Mechanix Illustrated’s 1962 Highway Kart Is Nuts And They Encouraged You To Build It And Drive It On The Street!

Mechanix Illustrated’s 1962 Highway Kart Is Nuts And They Encouraged You To Build It And Drive It On The Street!

No fooling, no kiddin’, we’re not joshing you, leading you on, or exaggerating a damned thing. In 1962, the famous Mechanix Illustrated Magazine actually published a story with complete details, photos, and instructions on how to build a racing go kart that was street legal to drive down the highways and byways if you didn’t have a station wagon, van, or truck to put it in. Not only did they talk about it, they actually went and got plates on the thing as well. The story is amazingly detailed and the blueprints are a complete road map to building a vehicle that was (at least in New York) suitable to be given license plates and driven down a public road the same as a Cadillac or Kenworth was. We use those two examples because you’d likely be run over by either of those things within minutes of striking off on your maiden street voyage, but holy crap this is awesome.

Can you imagine the lawsuits, firings, and gallons of Maalox that would be chugged by the executives of any publishing company if someone dared run such a cool and fun story these days? We’re not above anyone else. We’re sure the low rent legal representation we have would throw bricks through our windows as well. Look, magazines can’t hardly even give anything away anymore with all the legal mumbo jumbo involved, so teaching someone how to build a literal and we mean LITERAL go kart to drive down the highway with can’t even be breathed of let alone tried.

What’s even cooler than the fact that Mechanix Illustrated published the story in the first place is that they continued selling the plans for the kart for years in their own magazine. There are little line ads in magazines we have up into the middle 1960s selling the plans, in fact here’s a genius one showing the kart getting “gassed up” at a filling station with the driver clutching a trophy he just “won” at a kart race. This was a real thing that happened, people.




Before you yell at us for being a bunch of wuss-bags, please understand that we’re not mocking or shirking this idea. We think it is absolutely frigging awesome hope that 1,000 people around the country built these karts. It is just another reminder of how our society has changed so much since these days of widespread mechanical acumen, hands-on curiosity, a do-it yourself culture, and a need for people to use their brain to create things that moved and made noise, and scared old ladies. The highway kart is a freaking death trap. It has a pair of band style rear brakes, two “headlights” mounted 24″ off the ground to meet the minimum standard, and an engine that makes something like 3-4hp but it was a death trap a person willing to build and drive it could own. It wasn’t “illegal” because some parent group protested and wrote letters to their state representative and there wasn’t a personal injury attorney at the wait on every corner in America to suck a company dry for their own benefit. (I am not accosting all lawyers here, just the ones who defend the indefensible for a mega-bucks payday). I’m certain if someone was killed on a go kart they built from magazine plans today there would be a national outcry. It would be everywhere. If someone died one one of these things on a street or highway in ’62 there would be a knock at the door and a policeman would say something like this, “Yes, ma’am I am sorry to report that your idiot husband was run over by a Buick full of nuns while sitting at a stop light in his street legal go kart. Here’s the bill for having to squeegee the street for two hours.”

This is a fantastic moment in time that we literally cannot replicate now. We can point you to the original story and plans but we’d never be able to produce such a story today, nor would any state in the union look at that thing and hand you a set of license plates. Between the gas tank which is a little bomb between your shoulder blades and the fact that it is A GO KART, even the states of Michigan and Louisiana which seem to allow anything would balk at this. We do love it, though.

Check out the photos below from the original 1962 Mechanix Illustrated story and below them there is a link to the full story as scanned by someone and posted to the web. 

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