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The Predecessor To The Off-Road Go-Kart

Lots of Off-road karts racing around a track.There is a pure joy to off-road go-karting; it is all the thrills and spills of driving on rough, muddy terrain in a safe but simple and exceptionally nimble vehicle, combining the simple joy of go-karting with all of the simple joys of the great outdoors.

Interestingly enough, this is the result of the intersection between two institutions of motorised fun that emerged at roughly the same time in the late 1950s, becoming more popular in the 1960s and establishing themselves as an institution in the 1970s.

One of these was Art Ingels’ go-kart intended for use on tarmac race circuits, but the other was catalysed around the same time by a passion brought back to the United States from the European Theatre.

Dancing On The Dunes

The earliest predecessor to the off-road go-kart was arguably the Willys Jeep, the light, off-road military vehicle designed in the United States and used by the Allied forces in the Second World War.

As is common with a total war of the scale seen in the 20th century, thousands of soldiers conscripted to join the US Army learned to drive off-road and built a passion for it that remained long after the war ended.

Thanks to the G.I. Bill, these returning soldiers had enough disposable income to engage in that passion for themselves and started to buy up Jeeps from the surplus market to replicate that thrill.

However, there were only so many Jeeps around the civilian world, so some early drivers instead opted to cut the roofs off of cars instead and use them on the sand dunes, although they were far less capable of being driven off-road than the military truck designed for the purpose.

That was, at least, with one major exception.

The Volkswagen Beetle is the longest-running and most manufactured single car platform ever made, being produced for 65 years and with over 21.5m examples produced.

It was small, economical and simple in its design, with an air-cooled engine that was easy to run and easy to fix for someone with basic mechanical knowledge.

What these engineering enthusiasts found very quickly is that a stock Bug is light enough and versatile enough to drive almost everywhere, as long as it had a suitable skid plate to protect the underside.

This led to the creation of the beach buggy, an entire class of open-top off-road vehicles that took 

full advantage of the adjustable suspension, rear engine design and cheap, plentiful parts, becoming a sensation by the early 1960s.

Arguably the most famous, enduring and influential design was the Meyers Manx, a heavily modified Beetle that inspired some of the earliest off-road go-karts, to the point that the original Honda Odyssey, the ATV credited with inventing the concept, bears a very close resemblance.

Modern off-roading karts bear more of a resemblance to the sandrails, to the point that many of them look like go-karts with larger engines and sand tyres instead of the all-terrain ones used for off-roading.

Regardless, what they all share is a purity of motoring fun, giving a driver four wheels and an engine to take on the world.