Preserving our Karting Heritage

By a happy co-incidence, although the simple explanation tells us that karting in the UK began on the US airbases, in actuality the publicity given to this new motorsport activity in American magazines such as Motor Trend, Rod & Custom, Hot Rod and so on had already interested their UK readers to the extent that between April and July of 1959 there were already four kart "producers" - Ecurie Minima, Motor Karts, Skeeta and Speedex - at work in Britain.

In addition, Peter Agg of Trojan, who imported Lambretta scooters, had seen karts demonstrated when he visited the Clinton factory in the States, and also decided to give it a go.

After pestering, in July Mickey Flynn received permission from his Top Brass to hold a British race meeting at the end of the year, and in August, Silverstone car park was the venue for a karting demonstration. Peter Agg had imported a few Simplex karts from the US which he renamed Trokart, though, strangely, Mickey Flynn was turned away from this event with his five Go-Karts!

This Silverstone event prompted the RAC to hold a law-making meeting in September, at which the eloquent Ben Browning of Villiers was present. This meant the logical over-riding emphasis on non-gearbox karts was balanced by a voice from the gearbox brigade, and thus the class-structure rules that resulted from that meeting treated the two power transmission designs equally.

The Silverstone event also excited John Hume and Bert Zains to the extent they went away and designed the Azum kart and a month later advertised that they'd hired Brands Hatch in October to hold a demonstration event and other manufacturers were welcome….. Thousands of spectators turned up! An improvised track was laid in the car park behind the grandstand, and though the event was chaotic, it was a huge success and clearly signposted the potential of this new sport.

A further promotional event was held in Croydon in October, where locals Trokart, Azum, Progress and others were joined by Fastakart, a newcomer from Bromyard near Hereford. Your author, then an engineer at Villiers, was asked to represent the company, and at that meeting there was also a young journalist working on Croydon's local paper, Nick Brittan, who went on to become UK International Kart Team manager for most of the 60s and also editor of influential Karting News and Record.

At Brands Hatch it was announced that Britain's first kart race meeting would be held in November. The organiser? The turned-away Mickey Flynn. The venue? Lakenheath US airbase. Britain's first RAC-recognised kart club, Kent Kart Club (KKC), essentially the creation of Alan and Jan Burgess, provided Marshals, and most of the major manufacturers were there including Formula 1s Graham Hill on a Progress kart. Peter Agg's Trokarts were present, as well as two of the three class IV producers destined to set the standard for class VI kart success in the next two seasons - Keele and Fastakart. Buckler, the third, appearing slightly later at the start of 1960.

And so 1960 dawned. On January 1st Alan Burgess produced Number 1 of the KKC club magazine called The Go-Karter. This was the only issue. By February this had grown from a hand-typed and duplicated club mag into Karting, still one of the world's major karting magazines.

1960 was an explosion of activity. There were usually multiple meetings up and down the country every weekend. As well as temporary circuits laid out with straw bales, events were held on banked concrete cycle tracks, shale-surfaced speedway tracks, grass-tracks and so on. Longer circuits such as Scarborough's Oliver's Mount motor cycle circuit were used, motor racing circuits like Aintree and Castle Combe had impromptu tracks laid. But, unlike other countries where karting started-up, the UK was also a hot-bed of motor-cycle engined karts. Elsewhere in the world the US-based industrial engined classes predominated. In the UK it was roughly 50:50.

Equally explosive was the speed of technical development. Classes I / II used American ideas, and by the end of the year the now widely-accepted three or four-rail chassis layout had made an early appearance. In Class IV the flexible tea-tray Fastakart had proved consistently superior to the rigid car-based spaceframe design common at that time. Amazingly, apart from wider wheels, bodywork, and hydraulic brakes, most of today's karts have much in common with 1960s designs.

Part 1

The BHKC would like to express their thanks to BHKC member, Brian Jordan, for writing this article.

History - Part 2  The story continues on US Airbases in the UK……

Art Ingels First Kart

Graham Hill at Lakenheath

Stirling Moss leads Innes Ireland on an export-model Trokart at Brands Hatch