garage project started by eager pioneers led to immediate success on the race tracks. It was also the preface for the continued success of Lynx sport snowmobiles.


The first Lynx sports sled was built in the Rovaniemi sled factory as an unofficial garage project outside work hours in 1982. Juhani Tapio, who at that time worked as the factory’s production manager, tempted protomechanic Esa Kolppanen to join him on the task. Their goal was to build a race sled for Pauli Piippola, who had already achieved success on motocross tracks.

There were plenty of doubters, but already in his first competition at Kemijärvi track in the winter of ‘83, Piippola proved the weekend garage hours weren’t a waste of time. “Tinplate nose” (nickname of Lynx’s first sports sled) sped into pole position, despite falling over already in the first curve and being left last. At the edge of the forest were a bunch of Lynx riders gathered to watch the race. When the checkered flag had swung, they gathered enough nerve to ride onto the track to celebrate the new winner.

"At that moment, Lynx history was written," reminisces Esa Kolppanen, who still works as the head of R&D at Lynx factory in Rovaniemi.

Success was continued that very same year in Sweden, where the people got to bear witness to the emergence of the new champion.

"People were coming up running their mouths to me and Jussi (Tapio), asking where the tow hitch was on the sled," Kolppanen laughs, referring to how Lynx was at that time only known as a utility sled.

"Soon they were laughing out of the other side of their mouths," when Paukka rode to victory.

Lynx’s success didn’t go unnoticed in Sweden. Lynx’s distributor at the time was a company called Alcab, whose owner and manager Aimo Larvia ordered four copies of Tinplate nose from Rovaniemi for the four young race riders in his team. One race sled also was made for Norway and two for Finland.

Already the following winter saw Lynx winning all the most significant championships in all Nordic countries. Tinplate nose’s competition success added pressure for Lynx to commercialize their first sport sled. The demand was high, especially in Sweden, where Larvia wanted a recreational sport sled comparable to Lynx’s race sled to satisfy those recreational sled riders with a need for speed.


Champions on the track. Pauli Piippola riding "Tinplate nose", the first Lynx racing sled. The sled came into existence in the hands of Juhani Tapio, Esa Kolppanen and Piippola as an informal garage project in 1982. The Lynx's success story began with the Tinplate nose’s first race in Kemijärvi in the winter of 1983.



Recreational snowmobiling on the rise

Despite race snowmobiling having been a thing for years, in the early 80s a snowmobile was for most users a tool for taking care of chores in the winter and moving from one place to another. They’d ride a sled to their fishing spot or transport construction supplies to wilderness huts. Wide tracks were popular towing machines at farms and in forestry. Hints of recreational use were starting to appear however, as snowmobile clubs were being formed and the first snowmobile trails were opened.

"Snowmobiling started to become increasingly popular. However, trail snowmobiling was still something that wasn’t discussed much, as there were hardly any official trails. People used to follow natural trails and established tracks by riding in line, one after the other, to e.g. go to wilderness shelters to enjoy campfires," recalls Kari Ylipekkala.

At the time, Ylipekkala was working as a designer on the GL 250 utility snowmobile project, which was started around the same time as the sports sled project. He eventually had a career spanning over 40 years with Lynx snowmobiles and recently retired as Lynx product manager.

Nordtrac, Lynx snowmobiles’ manufacturer at the time, was in the early 1980s part of the Valmet tractor group, whose strategy was to produce only utility snowmobiles. The idea of building a sports sled was a very poor fit with that strategy, which sent some sparks flying at the factory. However, the success of Lynx in races and the growing pressure, especially from Sweden, to produce a recreational sled got the GLS project off the ground.

Markku Koivurova, who worked in product development, was handed the task of making the sports sled into a product. According to Juhani Tapio, it was clear from the start that the GLS had to be made more attractive than the Tinplate nose racer.

"A decision was made to use the existing technology from the Tinplate nose, but the sled had to look cool. No one would buy such an ugly-looking contraption!"


A steering 180°

Getting the GLS, which started as a garage project, into mass production was no walk in the park, as there were only two blueprints of the Tinplate nose sled – a driven pulley shaft and a driveshaft. The technical solutions were not always easy to reproduce. One such story relates to the sled’s steering.

"The Tinplate nose had a unique articulated steering system, which ran along the bottom plate, mediated by a shear joint, so that the tie rods were in front of the front support arms. The steering was very light. Thanks to the articulated steering, the skis turned only slightly in the initial movement of the steering, but turned a lot when turning the bar. However, the first prototype of the GLS had a slightly more complex steering," recalls Juhani Tapio.

One Friday evening, Product Development Manager Erik Ahmasalo drove the first prototype GLS home from the factory. The morning meeting at the factory following that weekend was filled with fire and brimstone, as Ahmasalo told others he had flown over the handlebars of the sled several times during the few kilometer ride.

"We raised the sled on a jack and noticed that its skis were starting to plow along with the suspension movement. The rush to get the sled into production was intense, so we decided to copy the Tinplate nose’s steering system to the GLS as-is. And it was excellent," Kolppanen sums up.


Released for model year 1985, the GLS 3300 stood out from the rest of the Lynx range with its streamlined styling and dark livery. It was the first Lynx model with independent front suspension with trailing arms. While the sled’s engine of choice, the fan-cooled Rotax 503, wasn’t the most powerful engine, the GLS 3300 still could be considered a trendsetter in terms of riding performance. The 3300 mm long and 400 mm wide track improved performance in soft snow and stabilized riding on uneven trails.



Superior rideability

In 1984, a pre-production run of 15 GLS 3300s was made, all of which practically were taken out of our hands. The actual production model came out in 1985.

The GLS was an eye-catcher with its distinctive styling language that was different from the rest of the Lynx range. The design was based on the hood of the GLX 5900, which was refined to look more powerful by lengthening it and adding air intakes at the front and sides. The streamlined, wedge-shaped profile, combined with a short track and dark coloring with red-orange racing stripes, exuded sportiness. Alongside the GL 250, the GLS was one of the first to use a vacuum-formed base plastic, which reduced snow resistance, increased impact resistance, reduced weight and allowed new design freedoms.

If the GLS appealed on the outside, it was the driving performance that dazzled. In particular, good steering and functional independent suspension were the factors that distinguished the first Lynx sports sled from its competitors. The front and rear suspension were similar in design to those of competing manufacturers in structure, but the way in which the suspension was made to work was different. This was the work of Pauli Piippola, whose strong racing background in motocross and sleds gave the Lynx factory an understanding of suspension tuning.

"Pauli had been fiddling with shock absorbers from a young age. He knew how they should work," says Juhani Tapio.

The GLS was stable even on uneven surfaces, thanks not only to the superb suspension, but also to the good weight distribution and the wider and longer track (400 x 3300 mm). Riding ergonomics were also ahead of their time: the GLS’s seat wasn’t as far back as other sport sleds and the top was spacious to allow the rider to move actively on the sled.

The sled was quite heavy, but light in handling and mechanically robust.

"The sled weighed over 200 kg, but it didn't really have weak spots. The frame was steel, while others were already using aluminum at the time," says Kolppanen.

Under the GLS hood was a twin-cylinder fan-cooled Rotax 503. The engine wasn't the most powerful on the market, but it was reliable and light for an otherwise somewhat heavy sled.


The GLS 3300 continued on the racetrack where Tinplate nose left off. Lars-Johan Edh, Frode Utsi and Pauli Piippola celebrating a triple victory in the Lynx Tournament in Rovaniemi in March 1985.



Builder of a new image

Although the GLS 3300 impressed with its features, it did not become an immediate commercial breakthrough. In its first year of production, a batch of around 150 sleds was produced, most of which were sold in Sweden. The wide-track GLX 5900 and the new narrow-track GL 250 were the cornerstones of Lynx's sales, while the GLS remained something of a freak in a market dominated by utility sleds.

However, the trend was changing. The late 1980s were a time of economic boom in Finland and people had extra money to spend on snowmobiling, among other things. In addition to reliability and utility, suspension and ride quality of sleds became a topic of discussion. The potential of a sporty recreational sled had finally been recognized in-house as well and this angle was also exploited in marketing. The colorful GLS catalog and Lynx's racing success on the Nordic circuits fuelled the new Lynx image.

"Snowmobiling was no longer a hobby just for men with fur coats, but was now enjoyed as a recreational activity among other people as well." Pekka Ojanen, the new managing director of the factory, was a kind of innovator who understood the importance of marketing. It was at this time that the legendary marketing videos, Lynx.

"They Never Give Up and First Syncro, were released,." says Kari Ylipekkala.

Alongside the GLS, a GLS 3300 R racing version was also produced, which enjoyed success on the Nordic race tracks, continuing the winning streak started by the Tinplate nose. Unlike the consumer model, the R model produced from 1986 featured a tuned engine, double exhaust pipes, a perforated brake disc and included a reinforced frame, rear suspension and spindles. The sled also had Öhlins shock absorbers all round and a lightened hood without headlights.


The GLS 3300 did not become an immediate commercial hit, but its importance to Lynx's future was undeniable. Thanks to the GLS, more and more attention was paid to suspension and ride performance. Pictured here are people from the factory on a wilderness tour in March 1985.




The GLS 3300 remained in the Lynx range until 1989 with only minor modifications. At the turn of the decade, the model family expanded to include not only the fan-cooled GLS 3500 but also the liquid-cooled GLS 3600 and GLS 3800 RAVE.

The GLS provided the growth platform from which Lynx sports sleds evolved. In the 1990s, the Lynx range expanded significantly in the direction of sport and recreational sleds. Over time, the insight gained from the GLS on the importance of good suspension and good ride performance was applied to other sled models.

There were many reasons why Lynx and Finnish snowmobile manufacturing continued to prosper in Rovaniemi. Two of them were a wide range of models and market leadership in several segments. The Canadian company Bombardier took over the shares of Starckjohann-Telko Oy in 1993, having owned half of the company since 1988. Lynx was then fully owned by a large group, which allowed the plant to be modernized and double its production capacity rapidly. The GLS 3300 ranks high on the list of the most significant models in Lynx's history.

"In addition to the GLS, the GLX 5900, the GL 3900 Syncro and the GL 250 are snowmobiles that have played a major role in the existence of the entire snowmobile factory and the Lynx brand. The Lynx story could have been very different without these models," Ylipekkala reflects.

The GLS 3300 left a legacy in Lynx history that lives on strong even today.