Chapter 19: What’s in a number?

Posted: April 15, 2010 in bugatti go kart, Go Karts, painting a go kart, vintage go kart
Tags: , ,

One, two, or three, what’s in a number? Numbers on race cars…they’re just random, arbitrary digits slapped onto a shiny paint job right? Think again. Most if not all have some sort of story behind what and why they are.

Herbie the Love Bug, courtesy of HerbieMania.com

Take one of my kids favorite cars, Herbie. This race car (if you can call it that) is from one of the boys’ favorite movies of all time…. Walt Disney’s Herbie The Love Bug. No, not the more recent one, but the original from 1968 starring Dean Jones, Buddy Hackett and of course Herbie. In this film Herbie, a 1963 Volkswagen Bug, participates against all odds in random road races. Prior to entering these races he is painted up like a race car with stripes and of course his number. The number he’s donned with is good ole “53”.

Just a random number right? Nope, rumor has it that the cast/crew were fans of Baseball Hall of Fame Pitcher, Don Drysdale of the LA Dodgers. So as you see there’s always a story and with our little kart it’s no different.

“What number should we put on your kart guys?” I asked. In unison I heard: “Five!”, “Eight!”, and “Fifteen!”. At least we could all agree. I thought adding a number would make our kart really look the vintage part but I needed to settle this debate first.

White circle paper template for our outline.

I suppose I could have picked a random number myself, but I worried they would just hold a grudge against me for the rest of their lives. “Remember that time Dad built us a go kart and HE insisted on picking the number? Yeah, that was a bummer.” I can see it now. I decided I would use the number “7” since it fell right between them in age. Besides it’s a lucky number.

Now that we decided on the number, I wondered how to apply it. I had briefly thought of just taking the whole kart over to a sign shop or getting some vinyl lettering cut for it but decided against it. Not just for the cost but I figured that hand painting would continue that trend we’ve set of folk-artish-not-perfect-home-built-go-kart sorta look. Yes that’s a very technical term I know.

I decided to put our numbers onto the tail just at the point of the top body bend. I have a poster of vintage Ferrari’s in the garage and took a cue from many of their numbers in that I decided to apply a white circle and have the number within it and edge of the circle in black.

Borrowing a mixing bowl from the kitchen cupboard, I drew a circle onto a piece of paper approximately 8″ in diameter. Next I cut the circle out along the line making a template. Holding the circle up to our kart I then drew a faint line with a pencil around our paper template.

A faint sketch of our 7 and our circle starting to fill in.

Once we had the circle in place I then carefully sketched a number “7”, slightly turned up at a 45 degree angle (for sheer coolness), in the center of the circle. Once I was happy with this I went and did the same thing on the other side.

Next I took some bright white, matte, latex paint I had sitting around. I carefully painted inside our circle, but around the number “7” we sketched.

Little by little I filled in our circle getting right up to the edge of our penciled “7”. Although I knew I would coming back along the number with black paint I still wanted to get as nice clean edge as possible around the number and the perimeter of the circle itself.

As the paint began to dry I noticed the texture it was leaving. It was as if, well as if it were house paint applied with a brush, which of course it was. We had applied paint to the body of the kart in exactly the same way, which also has just a hint of brush strokes, so at least we were being consistent.

Our complete white base ready for the black fill and outline.

Once I was finished with our driver’s side I then moved over to the other. After I applied an initial coat to each I went back and applied an additional coat for good measure. I took a bit to get a good coverage over the blue base but eventually we got it all done.

Now that we had both sides complete with the white I let it dry a day or so and was next able to apply a solid outline and fill for the number. I headed over to Lowe’s and picked up a sample size can of black latex paint. You figure we don’t have much to cover so a small 10 oz. can would be more than enough for what we needed to cover.

First I filled in the number and carefully applied a 1/4″ or so outline around the circle. It was a bit tough to cover both the white and the blue base, so I found I had to go over it a few times.

Our finished race number, outlined and filled.

As I was filling it all in I realized that the screws that I previously didn’t like were growing on me. I feel they almost give the kart a bit of an industrial look, almost like a school bus. After finishing the drivers side I moved on over to the passenger side. Once I was completed there I went back and applied a second coat to the driver and returned again to the passenger side.

A bit of back and forth, but it dried quickly and as a result it was easy to get that additional coat on there. It turned out I had quite a bit left so I went ahead and also added a coat to the dash board, which to this point is just primer.

After only a couple of hours work, voila. We have our race number. Herbie the Love Bug it’s not, but it does have that vintage race car appearance. A hint of roughness to the edges but that just matches the overall roughness of the kart.

Both race numbers in place on the tail.

The look from above wasn’t too bad either, with the top of each circle just slightly curving over the top. We’re finally complete now with the painting of this project. We have our base, our numbers, and heck even a coat of black applied to our dashboard.

Finally, the complete reassembly is on the horizon.

Until next time

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