The Staff of Motorsport Marketing
The Staff of Motorsport Marketing Writer
10/16/17 1:28 p.m.


Story by Bill Holland

What do Ayrton Senna, Jeff Gordon, Michael Schumacher, Darrell Waltrip, Lewis Hamilton, Tony Stewart, Sebastian Vettel and Kyle Busch have in common? Sure, they’re all highly talented, championship-winning race car drivers-most ranked among the all-time best at their craft. But if you drill deeper, you’ll find they all got their start in go-karts, just like a huge number of other Formula 1, NASCAR and SCCA stars.

By all accounts, the development of the modern-day go-kart–now usually just called a kart–can be attributed to Art Ingels, a race car fabricator who worked for noted constructor Kurtis Kraft in Glendale, California. Frank Kurtis and his crew built many of the notable Offenhauser-powered roadsters that dominated the Indianapolis 500 in the 1950s, driven by the likes of Bill Vukovich, Rodger Ward and Sam Hanks. Kurtis also manufactured a distinctive Chrysler Hemi-powered sports car in the early 1950s, the Kurtis 500S.

In 1956 Ingels assembled his spartan creation mostly from scrap steel tubing, bolted on a West Bend lawnmower engine and, after creating quite a stir in his neighborhood, took it to the parking lot at the famed Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. The unique vehicle attracted considerable attention, and within short order a number of similar machines were constructed and commenced doing battle.

Two of the early adopters were Duffy Livingstone and Roy Desbrow, who were partners in a nearby muffler shop and themselves expert welders. A third member of the group, Bill Rowles, was the source for the surplus West Bend lawnmower engines that were used. The trio started manufacturing karts commercially at GP Muffler and were soon enjoying success beyond their wildest imaginations.

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Pete Gossett
Pete Gossett MegaDork
10/16/17 7:18 p.m.

I know someone with an original Kurtis quarter-midget hanging on his garage wall. He picked it up at a rummage sale years ago for $100 because the seller thought it was "just an old go-kart". 

Randy_Forbes
Randy_Forbes New Reader
10/22/17 1:26 a.m.

Here's a 1961 McCulloch R1 I restored about a decade ago.  Now that our once empty subdivision is nearly fully populated, I don't even fire it up anymore; relegated to garage art.

While Mc9s or 20s would be period correct, it has 91s on it now, along with an Airheart (hydraulic) disc brake and Hegar quick-change sprocket hubs.  The wheels are genuine McCulloch magnesium (I think they cast under contract by Hands) and an original steering wheel wrapped in BMW M Rdstr Nappa Leather.

Until I fitted a Eurosport Twinscrew supercharger to my '99 M Rdstr, I think this was the quickest thing__up to 60 mph__in the garage!

 

TRoglodyte
TRoglodyte UltraDork
10/22/17 5:24 p.m.

That looks a lot like the Fox kart I first drove in 1970, it had a Mac 101 on it. I was hooked.

LMGill
LMGill New Reader
10/24/17 10:35 a.m.

Cool article. I was born in 61 and growing up in Connecticut, I had little knowledge of the birth of karting. My father apparently did and was inspired very early on, as he built a custom Kart in 58/59-60. Being a welder for the aircraft company, TAG Alloy, he made his in aluminum, all TIG welded. It had rack & pinon steering, drum brakes, leather upholstery and a Homelite motor. He told me, the Homelite reps were so impressed with the power of this Homelite and the kart, they gave him an experimental twin carb motor in trade for the one in the kart. My dad said it never ran consistently as the carbs would drift out of sinc quickly. So he blocked off the one port and ran it as a single carb motor. Eventually a friend gave him a Triumph Tiger Cub motor. He added a clutch lever to the steering colum and mounted a shifter under the right knee.

Sometime in the mid 60's my brothers polished it up an entered it in a Hartford car show and one a trophy. I drove it with the remounted Homelite motor sometime in the early 70's. When we moved to Arizona, my dad left to my brother who lived in Hartford. Unfortunately, it was stolen out of his basement sometime in the 90's I think. He recently gave me a bunch of pictures of the cart I had never seen. These were taken in March, 1961.

My Dad's dad in the Kart out front of our house in East Glastonbury. On the back it says "Pop in "RR's Go Go Speed Car".

Good view of the custom fuel tank and the twin Carb Homelite (Both I still have)

The underside of the all aluminum constructed frame. Note the twin chain drives.

The old man tuning the kart for a run at Lime Rock Park, July 4th, 1960

The Triumph motor installed. The twin chain drives replaced with a single drive axle at the back. Now with a custom oil tank as well.

 

I suspect the kart ended up at a scrap yard for the aluminum value, but I have always hoped it survived and is out there somewhere.

 

Chris

Randy_Forbes
Randy_Forbes New Reader
10/24/17 2:37 p.m.

Chris, 

You REALLY SHOULD post your story and pictures on the VKA (Vintage Karting Association) Facebook page__they'd not only go nuts over it, but there's also a chance that a) someone knows more about it, or b) it'll fill in the missing blanks for someone that might've seen or heard about it back in the day.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1394603367499268/

Oh, and of course, I absolutely love it!  I too hope that it survived, and is being taken care of__maybe you'll find out...

 

Jerry From LA
Jerry From LA SuperDork
10/26/17 7:53 p.m.

Little-known karting fact:  Tom Medley of Stroker McGurk and Hot Rod Magazine fame, was an early adopter and helped karting spread across the country.  He was still racing karts after he retired from the magazine business in the '80s.  Tom's son Gary (also a kart devotee and owner of an indecent modified FIAT 124 sedan with a 1600 twincam) reproduced his dad's iconic karting cartoon on black cotton tee-shirts as seen below.  We just happened to have a few here at Autobooks-Aerobooks for the princely sum of $24.95 plus shipping.  This is of course purely informational as nothing is expressed or implied by the National Canoe Sinking Association (nudge-nudge-wink-wink).  We think they're cool.

http://photoberkit.com/copper/displayimage.php?pid=1741&fullsize=1

 

trigun7469
trigun7469 SuperDork
11/7/17 12:34 p.m.

smiley

efahl
efahl New Reader
11/8/17 11:16 a.m.

I had a Bug in the late '60s, which we hacked up into a semi-enduro shifter cart long before those things even existed.  The original lawn mower engine seemed way too anemic to us, so we first put the motor from my Bridgestone 90 on it, but that wasn't enough.  We got a Yamaha 80 from one of their little motox bikes and that was its final incarnation before I left it to my brother when I moved away from home.  It would do 75-80 mph and scared the beejeesuz out of most drivers, but boy it was fun.

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