Given Honda's presence in the two-stroke world, and that they've made seemingly every form of transportation from jet airplanes to 50cc mopeds, it's surprising they never got into snowmobiles. Well, actually, they did, with a single production run of between 300 and 500 White Foxes in 1973. Designed to be carried in the back of a station wagon, the UL-175 was aimed at "youngsters and riders up to 150 pounds." In typical Honda style, it was developed essentially from first principles and borrowed nothing--it had a unique engine and torque converter drive that were used in no other Honda product.
It wasn't Honda's idea. Their dealers didn't like being left out of the market, so American Honda Director Masa Suzuki started a snowmobile development program, which we believe was based in Greendale, Wisconsin. After experimenting with snowmobiles as large as 750cc, by 1971 they seem to have settled on the 178cc White Fox design.
Rumor has it they couldn't keep the 750 afloat on snow, so for the UL-175 White Fox, they went to the opposite extreme. The 229-pound machine carries its recoil-start, air-cooled, fan-shrouded single in back, driving the track through a centrifugal clutch and rubber belt. The body is steel tubing with a plastic pan and fiberglass bodywork, if you can call it that. Reportedly, they were finished with more care than was typical of the day. It's just about as small as it looks and while it's strong enough to carry a grownup, that's with your knees in your ears. Veteran powersports writer Charles Plueddeman said a Honda engineer told him that one of the prototype designs steered motorcycle-style, by the driver leaning, and while the finished product steered with a yoke, it did lean in turns. The highly engineered machine was tested at high altitude in the South American Andes, and was very stable and easy to drive. It was slower than most at about 40 MPH, but had terrific maneuverability. Quiet exhaust only made the orange White Fox stand out more.
Late in 1973, Honda distributed 180 of them, mostly to Michigan and Wisconsin dealers, with a few more to major dealers with the right connections elsewhere in the north. MSRP was $625. They were looking for dealer feedback, and the company said they had another 500 in warehouse stock.
After only a month, though, Honda recalled all the dealer stock, as well as all those that had been sold into private hands. Their reasoning is unclear; some have said they were afraid of litigation from the legs-forward design. Others speculated that it was a reaction to the gas crisis, but we would think the little 178 engine was a great answer to that issue. Either way, they took them back, shipped them to a California Honda motorcycle disassembly facility and crushed them. Not more than five survived the recall and subsequent crushing, most of them in the hands of dedicated dealers and serious Honda collectors.
Plueddeman called it "the biggest 'what if' in the history of snowmobiling," and the few who were involved in the program bitterly regret that it never went further. Honda powersports fans today still wonder why, with their expertise in motorcycles, jetskis, ATVs and small engines in general, that the great Japanese company has never again turned its gaze to the snow.