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The First Off-Road Go-Kart Ever Manufactured

Off-road go-kart travels through a big puddle in Bristol.

Once the joy of go-karting had been invented, established and developed into an entirely new discipline of motorsport, it would not take long for the same types of enterprising minds to take the concept off-road as well.

There are few thrills quite as enjoyable as go-karting off-road in a dedicated, small, nimble all-terrain vehicle, but the story of the first vehicle to bring this joy to a mass audience is an unusual one.

It is a story of successfully translating the simple pleasures of go-karts away from tarmac, before designing an updated model so opposed to these basic concepts it ultimately led to the discontinuation of a pioneer.

Here is the odyssey of the Honda Odyssey.



Before the name would be used for a range of people carriers, Honda’s Odyssey was, whilst not the first off-road go-kart ever made, the first mass-produced go-kart designed with off-road tracks in mind.

The DNA from go-karts is obvious in the first-generation models made from 1977 until 1980. Aside from the yellow bodywork, the rollbar and the much bigger, heavy-duty tyres, the Odyssey looks very much like a go-kart.

There were some flaws in this initial design, with the initial frame lacking a rear suspension, leading to the frame cracking quicker than most drivers would like, and it wasn’t the most comfortable machine in especially rough terrain. 

However, with a 250cc two-stroke engine and a continuously variable transmission, it was exceptionally popular, and all but popularised off-road racing as an activity on the level of its on-track and indoor counterpart.

Whilst off-road driving is an exceptionally complex endeavour, especially with the rise of modern 4x4s and SUVs, the Odyssey brought the purity of kart racing to much tougher terrain and was exactly as fun as that sounds.



By 1981, the Odyssey had evolved significantly, to the point that it far more closely resembles the UTVs and ATVs that are popular on off-road tracks to this day.

To that end, the rollbar was extended to become a complete roll cage, it had a redesigned steering column to allow for much tighter turns, better padding on the shoulder harnesses to ensure drivers could take the bumps better, and the headlights were moved from the bumper to the roll bar itself.

It was also styled in Honda’s more conventional red colour rather than the yellow of the original FL250.


Losing Touch

However, by 1985, the warning signs were starting to emerge about Honda’s understanding of what made the Odyssey so popular amongst off-road enthusiasts.

The FL250 was replaced in 1985 with the FL350R, which featured a wider body, larger track, more powerful engine and a complete suspension system alongside a more elaborate roll cage.

In many respects, this was an improvement, but it also made it bigger and more expensive, something that was accentuated by the FL400R Pilot in 1989.

Instead of being simple, enjoyable, nimble go-karts, these new vehicles were far closer to off-road buggies, which are typically road cars converted to off-road use, such as the famous VW dune buggies popular in the 1960s.

This made them more expensive, especially for purpose-built vehicles that could not be used on roads, and Honda would discontinue the entire Odyssey line just a year later.

However, whilst the end of this story is unfortunate, it did lead to the creation of a dedicated off-road community and vehicles that are still popular to this day.