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The very first edition of Karting Magazine

Roof Rack

Back in the early days, karts were transported on roof racks

It was the best idea I never had. Reprinting the very first edition of Karting magazine was undoubtedly a masterstroke and I only wish that I’d thought of it first. Alas, the credit belongs to my old sparring partner Wyatt Stanley. I’m not sure how much it cost Mark Burgess to implement this one, but Wyatt’s ideas never come cheap. The reproduced first copy also demonstrated how far printing technology has advanced in 50 years. Maybe Rupert Murdoch did have a point after all, (but just like most self respecting Liverpudlians, I still refuse to buy any of his newspapers). A full colour front cover didn’t arrive until the end of 1979, so for more than 19 years we had to put up with black and white photographs. If my own experiences were anything to go by, then Karting magazine’s contributors used very basic equipment also. Instead of sitting in front of a word processor, with the ability to make instant corrections, my first articles were all hand written. The waste paper basket was full of discarded attempts before a reasonable copy finally emerged, albeit slightly smudged in places. Several years later, I did invest in an old heavyweight Imperial typewriter and proudly sent off my first typewritten piece. I thought the editor might be relieved at not having to decipher my handwriting, but a reply came back “Please buy a new typewriter ribbon!” I remember covering the 1980 Kart Grand Prix when Karting magazine was due out a few days later. Alan Burgess met me at Silverstone on Sunday evening and I scribbled out my closing paragraph using the bonnet of his Matra.

For last month’s issue, Mark managed to dig out a photograph of his father appearing live on “Barry Bucknell’s Do It Yourself” programme that I think would be screened towards the end of 1960. The kart was a twin JLO powered Progress Cub, built in London by Frank Coltman and John Teychenne who were also heavily involved in manufacturing Colin Chapman’s Lotus racing cars. Because of their F1 connections, they could attract such notable motor racing stars as Graham Hill and Les Leston, which made their karts much sought after in those early days. The show’s presenter, Barry Bucknell, had a motoring background himself, having served his apprenticeship at Daimler. He then began work at his father’s building and electrical firm before joining the BBC as a presenter in 1956. His DIY programme attracted seven million viewers before it went off the air. In 1962, Barry returned to our screens, this time renovating a house in Ealing which the BBC had bought for around £2,000. It was valued 18 months ago at £800,000, some 400 times the original price.

Returning to the photograph, many readers may have wondered what a ready manufactured kart was doing on Bucknell’s DIY programme when building one of his own might have seemed more appropriate. The answer is that all karts in those days came in kit form and often required a skilled mechanic to assemble them properly. I’m guessing that this particular show would be attempting to show amateur owners how to do the job using fairly basic tools. Selling karts in kit form was due to a quirk in our tax laws rather than laziness on the manufacturer’s part.  Anyone studying Karting magazine’s first issue will have noticed the word (basic) against each kart’s advertised selling price, indicating that this didn’t include purchaser tax. Only two of the 40 manufacturers listed quoted prices that included tax. By purchasing the kart as a kit, you avoided paying tax and so almost everyone followed this particular route, particularly as it resulted in a saving of more than 30%. As editor of Karting magazine, Alan Burgess was involved in an epic battle with the Inland Revenue over what constituted a passenger vehicle (thereby one that attracted tax). Somewhat perversely they decreed that the driver was actually a passenger, although curiously this definition didn’t extend to racing cars generally. The dispute was only resolved in 1970 when VAT replaced Purchase Tax and applied to all vehicles whether carrying passengers or sold in kit form.

The price of karts back in 1960 may well have drawn some wistful sighs from current readers.  £62 for a Progress/Clinton A400 might seem ridiculously cheap today but closer examination reveals a slightly different story. For one thing, the Clinton motor was already badly outclassed and a more competitive JLO could set you back another £25. Prices of most commodities are at least 30 times higher than they were 50 years ago and so that brings the cost up to more than £2600 When the costs of painting and assembly are included, this price just about matches the £3,000 that a Rotax powered Storm will set you back. The difference is that in 1960 you’d be lucky to get 7bhp out of your JLO whilst the Rotax produces three times that figure. There’s no doubt in my mind that a modern kart and engine offer better value for money than did their predecessors of 50 years ago. What makes today’s sport so expensive is the actual running cost, together with a load of peripherals that have come to be regarded as essentials

Back in 1960 karts were transported on roof racks or, if you were very posh, perhaps the occasional van. Awnings were unheard of and the nearest thing you could get to any form of shelter was a large umbrella. Real sophistication amounted to possessing a Smith’s stop-watch and maybe one or two different sized sprockets.  Race entries cost around ten shillings (50p), made possible because clubs were run entirely by unpaid volunteers. Saturday practice didn’t exist at any meeting so no-one had to fork out for accommodation. You used the same set of tyres for wet or dry meetings, only renewing them after several years had elapsed and the canvas was starting to show through. There were plenty of people prepared to act as unpaid mechanics purely for the thrill of getting involved in real life motor-sport. The only time anyone ran in teams was during inter club matches or, for elite drivers, at international events. As the delectable Mary Hopkins one put it so melodiously “Those Were the Days, My Friend”.

It takes a fair sized budget to succeed at national level today and this is true no matter what the class. However, in CIK classes like KF1 and KF2 the costs are spiralling at an alarming rate. Open rules regarding exhausts are likely to increase costs even further and this is one area where you could see large differences in performance. I know of at least one team owner who is predicting an end to KF racing in this country within two years and he’s already made plans for a switch to Rotax by 2011. It’s rather ironic because, just two years earlier, there were some pundits predicting that KF classes would have all but killed off Rotax by now. In other circles, there is much talk of none MSA meetings taking over from the official brand. Rumours of this nature appear to crop up every ten or twenty years and they’ve never amounted to anything concrete. If I was sitting at Motor Sports House right now, though, I’d be trying to find out what’s wrong with the existing product and fow it might be improved. In fairness, that’s exactly what George Robinson’s survey is attempting to achieve and his report is awaited with great interest. I only hope that the MSA will demonstrate some urgency in implementing his recommendations.

Scott Parker informs me that he’s received more than 200 enquiries about the Bambino register and currently has 70 names on his books. 19 competitors recently turned up at the ELK track in Newark and Scott was expecting this figure to be beaten for the March meeting at Priory Park, Tamworth. Bambino events are now starting to appear throughout the country, but unfortunately most of them are happening at non MSA venues. One reason for this could be that the MSA was over prescriptive in its requirements with regard to circuit size. How many MSA circuits, apart from Buckmore Park, fall within the maximum length of 500 meters? How much would it cost clubs to make appropriate alterations for what must be a low return?  I’ve never understood the argument that a small circuit will automatically reduce speeds. What it does do, of course, is make absolutely certain that the numbers Scott Parker talks about won’t ever materialise at an MSA event. Imagine trying to set off 20 karts at intervals of 4 seconds on a track where lap times are well within a minute.

Restricting the size of circuits might mean that you require less marshals, but they’re likely to be kept far busier attempting to restart an errant kart before the rest come around. This will be particularly true in wet weather when everyone is compelled to go out on slicks. The stock answer seems to be that you don’t run Bambinos when it’s raining. This argument might hold water if all your drivers are locally based. If, however, they’ve travelled distances of 100 miles or more, with perhaps an overnight stay involved, then any decision to abandon proceedings after a shower of rain won’t be well received especially by six year old kids. I’m all for keeping down costs, but I wonder at the reasoning behind banning wet tyres whilst allowing a free choice of slicks at the same time. All these rules are pushing Bambinos in the direction of non MSA circuits. My concern is that they may decide to remain there long after having moved up into cadets or juniors.

Last month’s photo showed Roy Mortara and Chris Hampshire in action during the 1967 British Team Selection Meeting at Fulbeck. It attracted some interesting responses from various people who knew Roy and Chris. Alan Churchill was chairman of Camberley Kart Club at the time of Roy’s tragic death in a road accident. He organised the annual Roy Mortara Memorial Meeting at Blackbushe which has been running ever since. Alan’s son, Ken, who now runs in the Dadson Series, e-mailed me to say that he remembers when Roy worked for Jack Barlow. “He was a great driver, lovely person and a big loss to the sport,” wrote Ken. “He used to set up my kart when I was a junior and became a good friend of my father. “ Chris Hampshire used to run a Domestic Appliance shop at Liphook in the County of his surname. Adam Keens still lives in Liphook and remains a close friend. He pointed out that, apart from counting Nigel Mansell amongst his close friends, Chris used to employ George Robinson in the shop. I always wondered where George got all his sales patter from.

Paul Brighton remembered acting as a marshal at the Fulbeck event which was also a selection meeting for the British Class 1V Team. Several weeks later, Paul travelled to Milan as Tom Purnell’s mechanic for a match with the Italian 125cc team. “I think the British squad for that trip was John Morrell, Les Sheppard, Jack Barlow, Ken Norton, Graham Liddle, Tom Purnell, Ron O’Nions and John Littler,” says Paul. “We had a pretty torrid time getting there, having tried to go through the newly opened Mont Blanc Pass. The customs officer wouldn’t let us cross the border into Italy without paying duty in cash for our karts. After a few hours of arguing, we were allowed through without the karts and stayed overnight in a nearby hotel. We expected a different official to be there next morning but unfortunately it was the same one.  No-one wanted to pay this duty so we doubled back and entered Italy via the St Bernard’s Pass. We weren’t in a very good mood upon arriving in Milan. The circuit had been laid out with straw bales in a market place and was very twisty. The Italians with their 125cc karts were much quicker and they beat us hands down, unfortunately.”

Apart from Paul, Adam and Ken, Jenny Philpotts, Jim Coulthard, Richard Brett, Brian Malin, Tim Baker and Gerry Philpotts also sent in correct answers I wonder if they’ll be able to recognise this photo of Reg Gange Junior who is pictured here after winning the World Cup at Morecambe. He was only the third winner of this prestigious competition. That same year, Jackie Stewart retired from motor racing after collecting his third world crown ahead of two former karters Emerson Fittipaldi and Ronnie Peterson. At Nivelles, Terry Fullerton beat Francois Goldstein to become Britain’s first world karting champion and Alain Prost won the Junior World Cup. The war in Vietnam came to an end just as President Nixon became embroiled in the Watergate scandal. Princess Anne and Mark Philips tied the knot but there was no good news for British industry as we all went on a three day working week to conserve energy.  Dawn topped the charts with “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” and Wizard had similar success singing “See my Baby Jive.” If you can name the year, then please send an e-mail to dave.bewley@talktalk.net. Alternatively, you can telephone 01946 861355.