How A Failed Lawnmower Inspired The First Go Kart

Go-Kart sepeeding around the Bristol track.The late legendary racing driver Ayrton Senna called go-karting the most breathtaking of all motorsports, and it is not difficult to see why.

There is a pure thrill and joy to off-road karting, with light, fast and very manoeuvrable vehicles nimbly dancing around excitingly bumpy and dusty tracks, and as a vehicle concept the go-kart is one of the best examples of a simple idea perfectly executed.

This is somewhat ironic, given that the go-kart as we know it only exists as a result of abject failure.

The West Bend Company was a Wisconsin-based business that, like a lot of companies too big to be small and too small to be big, tried their hand at a lot of different businesses.

One of these was creating rotary engines, typically used as outboard motors for boats, after buying Kissel Industries in 1944.

After buying the engine-building technology, the company looked into what they could do with them besides powering boats, and one possible option was as a lawnmower engine fitted to a body designed by McCulloch.

The bad news was that the lawnmower was a disaster; the engineering of the blades and bodywork was so bad that the machine often shook itself to pieces very quickly, but the good news was that the West Bend engine was fantastic.

The best news for Art Ingles, a fabricator at one of the greatest Indianapolis 500 race car builders of the era, was that this meant that the engines were really cheap, reliable and fast enough if you didn’t have too much excess weight.

He built a tube-frame kart and showed it off at a local car park, which inspired friends of his to build their own and before people knew it, the first-ever go-kart races were taking place in the giant car parks surrounding the Rose Bowl.