At a time when pushing the limits of speed was in vogue, Karting didn’t want to be left out
This photograph was taken in January 1965, less than 6 months after Donald Campbell set a new land speed record of 403 mph in Australia. Campbell’s record prompted Eduardo Perrone, president of the Royal Kart Club in Milan, to ask what speed a 100cc direct drive kart engine could achieve. He contacted the Parilla factory and was supplied with a GP15L motor that had been modified to produce high peak power. Whereas the Bristol Siddeley Proteus turbine engine powering Campbell’s Bluebird produced over 4,400 horse power, figures for the Parilla were a meagre 15bhp.Even so, Perrone was confident that this motor could exceed the “ton” on a suitably flat stretch.
Antonio Bosio had established the Tonykart concern some four years earlier in his garage at Prevalle. Bosio had initially raced Italkarts in the 125cc gearbox class but found that they were unsuited to the additional power. Henceforth he designed and built his own chassis, establishing a strong customer base. At Perrone’s request he modified one of his karts, removing the seat and steering hoops to provide a complete lay down chassis. An extended floor tray ran back to the rear axle and was covered by a thick mattress of foam rubber. As the driver lay face down, throttle and brake pedals were mounted on an extended rear bumper with racing cycle toe clips added for extra security. Right and left levers replaced the conventional steering wheel with Plexiglass fairing extending to the driver’s shoulders.
A longer than normal straight exhaust pipe was designed to achieve high brake horse power over a narrow rev band. The kart was 3 inches longer than allowed under existing regulations, but track and wheelbase remained in accordance with normal limits. 5 inch Pirelli tyres were used. Obviously, the gearing was very high with a ratio of 3 – 1 rather than 8 – 1 that you’d expect on an average sized British circuit at that time. It meant that normal starting methods would have been ineffective and so a 125cc gearbox kart was used to provide a push. The next task was to find a lightweight driver short enough to fit into the kart. Livio Bolis fitted the bill perfectly.
Campbell’s record had been achieved on the bed of Lake Eyre. Under ideal weather conditions this dried out lake provided a completely flat surface. However hitting the right sort of weather involved eight months of patient waiting and expenses obviously rose to astronomical proportions during this period. With no real budget available, Perrone had to be less choosy. He simply booked a half hour session during the interval between races at Monza in January and hoped for decent weather.
A kilometre was marked out along the main straight at Monza and timing apparatus installed. Livio did a couple of laps to warm up the Parilla motor and then began his first run. He covered the distance in an average time of 16.8 seconds which converted into a speed of 133.5mph. Despite the very high gearing Livio’s rev counter showed a reading of 13,000rpm. News of this rather astonishing feat spread rapidly throughout the European karting fraternity. The CIK (Commission Internationale de Karting) had been established three years earlier as an FIA subcommittee. Unfortunately they didn’t recognise Antonio Bosio’s creation as constituting a proper kart as it was three inches too long. Thus Livio’s time never found a place in the record books, despite Monza officials verifying it as an accurate measurement.
The Tonykart had been built as a one off venture and, for safety reasons alone, couldn’t take part in any proper kart races. Perrone’s Parilla GP15L, though, was the genuine article. It was subsequently purchased by Bruno Ferrari and actually raced in several British karting events. Donald Campbell’s record was set at three times the speed reached by Livio Bolis. In comparative terms, however, I’d say that Livio’s was the more surprising achievement.
I have no idea what happened to Bolis afterwards. Campbell’s fate, on the other hand, has been well documented. On Wednesday morning, January 4th, 1967 Donald was attempting to surpass his own water speed record on Coniston Lake, about 60 miles from my home. He completed his first run within the target time and was even quicker on his return journey. Before completion, however, Bluebird left the water and performed a graceful backward somersault. Campbell was killed instantly. His body lay in the lake for more than 36 years before being recovered on May 28th, 2001.