Ancient & Modern – Old karts get a second chance

As everyone should now be aware, the sport of karting is 50 years old this year. As a double celebration, Karting magazine is 600 issues old with this, the March edition. Congratulations to Alan and Mark Burgess. We have a fantastic opportunity in 2006 to show modern day karters how things used to be done nearly 50 years ago. Racing was often on makeshift airfield sites, with the track marked out by straw bales and old tyres. Protective equipment consisted of a pudding basin crash helmet, goggles and the obligatory white boiler suit. The sport was so new and exciting that huge crowds made their way to the meetings to see this new craze. One particular meeting held by the International Kart Club at Membury Airfield in 1960 attracted 5,000 spectators on one day.

This new sport was to shape the future careers of legends such as Roger Keele, Dick Tarrant, Chris Lambert, Bev Bond, Chris Merlin, Roger Williamson, Kelvin Hesketh any many more. Some, such as Roger Keele’s father Mike would build a thriving business from the new craze, firstly trading as Keele Engineering, then as Speedcraft, designing and producing top specification racing karts such as the Speedcraft Matador that would dominate Class IV racing during the sixties. Mike had a good head for business and was a major supplier of Villiers engines to the karting world during the early sixties, later being the sole importer for the Bultaco K200 kart engine that dominated Class IV Super for many years. Others such as Dave Hockey would devote a whole lifetime to the sport through his busy kart shop in Shepton Mallet and trading at West Country kart circuits, as well as his work with the RAC Kart Committee. Dave was never one to mince his words but always worked for the good of the sport.

Other well known West Country drivers were Bernie Bowsher, John Brock, Gerald Philpotts and Clive Davis. Bernie Bowsher was a skilled Villiers tuner and his engines were much in demand during the early sixties. As well as tuning Villiers kart engines he also worked on the Villiers engines for Dave Bickers during his successful early scrambling career. Bernie favoured the Barlotti chassis and tuned the engines for Clive Davis who was successful on Long circuits with this combination. Bernie was also responsible for tuning the Bultaco engines used by Chris Lambert during his short but successful karting career. Chris used the Speedcraft Matador chassis which was dominant at the time. John Brock also used a Matador for a while but traded it in to Dave Hockey for a new Blow Meteor in 1967. The Matador sat in Dave’s showroom for over 30 years. For some reason he just did not want to sell it! I acquired it after Dave’s untimely death, complete with a K200 Bultaco.

After restoring it, I sold it to to Mike and Tony Keele. It seemed like the right thing to do and I think Dave would have liked to know that it was going back to the man who built it. Tony Keele now runs the kart very competitively at historic kart demonstrations. Hopefully during the 2006 celebrations, demonstrations and events will take place up and down the country to remind us of the way things were fifty years ago. A new club with myself as Chairman has been formed to help kart clubs organise and run historic kart demonstrations during karting’s golden anniversary year. Contact the Spirit of the Sixties Kart Club on 01380 730585 for further details. Jon Pearce Next Month: 100cc Engine Restoration continued.