Sonic Boom: 1982 Can-Am Sonic 500

The Can-Am Sonic 500 wasn’t a big seller when it was built, making it a rare model today.

| January/February 2017

  • 1982 Can-Am Sonic 500.
    Photo by Robert Smith
  • 1982 Can-Am Sonic 500.
    Phot by Robert Smith
  • 1982 Can-Am Sonic 500.
    Photo by Robert Smith
  • 1982 Can-Am Sonic 500.
    Photo by Robert Smith
  • 1982 Can-Am Sonic 500.
    Photo by Robert Smith
  • 1982 Can-Am Sonic 500.
    Photo by Robert Smith
  • The wild slotted front fender was designed to allow air to pass through it to aid in cooling the engine.
    Photo by Robert Smith
  • 1982 Can-Am Sonic 500.
    Photo by Robert Smith
  • The spark-arrestor muffler was used to comply with U.S. offroad requirements.
    Photo by Robert Smith
  • The original headlight and trip meter.
    Photo by Robert Smith

1982 Can-Am Sonic 500
494cc air-cooled SOHC single, 89mm x 79.4mm bore and stroke, 9.2:1 compression ratio, 37hp @ 7,000rpm
Top speed:
Single Mikuni VM36
5-speed, chain final drive
12v, CDI electronic ignition
Single downtube dual cradle 4130 chrome-moly steel tube w/oil-bearing spine/58.5in (1,486mm)
42mm Marzocchi telescopic forks front, dual Öhlins shocks rear
6in (152.4mm) SLS drum front and rear
3 x 21in front, 5.10 x 18in rear
Weight (dry):
269lb (122kg)
Seat height (stock)
: 36in (914.4mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG:
2.8gal (10.6ltr)/NA
Price then/Now:
$3,000 (approx.)/$3,500-$6,500

More than a few motorcycle manufacturers have diversified into snowmobiles and other recreational products to make their business less seasonal. Ski-Doo maker Bombardier did it the other way around.

Joseph-Armand Bombardier was born in 1907 in Valcourt, an eastern township of Quebec, Canada. Always interested in mechanics, at age 19 he opened an automobile repair shop. One of his first challenges was that Quebec’s brutal, snowy winters kept most motorists off the road in winter, making for plenty of downtime. Only main highways were plowed, so many drivers stored their cars away for the season.

It was a personal tragedy that provided the incentive for Bombardier’s first product. One particularly bad winter, his young son fell ill. Because of the heavy snow accumulation on the roads, he was unable to transport his son to the hospital. As a result, his son died.

Bombardier’s first snow-car design was the model B7 of 1936. Powered by a 4-cylinder Chevrolet engine, it was essentially a seven-passenger car with tracks at the rear to provide drive and skids at the front for steering. It was so successful that a larger vehicle, the 12-passenger B12 Snowbus, soon followed. By 1940, the company was installed in a purpose-built facility and was producing 200 vehicles a year.

During World War II, Bombardier turned to making equipment for the Canadian military, but resumed civilian production in the late 1940s. A new policy in 1948 from the Quebec government introduced more widespread snow plowing, which changed Bombardier’s direction. With winter roads more accessible, sales of the multi-passenger tracked vehicles declined. Bombardier turned to the burgeoning winter recreation market instead, designing a much smaller single-tracked vehicle with external seating for one or two people. He called it the Ski-Doo.

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