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1971 Chaparral Skylark

Hirth Red Baron flies again
Jeff Schenk beautifully restored this racy Skylark that Dan Wood drove to a Michigan state class grass drag championship in 1971.
Dan with the sled.
Hirth's 59-horse 650 twin was dubbed the Red Baron and was Hirth's first attempt at a high-performance motor for snowmobiles.
Jeff Schenk is a logical guy, and a vintage snowmobile lover, so when he started collecting and restoring sleds, the Michigander settled on one brand, Chaparral.

One brand means easier parts searching and warehousing for his rebuilds, which he does each summer in his garage.

While Schenk grew up near Port Huron, Mich., surrounded by Scorpions and Ski-Doos, he fell in love with sleds while watching regional grass drags. As an 11-year-old, Schenk traveled with a neighbor friend taking in races around Michigan where he found his heroes mostly riding on Sno-Jets and Chaparrals.

One, he recalls, was Dan Wood, who successfully campaigned a bright red Chaparral Skylark, winning the state title in his class. Schenk saw Wood win on grass at Richmond, Mich., in September of 1971.

So when a now adult Schenk saw an Arctic Cat collector advertise on line a few years ago that he had a 1971 Chaparral Skylark with a Hirth Red Baron 650 twin, for sale, he snapped it up. His cost - $700.

"I didn't know a lot about it yet, and it was about a 5 on a scale of 10," Schenk says. The hood was split and the seat was torn and falling apart. But in the back of his mind he recalled the Skylark, Denver-based Chaparral's entry-level sled, in its glory ripping up the 1971 grass drag circuit.

Motors on the mind
What intrigued him too was that Hirth Red Baron motor, a 59-horse Free Air model used in racing versions of the Skylark. It featured 2 HD carbs, a single Donaldson muffler and no speedometer, tach or ski shocks. Underneath was a lightweight poly track with internal drives. The track was 15 ½-inches by 100 and the ski stance just 28 inches.

But now he needed more parts to work with while restoring his sled.

"Chaparral made many sleds so there are a lot of them out there," Schenk says. "I bought four as parts sleds." Many times Schenk finds such sleds while riding his motorcycle during the summer.

That's when he's riding the back roads and scouring rural areas for abandoned machines. Some, he says, he has picked up for as little as $25.

His philosophy for a rebuild is to take the sled right down to the original chassis and then restore it from there, polishing all the aluminum and repainting any parts he can use.
"I restore from one to as many as three sleds a summer," Schenk says.

For this project, he decided to go right to the source, calling Dan Wood to learn more about his particular Skylark. Wood's father was a Chaparral dealer, so his knowledge of the make is deep, something that helped Schenk in his Skylark rehab.

After hours of conversation and a visit to Wood's home and barn where he keeps a fair amount of Chaparral parts and old sleds, Schenk made a discovery. Wood still had what he believed was the original chassis from his 1971 Skylark, the one he notched the state championship with.

Schenk persuaded Wood to let him use it in his restoration and ultimately recreated Wood's championship sled, complete with "Family Sports Corral" lettering on the hood. Wood was impressed and although reluctant to toot his own horn much, autographed the restored sled's windshield. In fact, Wood later gave Schenk the trophy he won for his championship, so that the sled and trophy could be displayed together at vintage shows that Schenk attends.

In the summer of 1971 Wood went undefeated in grass drags in Michigan, winning his class, Stock E. But he fell just 5 points short of the overall state high-point title. In one race there had been a protest that Wood hadn't taped his rear light and a disqualification ultimately cost him the overall title.

Ironically, Schenk says, the rules at the time said all glass lights had to be taped; the Chaparral's taillight lens was plastic.

While Schenk's restoration looks near perfect, he says there is one change he plans to make. Wood tells him he had two racing stripes on his winning Chaparral, created with black electrical tape. Schenk will add that detail soon.

As for Skylarks in general, Schenk says the original trail sled had a 292cc single that created 19 hp. But there were other engine choices too, including a 372cc Hirth single that created 24 horses and a 340 that delivered 28 horses. There were even a few 338 twins installed in a few models, those also creating 28 hp.

The Red Baron engine was Hirth's first stab at a performance-oriented twin-cylinder model, Schenk says. There were no cooling fins on the flywheel of this higher-horse racer.

Chaparrals have a short history. They were built from 1968 (a few prototypes in 1967) until February, 1974, when the company pulled the plug on sleds. Originally Chaparrals were made by Powered Products of Denver, but the name was changed to Chaparral Industries in 1970. Either way, Chaparral had faded by 1975.

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