Preserving our Karting Heritage

Karting in the UK started in 1959 and, fortunately, most if not  all of the events during that first year are well-recorded. However, what is less well known is the run-up to 1959. How did karting begin?

It all began in the USA following a mistake by McCulloch, a manufacturer of chain saws and outboard motors, who in the early 1950s decided to branch out into lawn-mower production, and purchased 10,000 West Bend 750 2½ hp engines to power them. Unfortunately, after about 2000 units had been sold their dealers started to be flooded with complaints - to the extent McCulloch decided to pull the plug on the whole project. The balance of 8,000 unused West Bend 750 engines was left in store whilst a buyer was sought and, after nearly a year had elapsed and the price was on the floor, Flexo of Los Angeles made a winning bid.

A racing car mechanic, Art Ingels, who worked for Kurtis Craft Co who, amongst other things, build Indianapolis cars in the LA suburb of Glendale, bought one of these units and, in August 1956, released the first kart - though this name came later - which looked amazingly similar to a modern Class I kart. This created quite a stir despite the engine only producing a claimed 2½ hp - and despite the fact Art weighed-in at 15½ stone - and also despite the crude braking system consisting of a hand lever applying a pivoted plate which pressed onto one of the rear wheels….

Art took this new toy to the Pomona sports car races in September, and was seen driving it round the pits by Duffy Livingstone, part owner with Roy Desbrow of GP Mufflers, an exhaust specialist company. Immediately Duffy got home he started making two copies of Art's plaything, one for himself and one for his friend Dick Van de Veere who was given the job of seeking out the necessary parts to equip the two chassis.

By November Duffy's kart was finished and he phoned his partner Roy at their Monrovia branch to come over and try this new device. Despite initial reservations Roy was quickly convinced, and on November 15th Roy and friends Tom Noel and Bill Rowles started building three karts in Tom's home garage with Roy and Tom carrying out fabrication and welding and Bill finding the parts.

These were finished in time for Christmas 1956, but by the time the festivities were over pretty much all the karts were severely damaged with blown engines, failed brakes and broken chassis. Nevertheless, the bug had bitten, and by March 1957 there were about a dozen karts of varying reliability touring round looking for large empty car parks to exercise their machines without drawing too much attention - especially from the local police.

Finally, the car park of the famous Pasadena Rose Bowl became their home, and the crowds they attracted became a source of converts, to the extent that the threesome decided to market a kart in kit form for about £400 in today's money - and not a simple assembly kit, but one of cut and bent lengths of tubing the customer had to have welded together.

The art director for America's influential Rod and Custom magazine, Lynn Wineland, lived nearby, and had been influential in interesting the editor Spencer Murray in giving coverage to this fledgling motor sport. When the three musketeers started production, they asked Lynn to produce a sales brochure for them, and he pointed out that they needed a generic name for these new vehicles. He then produced a list of 20 possible names, and from this list Go-Kart was chosen.

Within months the firm of Go-Kart was selling 500 units a month, but soon they began to run out of their dirt-cheap West Bend engines. They thus started to supply with the Clinton A400 and, after that, the famous McCulloch MC10. Art Ingels tried to interest his boss at Kurtis Craft in producing karts but, having failed, he went into partnership with Lou Borelli and produced the Caretta kart.

What must count as the first-ever organised kart race meeting took place at the Eastland Shopping Centre at the end of December 1957. And in September 1958, with five self-assembly Go-Karts imported from the States, Mickey Flynn an American serviceman, was organising demonstration events at

US airbases in the UK. From these, karting in the UK began.

And has never looked back!                 

                                                                                      Part 2

History - Part 1 The story starts on the West Coast of the USA……

Art Ingels and Lou Borelli

Pasadena Rose Bowl

Caretta Kart

Livingstone Boberick Bell