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The Biagi 701 Special kart

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This photograph was taken at Rowrah back in October, 1963, just before a Class 1V Super Heat got underway. Nearest the camera, wearing black leathers and jet fighter helmet is Paul Biagi. John Hilton is placed alongside him with Harry Steele half out of the picture. The Rowrah circuit had been open for almost 6 months, but this was just our 3rd official race meeting. Many competitors in those days preferred to race in loose pullovers or even collars and ties. Biagi looked like someone who had arrived from outer space. Only his Scottish accent, with just a hint of Italian, indicated that he’d come from somewhere rather closer to home.

If Paul himself looked distinctive, his kart resembled nothing else we’d ever encountered. It had been designed on the back of an envelope and patiently constructed more than a year earlier. Paul called his kart the 701 Special because it had allegedly taken him 701 hours to build. Instead of relying on mild steel he’d used lightweight alloy with shock absorbers taken from a Vespa scooter. All kart engines at that time were either fan or air cooled, but Paul had used his expertise as a refrigeration engineer to create something rather different for the powerful Bultaco motor. He’d created his own Glycol cooled barrel but considered that the proprietary brass water pumps available at that time were too heavy. He had his own specially cast in alloy.

Impressive as the kart looked, it actually didn’t handle particularly well. Paul himself confessed that there was a rapid switch from under-steer to over-steer and this accounted for his unique driving style with the tail end hanging out around corners. Nevertheless, he was able to notch up victories throughout Scotland, including an impressive win at Ingliston on May 24th, 1964. Later that year he competed in the British Championship Final at Shenington. Chris Lambert won this race and actually lapped Paul whose kart kept bouncing on the uneven surface, thus losing power. It persuaded him to buy a more conventional Shrike kart.

Paul had started karting using a Buckler/Villiers which he originally shared with Willie Forbes. They were very successful in their first season, notching up 19 wins, 14 2nd places and 11 3rd spots. He then decided to build his own karts and had already produced two of them before embarking upon the 701 Special. He retired from karting in the early 70’s after a race meeting at Ingliston. “I had a Blow Hustler kart and was continually being out-braked into corners by younger drivers who seemed to have no fear,” he confessed. “I missed the excitement of it all and, for many years afterwards, couldn’t bear to watch a race.”

After working as a mechanic on Porsche and Ferrari cars for Glen Henderson of Ayr, Paul retired to Tuscany in 1994.He’d sold the 701 to Evo Corrieri in Fyfe. Chris Smyth used to buy his karting spares from Albert Corrieri Snr who had a workshop in Kelty, Fyfe. 34 years ago, whilst visiting the workshop, Chris noticed two karts for sale. One of them, a Zip Shadow/Yamaha had belonged to Corrieri’s son, Albert Jnr, who was tragically killed in the 1979 Silverstone Kart GP. The other was, of course, Biagi’s 701 Special.

“I opted for the 701 without realising its significance,” says Chris. “By that time the Bultaco’s Glycol cooled barrel had been replaced by a conventional one. A cooling duct had been added to the bottom of the seat. Not being any the wiser, I failed to ask Albert if he’d retained the original barrel and pump. It’s something I’ve since regretted. Gus MacDonald (Dean’s grandfather) married a Corrieri and I’ve made some enquiries there, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to help. I think it was Rob Logan who first made me aware that I’d found a real treasure. He paid me a visit and was astonished to see the kart that he’d once drooled over as a lad.”

Apart from owning the 701 Special, Chris had also picked up a couple of the comparatively rare Motus karts. About 12 years ago Maurice Coates contacted him as he’d once been the proud owner of a Motus Mk 7. “We struck a deal and he restored the 701 to its former glory (minus the cooling system) in time for the Rowrah 40th anniversary event in August 2003,” Chris recalls. “It’s since been displayed at Shenington Revivals, Race Retro (Stoneleigh), Larkhall and Rowrah Classics. Very often people have approached me saying that they can remember racing against Paul or seeing the 701 in action 50 years ago.”

Ten years ago Chris spotted a paragraph in Karting magazine announcing that Paul had retired to Tuscany in 1994. He contacted Mark Burgess, who unfortunately didn’t have an address for him. However, he did send a photocopied feature on the Biagi kart written in 1963. Chris then began contacting everyone named Biagi appearing in the Ayrshire telephone book. Eventually this led to a conversation with Tom Young, a farmer living in Dalry. Tom was married to someone from the Biagi family and he gave him Paul’s telephone number in Italy. In November 2004 Chris contacted Paul and they had a long conversation. “It really was a privilege talking to him after such a long time,” says Chris. “I was able to assure him that his creation was safe in my hands and admired by everyone who now sets eyes on it “.