Archive for the ‘Go Karts’ Category

That is a seat fit for king provided he is less than 48″ tall and has a Bugatti inspired go kart. In that case, yes this a go kart seat fit for a king.

Until now the boys have been driving the kart sans seat. That is there is obviously a place to sit, just no padding and the likes. They’re just kids, what creature comforts could they care about right? Well not only did I want them to enjoy riding the kart, but I also would prefer them not get a splinter on their backside. OK, and a seat would just look really cool as well.

A typical crowd at Denios Fleamarket.

I shopped around a bit at the local fabric stores in search of vinyl or something leather-like but kept coming up empty handed. Then it donned on me; the local flea market would surely have a vendor selling wholesale vinyl and the like! So early this past Saturday I recruited my oldest son and we headed over. I prefaced him with “Now remember we aren’t going to buy any toys, we just want to find some vinyl. OK?” He assured me he understood and off we went. We parked and began wandering the spots aimlessly for our vendor.

Of course we encountered no less than ten spots selling high quality plastic machine gun toys fresh from China (likely covered in lead based paint) to which I gently reminded him “No, remember why we are here…“. Since he got the hint on whether or not he could get one of these guns he decided to set his sights on the variety of ninja swords and switchblades that were also available. As tempting as it was to pickup a 48” sword for an eight year old to play with I figured it wasn’t a good idea so I introduced a diversion also known as a Cherry flavored Icee that seemed to settle the matter.

Cutting vinyl to fit our seat template.

We finally found a vendor that not only had a plethora of colored velour, but also the simple black vinyl we were looking for. For a mere $11.00 we had acquired exactly what we came for, and plenty of it I might add! The least they would sell me was 36″x54″ so we were plenty covered for our little seat and likely then some.

The next day I wholeheartedly dug into our project. Before I jumped though I paused for a bit to think about exactly how I would attach our vinyl, or rather what we would attach it to. You see our original plans called for an adjustable seat, that attached to what we already have. I opted not to have that additional weight and height (since we were already running out of room for the boys) but now I didn’t really have any other option except attaching the vinyl directly onto the existing seat…. or did I?

I thought about making a pattern with which to cut the vinyl thinking that cardboard would work great. As I was cutting it out, I thought “Why not just use the cardboard itself and attach the vinyl to it?” Heck, it worked for door panels in old cars right? Well actually those were more like very thin particle board but close enough. It would make the seat nice and light but also make it removable if I needed to repair it and we know all know what the odds of needing to do that are.

Gluing our sides of the vinyl around our cardboard backing.

First thing I did was to cut out some cardboard into two pieces; a shape matching that of the seat and another matching the back. Then I took these pieces and laid them onto the back of our vinyl and using a white crayon I sketched the shape that I would cut out of the vinyl. I made sure to sketch the line to cut approximately 2″ larger than the cardboard template itself. This extra vinyl would not only give us some extra to attach to the rear of the cardboard, but also enough extra to accommodate some poly fill we’ll be stuffing inside.

Filling our seat with poly-foam fill to make it nice and soft.

Once we had our shape cut out I carefully applied some fabric glue to the bottom portion of our cardboard and pulled the vinyl around, tightly holding it in place for a few minutes. This adhesive dried really quickly, but for good measure I put some weights on it for a bit and let it dry.

After about 20 minutes I then continued with the other two sides. After these were glued and dried in place I then stuffed some poly fill into the last open side, trying to evenly spread it out giving the seat a bit of a puffed up appearance. I was really surprised how firmly the cardboard was holding up. After I was satisfied with the fill I carefully applied more glue into the last edge and pulled our vinyl as snug as I could, over the edge, and onto the back. As with the other sides I held this firm by hand for a few minutes, followed by some weight for another 20-30 mins.

Both the back and the seat with our vinyl now attached.

Once the adhesive was dry I asked Luke what he thought of the seat so far. He held it in his hands and cautiously squeezed it, as if it were a package of Charmin. He smiled and said; “Ooh, it’s cozy.” I said “Yeah, I like it too.”

Next I repeated these same steps with the seat back as well, and in no time we had what appeared to be a complete go kart seat that didn’t look half bad. Really for $11.00 and a few hours work it really turned out pretty good.

With the seat back now dry enough to handle I slid them both into position on the kart. They fit like a glove. They actually fit snug enough that I may not even need to permanently attach them, though I could always place some velcro tape behind them just to be sure. Securing them with velcro would not only make them say put, but also make them easily removable for the inevitable repairs I mentioned earlier. Either way before I do anything else I’m going to go ahead and paint the interior black so the plain wood won’t be so noticeable.

A go kart seat fit for a king. OK, a rather small king.

All in all I’m very happy with this step. It was one of those things that you really don’t know how it’s going to turn out until you finish it. Come to think of it, this whole project has kind of been that way.

A real Type 35. Note the gas cap and radiator ornament.

Gas caps and radiator ornaments (or radiator caps)… form or function? Typically little of both I’d say. In our case however they’re nothing but form in that they have absolutely zero function.  Much like our exhaust, hood straps, louvers, and well you get the idea.

As with most of the rest of the vehicle, the original Bugatti Type 35 (as seen in the photo on the left) is chock full of form and function goodness. From the aluminum wheels to the boat tail.  The leather flight cap and goggles are pretty cool as well but are only along for the ride. You can also just make out the hood/radiator ornament as well as the faint image of the gas cap in the back.

PVC caps make for some decent fake car parts.

I could have gone hog wild and commissioned a billet piece of aluminum turned down to resemble these pieces but alas I don’t have an endless budget (nor time) for our little project. So my solution? Based on a recommendation from a friend I opted to go the PVC cap route.

Another suggestion I received was to use the plastic decorative cap from a sports trophy. Great idea but I wasn’t able to find something that I thought would be subtle enough, though the idea of having a soccer player in mid-execution of a bicycle kick was tempting I just thought it may be a bit much.

A simple bolt-looking 1/2″ cap for the radiator and a 1 1/2″ rounded cap for the back is what I figured we’d use. So we headed to the local Home Depot and picked them up. I think the both of them were less than a $1.00. When we got home I looked at them a bit closer. I noticed that they each had the manufacturer’s SKU embossed on the top as well as some minor imperfections. I took some sandpaper and removed the embossing and sanded them up a bit here and there. Because every other aspect of our kart was museum quality no reason these shouldn’t be either right?

All painted up and nowhere to go.

Once I was satisfied with the sanding down I went ahead and applied a couple coats of metallic silver paint. Although I didn’t go to the effort of using metal here, there wasn’t any reason to not have it appear so. Once we let the spray paint dry for a couple of hours (in the recent heat of the Sacramento valley I think it was dry in about 45 seconds) we were ready to figure out placement.

I wasn’t able to find a precise example of where to place either so I had to wing it. From what I could tell the radiator piece would typically be found directly over the center of the radiator, where the radiator chrome goes over the top. I didn’t quite make our radiator deep enough to accommodate the cap so I went ahead and just affixed it directly onto our front hood strap. That wasn’t going to go anywhere, and besides it’s not like it’s going overheat and I need to open it right? If you squint you can imagine that the cap could unscrew and the hood strap could have a hole in it. How’s that for justifying gluing the cap straight to the strap?

Our faux radiator cap. "Caution, contents under pressure." Not really.

As for the gas cap I placed it far enough behind the seat back that the boys were less likely to break it off. I say less likely because if any of you reading this have boys, you know as well as I that nothing is unbreakable. Your only hope is to reduce the likelihood.

After a few hours I removed the painters tape holding both of the PVC pieces in place to see how it all looked. Not too shabby, though I did realize that the gas cap looked like I had just taken the cap from a spray can and stuck it on. It’s pretty amazing how much adding little items like these give it so much more of a finished look.

Radiator and Gas Cap in place.

In the past as we’ve finished one step, I’ve set a goal for the next stage of our project, be it a window, seat, etc. So far I seem to get sidetracked each time so I’ll just leave a guess as to what our next step will be.

Maybe a seat, maybe a windshield, maybe brakes. Who knows. Regardless it’s an adventure.

A horrible picture of two cheap leather belts.

We’ve all seen them…men wearing both suspenders and a belt. I’ve never quite understood it. Is it a fashion statement? Or do they each, simultaneously serve some purpose? I’m a fan of suspenders with a suit and as for belts, I like to keep my pants up as much as the next guy but why both at the same time?

As much as I was on the fence for how to create the appearance of hood straps for our go kart I decided that we could fashion some out of some good old leather belts. Not because using suspenders would be a fashion faux pa, but rather because suspenders just wouldn’t look quite the same.

As with the rest of our kart I didn’t want put too much money into this addition (no sense in spending $50+ for two belts I was going to cut up) so I took to scouring the local Goodwill and garage sale looking for two black leather belts. The challenge with hitting places like this wasn’t finding two belts, it was finding two belts that matched. Finally, on a suggestion, I paid a  visit to the local Walmart.

Measuring the length for our first strap.

Now I’m not exactly a fan of Walmart and this not-so-quick trip reminded me of why. It wasn’t finding two cheap leather belts, no that was relatively painless. It was the dreaded check out. Each of the 25 registers was being commanded by a woman no less than 100 years old. To add to my adventure each of these women had their hands full since each person in line had one, sometimes two shopping carts full to the brim with the days special “Roll Back” deals. Many of the shopping carts were full of necessities such as The Varsity Snuggie, the Magic Jack, and very large bags of Cheetos.  While waiting my wife called me and asked what was taking me so long, I mentioned “Oh, I went to Walmart.”. She simply said “Why in the world did you do that?”. I was beginning to ask myself the same question.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I was headed home with our leather belts. At only $5.00 each, it may have been worth the wait, although I guess it’s debatable.

Positioning the buckle side of the front strap. Note the notch cut on the bottom.

The belts we picked up were each 36″. This would give us plenty of length to go across the hood and attach onto both sides of the body. First thing we did was measure the length we’d need, starting with the front strap. The strap would be placed right on the edge of the grill, true to the original Bugatti Type 35. Placing the strap here would also help to hide the “imperfections” in the hood a bit.

Once I measured the total length I determined exactly where I wanted the buckle. I held the buckle end against the side and made a mark on the leather where it would butt up against the frame. With this mark I then took a utility knife and cut the belt apart. The length was good, but I also had to cut notches on the end since part of the strap would sit on the upper control arm and the other portion will reach to where the body meets the frame rails. Once this was done we now had the one side ready to secure to our kart.

Painter tape and glue. Whatever it takes...

To secure it to the body I decided to go with good old Guerrilla Glue. This stuff is strong, strong as…. well strong as a guerrilla. I spread a small bead of glue onto the back of the leather belt, placed it onto the side of the kart and applied some tape to hold it secure.

Once the glue tacked up a bit I then taped whatever I could find to hold extra pressure to it, including some track from a Thomas The Train we had sitting around. The boys panicked when they saw that but I assured them it was for a good cause and wouldn’t be permanently stuck to the kart.

While this buckle side was drying I moved onto the rear buckle. I measured, cut and applied with more glue. Because this one went over the louvers and near the exhaust we trimmed a slight curve. With this piece cut to the correct length I also applied some glue and placed it against the body. It was a bit more difficult to keep it into position so as with the front I taped a few things against the body to hold pressure against the strap.

Both vintage-looking hood straps now in place.

After an hour or so for the first two to dry, I headed to the straps on the other side. As we had with the other, I cut a notch into the front piece and also cut an inch off the end where the holes were. It was just a bit too long. Once I trimmed the length I then rounded off the ends with some sandpaper so they didn’t look like I just hacked them off which of course was exactly what we just did. Here we are with one more step of progress on our kart. Next maybe a plexi-glass windscreen?

At this rate maybe I’ll finish it by the time the boys get their driver’s licenses.

Work to date.

To this point it’s hard to believe, but we’ve been working on our kart for a full year. By this time I should either have something the boys can ride, or be prepared to face the wrath of three impatient boys. And when they get impatient it’s ugly. It’s a situation that only an Otter Pop could spare me from. So I pressed on.

We were able to get our sprocket on nice and square, so I asked Nick to take ‘er for a spin. He made it all of 30’ when what I thought was yet again a simple chain derailment. Nope this time it was much more of a challenge, this time the point where the sprocket was attached to the crank had completely broken. It didn’t actually break per se but rather the mega-strong-cotter-pin (yes that’s the technical term) simply spun in it’s hole, which meant the sprocket would now turn as well.

You can see our cotter pin was totally sheered off.

Who knows what the heck I was thinking by expecting a soft cotter pin to hold that sprocket from spinning in place. Temporary insanity? Rushed by the echoes of “Dad, is it done yet?” in my head? Not sure but no matter. What was done is done. Or what’s broken is broken.

Think…think…. how could I repair this in a way that may last an hour…. a day? Heck maybe for good or all of eternity? OK, I’d settle for a few weeks. I realized that what I needed to do, and to be honest should have done all along is to mount a small jet on the back. After thinking twice in that my wife would probably notice that addition, I thought that what I probably should do instead  was to mount the sprocket with something stronger.

Drilling a larger hole through our pipe flange. We did the same to the crank.

The idea with cotter pin was good, just that we simply needed something stronger.

I went ahead and drilled the key whole in the crank, as well as the pipe flange that the sprocket mounts to, large enough that a 1/4″ screw could fit through. This hopefully would be strong enough to withstand the sheer Herculean strength that apparently the boys now clearly posses. They weren’t that strong when we started this thing! Just what the heck have we been feeding them anyway!?

With the hole drilled through both the crank and pipe flange I realized that I would need to grind off the sides of the bolt so that we could get it into the whole in the flange. Hopefully this would hold. To put all this work in up to this point and have stuff keep breaking, well to put it nicely, sucks. But alas, such as the life of a zany Dad and go kart builder right?

We drilled the hole just large enough for our bolt. Uh oh, the whole was too close to the side of the pipe flange and I can’t get the head of the bolt past it. Improvise right? Next I needed to grind own two sides of the bolt so that it would slide into the hole of the pipe flange, and then through into the crank. Par for the course really in that it didn’t fit at first so I kept grinding, checking, grinding and checking until voila. It fit like a champ.

Our ground bolt slips through our pipe flange just fine.

Next we buttoned it all back up. I slid the sprocket assembly back onto the crank, slipped our super custom bolt through the sprocket, and through the crank hole. It fit tight enough that it didn’t even need a nut on the other side, but I’ll put one on anyway. Just for fun.

I had one of the boys ride it down the street. Lo and behold, it made it all the way back without the chain falling off AND without the sprocket breaking off again. It’s a miracle. OK, maybe not a miracle but it’s a good thing nonetheless.

For the past few weeks I’ve been looking to getting stuff done like our seat, some leather straps over the hood, a horn, heck maybe even some headlights. Yet alas, here we find ourselves repairing work that we’ve already done! Arrggg.

Oh well. At least it’s now fixed. After all, it’s the journey, not the destination right? Now where was I again…

Brakes. Who needs ’em. Well, come to think of it we do…especially now that we’ve completely removed the coaster brake on our drive wheel. I know, I know, you’re thinking “Well, why did you go and do that? You had such a nice solution.“A couple of reasons.
First, as you know we needed to remount the rear wheels. The simple offset block of wood we had just wasn’t cutting it, and second was an observation I made with our coaster brake setup. You see I realized that no matter what I did, since we had move the coaster brake bracket to the opposite side of where the actual clutch mechanism for the brake itself exists, well the brake would never really work or at least work well. In fact after a few dry runs I realized that the setup we had would actually inhibit the wheel to gradually work loose each time you applied the brakes! Either that or the wheel would gradually lock up. Either way, as Luke would say “That’s bad.”.

To solve my problem with the brakes I just decided to simply gut the wheel hubs and remove the brakes altogether. By doing this I effectively made the hub a “free-wheel” (where you can pedal backwards, coasting, but engage the sprocket going forward).

After doing a fair amount of research to determine whether or not I could actually make the coaster brakes do what I wanted them to do (I even went so far as to say please) it was simply easiest to not use the coaster brake at all but rather build a hand brake system. We’ll get to actually building the brakes  on another day, first we needed to settle the wheel hubs and mount them. To solve the problem with the mounting I opted to completely eliminate the brake and axle assembly from each rear wheel. In lieu of the factory axle on each wheel we would use a single solid axle that would go through the frame, and through each wheel.

Drilling for our new rear axle.

I headed to Home Depot and picked up a 36″ length of 3/8″ steel rod. I decided I would run a single axle through the frame, and mount each wheel onto the axle. This would insure that the wheels were not only parallel but would give them that much extra strength to hold the riders weight.

First we needed to determine exactly where to put the axle. I realized after some earlier test rides that the wheels were a bit too far forward in that a heavier rider would have just enough weight behind the rear wheels that the front wheels would just barely come off the ground. Based on this I decided to move them back a good 2″. This will require we build a longer chain, but that won’t be too big of a deal.

Once we had our holes drilled we needed to determine exactly how we would hold the axle in place. I realized that the pipe floor flanges we had used earlier were perfect in that the axle would fit just right through the threaded hole.

Good ole pipe flanges. They've proven quite useful in this project.

With our axle holes drilled we positioned our pipe flanges on each side, marked the holes, and drilled mounting points.

Next with our flanges drilled and mounted we set our sights on the axle itself. We placed the rod into our bench vice and proceeded to thread approximately 5″ on one end. We used a die that was the same thread as that of our wheel axles, which will allow us to reuse all of the threaded pieces that came with the wheel. With each step I took here I constantly would ask myself “Now, why didn’t I do this to begin with ?”. The fact that I was being barraged with questions like “Dad, when is this going to be done?” and “Dad, can I ride the go kart now?” didn’t help either.

The threading process went quite smoothly with the boys chipping in here and there though they always seemed to have one ear cocked towards the street awaiting the now almost daily ice-cream-man pilgrimage.

Threading our axle to match the old ones so we can reuse the wheel hardware.

We threaded one side and slid our drive wheel into place on the axle. I intentionally only threaded the one side so that we could slide the axle into place to get a measurement of how much to cut off before we threaded the other side.

I carried the wheel and axle assembly over to our kart and slid the axle into the frame. Next I went to tighten the outer wheel nut in place and realized the outer wheel ball bearings had fallen out of the wheel somewhere during the 20′ journey I had just taken across the garage. I just had them… didn’t I? They’d turn up eventually I figured so I continued with the rough assembly to get a measurement of our axle.

Axle with one wheel mounted and one wheel hub removed.

I placed the axle into the frame, all the way through, and out the other side. We had at least 8″ of excess coming on the other side. I positioned the wheel approximately where it would be and measured how much length of axle it used. I then used that measurement on the other side and made a mark to indicate where we would cut off the excess length.

Next we pulled the axle and wheel back out of the frame and cut off the end we had just marked. With our axle now the proper length we then threaded the other side to prepare to mount this second wheel. I went ahead and repacked the wheel bearings of the second wheel since we will be assembling that wheel onto the axle next. While I was doing this I realized that my trusty assistant had disappeared into the house. I knew he had greasy hands so figured I’d try to catch him before my wife did. New couches + greasy hands =  bad news for sure.

I found him in the hall bathroom…washing the missing ball bearings in the sink. At least we found them, and now they were now clean, cleaned with hand soap no less.

Both wheels mounted with our axle through the frame.

With all of our hardware now present and accounted for we pressed on. I positioned the axle into place, reassembled the primary wheel with it’s found bearings, and attached our second wheel. The wheels looked nice and straight and strong to boot.

With the axle in place next we threaded 1/4″  bolts through each of the four holes in our pipe flanges. These not only provided a nice solid hole for the axle to go through, but also provided a bit of extra strength to hold it all in place with the four bolts. Solid wheels, solid axle, it was all looking quite good.

By this time it was about 7:00 pm. With the weather warm and longer days the boys were all playing outside. I asked one of them if he wanted to take a little test drive with the rear wheels remounted. Not only did he reply with; “Yeah!!!” but he proceeded to announce to every child on the street that their go kart was finished. Of course it wasn’t quite. I knew very well where this was headed. Within minutes a steady stream of children ranging from two to twelve were suddenly lined up in my driveway to take a spin with each screaming “I’m first! I’m first!”. Of course the chain wasn’t on yet so I found myself acting as an amusement park ride operator, pushing each child down the street only to turn around and do it again with the next in line. The smile on their faces and shouts of “This is awesome!” was well worth the lower back pain that I was later greeted with. After I was about half way through the line of children my wife opened the front door, smiled, and yelled: “Hey, is that an airplane?”.

Everyone’s a critic.

Next up our fancy new brakes…

To have reached this point has been pretty gratifying. Now that we have the paint all on, the number in place, I felt we could start putting it all back together. The front wheels went on quite easily and we also put our louvers back on. We also finally removed the last of the blue painters tape from the steering column and put the steering wheel all back in place. Now we’re cookin’ with gas as one might say.

Cutting off the end of our exhaust pipe.

Before I put the exhaust back into place I went ahead and trimmed the end that mounts into the engine compartment. If you remember back in “Chapter 13: Does an engine without an exhaust still make a noise?”, we ended up with the exhaust pipe hitting our crank pedal.
Before we had removed it I marked the spot where it would need to be trimmed with a Sharpie so all we had to do here simply was cut it. I went ahead and held it in place in a miter box (which worked surprisingly well) and cut it on the line we had drawn.

Because our exhaust is nothing but a kitchen drain pipe made of chrome plated brass it cut pretty easily. I wasn’t terribly concerned with it being a perfectly straight cut since it will be on the inside of the kart and not visible, but I tried best I could. Once the cut was through I then was sure to sand the now razor sharp edge to dull it up. Last thing I needed to do was have one of the boys slice their leg open while pedaling down the road. My wife would kill me. Once we were all done with this step it was just a matter of screwing it back onto the side of the body.

Our drive wheel mounted, showing the block that the wheel mounts to.

Onto the rear wheels. I’ve been thinking a bit about the mounting of the rear wheels. I think I’m going to go ahead and rebuild some new mounting blocks. I never had painted the original ones we had created and after putting the wheels back on I just don’t feel that they’d be strong enough or at least last very long so I don’t want to go to the effort of painting them only to have them break soon thereafter.
The alignment of blocks is also bit off, but more than that is the sheer strength. What I’ll do is rather than build a mounting block out of 1×6 as we had before, I’ll pick up a piece of 4×4 and cut it in a wedge shape to align the wheels straight, while also mounting flush to the frame. Am I really looking to rebuild these mounts to insure they’re strong enough, or am I not wanting to finish this project? Good question. I’m not sure I can answer that but probably both.

With the rear wheels now mounted, albeit temporarily, we have a rolling kart again. The kids are really excited to see it all back together. I went ahead and pulled it off the stand to get some shots when one of the boys enthusiastically asked if he could take a ride. Sure, why not. I said “It’s not ready to pedal, but I could push you around a bit.” He sat in it and wrapped his hands around the wheel and just grinned ear to ear.

All rev'd up and ready to roll.

He turned the wheel back and forth a bit and off we went down the street. It really was fun to see. I pushed him down the sidewalk and told him to go ahead and turn up the neighbor’s driveway where we would turn around and head back home. I thought I may have even heard him making some engine noises, but then I quickly realized what I heard in fact was the spokes on the front wheels scraping against the lower control arms. Ahh! Abort! Abort!

We limped ‘er back to the garage and I realized that in the haste to get some pictures of it all back together I neglected to put the spacer on the front wheels that moved them towards the outside to clear the arms. I removed the wheels, put our spacers into place, and put it them back on. And also took a mental note to not to make that mistake again.

You can see where our spokes grazed our control arm.

On closer inspection I think I can repair it aesthetically, but I’m worried that a crack may have been introduced. Even if there is I think that the strength of the upper will be strong enough to support it, but I’ll just keep my eye on it. Luckily I can remove it and replace it relatively easily from the bottom of the kart. Yet another loose end that could have me working on this a bit longer.

All in all we’re looking pretty good. The louvers, the grill, the steering wheel, the exhaust, each add that bit of detail to make this a pretty cool vintage go kart. In addition to resolving our rear wheel mounts and this new wonderfulness with the front wheel I’m looking to get a seat of some sort added. Oh, and maybe some headlights. I did a bit of looking around hoping to find a discarded bar stool with a back that I could take the upholstery off of. I thought a seat like that would be perfect but no such luck finding one (still glancing at the occasional yard sale though). As a last resort I could just head over to the local fabric store and pick up some foam and pleather I suppose.

Our seat, in desperate need for some upholstery.

For the next few steps I’m going to get going on getting the rear wheels mounted permanently with new blocks and get our chain back on and in business. I may have to make it longer with our remounted rear wheels.  If I can insure the front is solid (no cracks) then heck at that point we’d have a fully functional go kart and that would just be great.

If you happen to have any leads on some reproduction Schwinn bike headlights (chrome type) drop me a line.

Until next time…

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

Ahh, you thought I meant that grill. No, I’m talking about the grill of our kart… you know that part in the front that covers the radiator, etc. I took a fair amount of time to study my options here, mulling them over and over. This longer update I think will really reflect the thought we put into it.

An original, Type 35 grill.

If you’ve been following our progress, you know our kart is based on the Bugatti Type 35, whose unmistakable grill is… well, unmistakable. While keeping true to the original,  I also wanted to add a bit of our own unique flair. I just wasn’t quite sure how.

A friend commented that “You know, that car needs it’s own badge or logo…”. Little did I know just how much inspiration a bit of input from a good ole designer from down under would do me. The resulting logo was perfectly suited to find itself on our grill. Not to mention also perfect for maybe a t-shirt or two in the future.

The first thing I did was take a good look at our logo to determine exactly how it would be incorporated into the grill. Would I just stick it on? I could I suppose. Or would I incorporate it into the shell? I decided on the latter. Let’s see how clean we could include it. Worst case I figured was it would be disastrous and I’d start over.

A logo for our grill, courtesy of Moca Loca.

As you can see with our new logo, clearly we’re inspired by fellow Italians, Ferrari. And of course we had to include the boys in it…. after all they’ve put away a case of Otter Pops to this point in our project alone.

To house the logo I decided I would cut a shell that would surround our faux radiator. The shell will sit atop a piece of 1/4″ plywood that after painting black, we’ll then cover with window screen to give it that radiator slot appearance.

First I outlined the perimeter shape we wanted, onto some extra 1/2″ pine stock we had left over from earlier work. It took a bit of sketching to get the shape just right, so that we could have enough of a gap around the logo to be able to see it completely.

Our basic grill shape ready to get cut out.

After I was happy with the grill shape I then drilled a number of starter holes into the corners to make it easier to get our jig saw around.

I figured cutting this out was going to be a bit tricky since I would be cutting around the perimeter, as well as cutting out the interior. The goal here was to leave a shell that would have a large exposed area in the center, as well as a hole where the logo would be placed. And I wanted to do this preferably without splitting the wood.

First I cut the perimeter, then slowly cut the interior away, followed by the small area where the logo would be placed. My fear was that the vibration would cause the wood to split, but luckily this never happened. After some very cautious cutting we finally ended up with our shell.

Our shell cut out and ready to be finished off.

Next I spent some considerable time with some 80 grit sand paper and worked my way around the inside and outside of our shell smoothing out all the rough edges. I even went ahead and rounded off the corners to give it just a bit of a more finished appearance.

Cleaning up the area where the logo will appear through was kind of tough in that the area was so tight. As luck would have it I had a 1/2″ wide file that was perfect to get in there and smooth the edges out. After I was able to smooth out the whole thing I went back over it with some 220 grit sand paper. It was nice and smooooooth.

Next I turned to the simulated radiator itself. That piece will sit directly behind this shell. We’ll be painting the shell silver (or as close to chrome as I can get it), so sitting on top of the black radiator it should really have a nice contrast, not to mention it will break up all that blue paint.

Our shell and the backing for it.

I placed our shell onto a scrap of 1/4″ plywood and drew the shape we needed. Next I cut out the shape and placed our shell over it to see how it all will all sit together. A pretty nice fit.

Before we painted this piece I wanted to get our window screen cut to fit.  Once mounted the screen will give the appearance of the edges of a genuine radiator, adding just enough texture.

I placed the backing on the ground and placed a large section of window screen over it. Using scissors I then cut around the edge, generously leaving about a 1/4″ excess around the edge. We’ll come back and trim a bit closer later.

I then put our shell over that screen, and borrowing a white crayon from the boys, I then made some marks to indicate the shape of where the logo will go. You see I only want the screened portion to be in the larger area, and the area the logo will be affixed to will simply be only black.  Once I was happy with the screen I then trimmed it to be exact size.

Our shell and backing all painted with the screen trimmed to fit.

With the screen all trimmed, we next covered both pieces with some primer to prepare them for some paint.  After the primer was dry we then hit our radiator plywood portion with a coat of flat black lacquer.  While that was drying we turned our attention to the shell. We shot the shell with a coat of silver lacquer, then after an hour hit it with a second. We then let both pieces dry for a full 24 hours. When we came back we now had to figure out how to put it all together.

Now which should go first? Should I mount it all together and then put it the kart? I thought about this for a bit. I thought about the target audience (the three boys) who were bound to ram this thing into a curb (or similar obstacle) and break the upper and/or lower control arms. With that in mind I needed to be able to remove and replace them. Since this radiator/grill would be sandwiching the upper control arm between it and the frame rails I decided I would screw it onto the kart. This way I could remove it if I needed to later.

With this decided I then put the logo into place. Given a high quantity run of go karts, I’d go for a silk screened logo or sticker directly onto our radiator or something like that. Since I’m putting this together with essentially what I have around I simply printed the logo onto high quality UV resistant photo paper.

Affixed logo and counter sunken screw holes, ready for mounting.

Not very high tech, but sometimes you gotta work with what you got. With this printed out, I cut it cleanly along the edge, and brought out the crazy glue and glued it into position on the “radiator”. I trimmed it so that it would slightly reveal the black color of the radiator around it.

With the decision to screw the entire structure onto the kart next I drilled pilot holes, counter sinking the holes so I can have the screws flush.

Remember we’re going to assemble the pieces onto the kart, one at a time. First we’ll screw the “radiator” (or black plywood) into place, mount the cut screen over it, and finally we’ll glue the shell into place. As I noted above, assembling it in this order will allow us to simply unscrew the three mounting screws and the entire assembly will come off the kart allowing access to the upper control arm.

I placed the backing onto the kart, holding it into position, and ran the three mounting screws into place. Next I carefully drove the screws in a bit below the surface so that they set flush on the plywood. Once they were in tight I then used a black Sharpie pen to color the screws black. They’ll be covered by the screen, but this will help to make them a bit more inconspicuous.

Shell glued into place over our screened radiator.

With this step completed next I glued the pre-cut screen onto our black plywood radiator. The screen covered our screws and ran right up to the edge of the black wood backing, sitting flush all the way around.

Once this was dry I then did the same with our silver shell. With the shell I ran a generous amount of adhesive onto the back of the shell, and then carefully pushed it against the radiator and screen already mounted on the kart.

Nothing with our project has been perfect to this point, so why should this step be any different? You can see some of the rough edges that we missed, the paint on the shell isn’t quite perfect, but so what. It’s got character.

Overall the silver of it really provides a nice break-up from the large areas of Blue that we have. A little contrast is really nice to see here.

Holding it all together while the adhesive dried.

To hold all of our assembly in place I went ahead and wrapped the front end generously in painters tape to hold pressure against the grill, effectively pulling towards the back of the kart.

After a few hours of dry time I carefully removed the tape holding it all in place. I half expected it to simply fall onto the floor, but luckily that didn’t happen. I was really happy to see it all held and didn’t look half bad. The window screen really worked out well to provide a hint of a radiator grill. It has just enough texture.

I’m half tempted to wrap some chrome duct tape over the gap that remains between the radiator and the front of the kart, but I may just leave it.  Adding it would help to hide some of the imperfections from where we mounted the aluminum hood, but I don’t think I could get the tape to lay flat enough to look better than what it does now. I think I’ll just leave it. I could always place a leather strap near this gap as well. We’ll revisit some of these steps later.

As I mentioned to someone I went with to the Good Guy’s All American car show this weekend while looking at a customized early Ford… “Sometimes enough is enough.”.

Our custom grill and radiator all in place.

This step took a fair amount of time and creativity and I’m really happy with the way it turned out. Not perfect, but just right.

I’ll have to keep my eyes open for something that resembles a radiator cap that I can stick on top. I’ve seen cases where people have used lids from jam jars, etc. If you have any suggestions drop me a comment.

Until our next update…

Hard to believe we started this kart on Father’s Day 2009, but as they say, getting there is half the fun. In our last weekend we were able to get the body all taped off and primered. Since then our ghost of a kart has just been taunting me from the garage. I’d walk by and think “Man is that ugly…” but luckily this stage is only temporary.

This most recent weekend I was bound and determined to get some color on our kart. My wife asked me if we had anything planned, but before I could respond she reminded me that we had cub scouts, baseball opening day, and two birthday parties to contend with. But I want to paint the go kart? I found that it was best to not let on just how much time I was willing to spend on this little project, often going so far as to pretend I forgot all about it. But I think she knows.

We needed a fluorescent lightbulb so I had the perfect excuse to find myself at Lowes. Conveniently I found myself in the paint aisle so I started looking at one color after another wondering just what we should paint our kart. Granted, the house paint aisle at the local hardware store isn’t typically where one would go to find paint for a car of sorts, what with the selection of Disney and Ralph Lauren crackle paint to choose from. As tempting as a faux leather wash would be, I just wanted to find a vintage color that was reminiscent of those vintage cars. A red, the given Bugatti blue, black, or even a vanilla or off white would look great.

I pulled out my iPhone (where I just happened to have a Bugatti picture) and realized that I just had to go with the old stand by. It was decided. I found myself leaving Lowe’s with a gallon of  Lowe’s Olympic brand paint, color A52-2 Magical Merlin, or as we would call it Bugatti Blue, semi-gloss. And of course my fluorescent lightbulb.

Think of it as a really big canvas...

We had our kart all taped up from the previous work so there really wasn’t much left to do except dig in and start painting. The paint went on as you would expect, like house paint.

Since we were covering with a fairly dark color (vs say eggshell on a wall) I was a bit surprised how much it took to cover the white primer. Not the whole gallon, but a few coats for sure. We started at the tail and worked our way down the frame and around the front.

The front upper and lower control arms were a bit tedious to get the brush into the nooks and crannies, and clearly a spray can would have done the trick just fine. But again, I just didn’t want to deal with the overspray and all that fun stuff.

One of the boys started off helping but I sensed he could recognize my apprehensiveness when he painted. I had this vision that the paint was all splashed on and was just a mess, and when he started painting in all directions I’d find myself saying “Ahhh, here let me help you…” only to stop myself from yanking brush out of his hand. I kept reminding myself, he’s having a good time here as well, so I let him continue on.

Side to side, not up and down.

We kept on with our work. After a bit Nick ran off to scatter various toys up and down the street so I was left to my own devices. The challenge was that I had a birthday party pick up for our oldest son in about an hour. I could do it.

I went around the front, covering the grill, and then down the passenger side meeting back up again with the tail where we had started. Since all the hardware was still taped off with blue 3M painters tape, and the entire kart was now blue, it was starting to resemble something a Smurf may drive around.

One of the boys came up and when it was mostly completely covered and simply said “Dad that’s a whole lotta blue.” I wanted to reply with “Whole lotta Bugatti blue…” but I just asked him what he thought. He loved it.

A go kart a Smurf would be proud of.

It does seem like one big blue blob, but you have to remember we’re going to get our chrome exhaust back on, paint some racing numbers, etc. It’s going to look great I think when we’re all set.

With the exterior of the body now painted I wondered what am I going to do with the interior? In hindsight it would have been a good idea to have painted the body on the inside as I assembled it. But live and learn. I’ll do that with the next one. The boys are each now asking for their own, with of course a motor.

I’d like to figure out if I can simply get some pleather for a seat but we’ll have to see. Next step will be to get our pieces back on, and tackle the grill I think. I have some great ideas on using window screen so stay tuned for that one.

Oh yeah, happy birthday Dad.


When I was in high school I took an automotive bodywork class. The course included repairing dents, painting cars, welding, playing with a plasma cutter, etc.  Great stuff.  It was a good class and I learned a lot, but one of the most vivid things I remember is the teacher telling us that painting anything, cars or otherwise, is 80% prep work. You can have the most expensive paint, the best gun, a great environment to paint with, but if you don’t prepare it’s all worthless. I remember this as well as the fact that the teacher inexplicably drove his truck through the gate of the body shop yard, but that’s a different story.

A quick break before we dive into our prepwork.

With our kart clearly we’re not painting a full size car, but I did feel we needed to do a fair amount of prep work before we even could consider applying any color to our kart. The first thing we needed to do was remove the wheels, exhaust, etc. It was a bit sad in a way, to have put so much effort to getting the exhaust just right, the wheels in place, the steering linkage, etc. only to say “OK guys, now let’s take it all apart.” Amazingly the boys were not only fine with this, but they really dug in and helped… no really… seriously… what you don’t believe me?

Before we began they asked if they could sit in it one more time before we took most of the pieces off. Oh, and of course, they asked if they could have an Otter Pop as well.

With our Otter Pop break out of the way they got out their tools and went to work. First we put the kart up on our saw horses. The height was just perfect for the boys with the work right at eye level. You could almost say it was their car lift of sorts.  Next I told them we first needed to remove the front wheels.

We started with removal of the front wheels.

I had them each remove one wheel, pull it off and set it aside.  With the front wheels off we then moved to the back. With the wheels off I asked them to place the washer and nut back onto the wheel axle so we wouldn’t lose them. One of the boy’s asked me “What did you call that Dad?”, I replied “What, you mean this washer?”.

He then asked me in a very matter-of-fact way “Why do they call it a washer, it’s not cleaning anything?”. You know he did have a good point. Leave it to a six year old to point out the obvious.

The rear wheels were somewhat of a two-man, or rather two-boy, job in that one of them had to hold a nut that ran through the frame while the other loosened it from the outside.

While they were doing this I was reminded of working in various repair shops years ago, and being under a car that was on the lift at roughly the same level. I was working at a local Montgomery Wards Auto Center.

I had just started working at this shop a day or so before and hadn’t had a chance to bring my own tools into the shop, so my boss graciously let me borrow his. He had a brand new Snap On roll-away. This was the big-daddy of tool boxes. Now things of this level tool box are commonplace, but this was roughly 25 years ago. This tool box had everything, including a built in stereo.

I had a small, front-wheel drive, car on a hoist in front of this tool box. I lifted the hoist, raising the car where the wheels were at my eye level. I then proceeded to remove the wheels, starting with the rear. Let me remind you we had a front wheel drive car,  in the air… with no rear wheels. You can probably guess where this is headed.

Once I removed the second rear wheel I immediately realized I had the car a bit too far forward on the hoist… and it began to take a nose dive into my boss’ tool box. Yes, I soiled my pants, but only after I jumped on the rear bumper as it shot into the air to level the car.

Luckily it didn’t slide off the hoist, and my boss was never to the wiser. For at least a week after that experience I never lifted a car higher than 12″ off the ground on the hoist.  Word of advice… don’t do that.

A bit of wood putty here and there never hurt anyone.

With our wheels all removed from the kart we then removed the exhaust. With this stuff out of the way we could sand all our rough spots and fill in the screw holes with a bit of wood putty. I say a “bit” but one could go so far as to say I applied it quite liberally.

Where we used the most putty was where I wanted to make as smooth a transition as possible to our moulding on the tail. This process required adding putty, drying, sanding, and repeating for what seemed like days. The weather was a bit cool so the putty didn’t want to dry as fast as it otherwise would have.

After some time sanding we were all covered in saw dust and powder from the dried wood putty. Without any suggestion the boys ran off and found some safety goggles to help them with the dust in their eyes. I was really surprised to see how much they were into our progress, it was great to see.

Once we sanded off all the rough edges we took some 3M painters tape and covered the steering spindles and the top of the steering column.  Had I had the room and flexibility I would have preferred to use spray paint, but we went ahead with a foam brush and applied a nice couple of light coats of Kilz exterior primer/sealer to the entire kart.

A white ghost of a go kart. Thank you iPhone for the lackluster lighting.

The wood was all ready to have the primer applied. As for the steel part I wasn’t sure if it would stick. To be sure I went ahead and roughed it up with some really fine sand paper. The kart was really looking ugly at this point, but I knew it would work out in the end. Or at least I hoped so.

We let the primer dry for a day or so, then applied a second coat just for good measure. I’m beginning to see the result of our hard work.  At this point I realized that in pretty short order I’d have to decide on a color for this thing.

Since day one I’ve been on the fence as to whether I should go traditional, “Bugatti Blue”, or something a bit different but with the same vintage feel.  Decisions, decisions.

Until the next afternoon I can squeeze in some progress…