AROUND THE WORLD BY KART! (May, 1962)

AROUND THE WORLD BY KART!

“They said we were crazy to try — but we’ve already traveled 10,000 miles!”

By William Glen Davis

DRIVE a kart around the world?

Man, you’re nuts! You’ll never make it!”

This was the almost universal reaction that greeted my announced intention to circle the globe on a four-wheeled beetle smaller than many a baby carriage. Now, 10,000 miles later, I like to think the scoffers have been silenced.

My plan was first to drive from Los Angeles to Mexico City and back in order to test the feasibility of a ’round-the-world trip by kart. Then I would head for New York and from there take a boat to Europe. Once in Europe I would work out the details of my itinerary.

The only kart manufacturer that thought I could make such a trip was Echo Engineering of Los Angeles, who provided me with one of their Spyder karts. Echo and I then went to work preparing the kart for the trip. We set September 30, 1960, as D- (for departure) Day.

To make the kart legally roadworthy we equipped it with headlights, turn signals, taillights, license plate lights and brake lights. Since it is required by law that headlights be 24 inches from the pavement, we devised a method by which they could be raised at night and lowered during the day.

We built a nine-cubic-foot plywood trailer to carry my typewriter, clothes, tools, a three-gallon gas can, 20 quarts of oil, a battery and other articles I needed to be self-sufficient. A sleeping bag was lashed to the top of the trailer.

A single-cylinder McCulloch (MC-10) air-cooled, two-cycle engine was installed on the kart and a spare engine was bolted to the other engine mount “just in case.” An aluminum live axle by Reed Engineering was installed. Reed also supplied the aluminum sprockets and hubs used on the axle. We entrusted the kart’s stopping ability to a Bendix six-inch internal-expanding brake. My tires would be recapped racing slicks. Both kart and trailer were fitted with Hands aluminum wheels. For the drive chain we chose an H.K.K. #35. A centrifugal clutch with an 11-tooth sprocket was used on the engine and a 66-tooth axle sprocket was selected for driving on the open road.

We kept to our schedule and when D-Day arrived I was all set. I bade my friends adieu, gave them a brave smile and a wave of the hand—and was off.

Out on the road the McCulloch engine proved fully capable of pulling the kart and trailer with little effort. Using an initial fuel mix of one quart of oil to three gallons of gasoline, the engine operated perfectly (later, when the engine was well broken in, the fuel-mix ratio was changed to 1:4). My cruising speed soon climbed to a swift 50 mph and I averaged about 45 mpg until I reached the higher altitudes of Mexico City where I started recording a really economical 74 mpg.

It took me quite a while to get accustomed to driving hour after hour in so strange a vehicle. The loud exhaust of the engine affected my hearing, and after turning off the engine at the end of the day I felt like a punch-drunk fighter. The rough ride (karts don’t have springs) didn’t help matters either but I realized these were things I would just have to get used to—and after a while I did.

The chief difficulty I encountered driving through Mexico was that of dodging ’round the many cows that wander onto the highways. One day as I was cruising along at my customary 50 mph, I topped a rise in the road and saw a fat, brown cow looming up in front of me. As I steered to the right she sauntered to the right; and when I veered to the left so did she. By that time I had no choice but to careen off the highway and into the gulch. After that I made it a point to slooow down at all curves and on all rises.

While the trip from L.A. to M.C. took me 20 days, ten of these were spent at the beautiful beach resorts of Miramar and Mazatlan. On the return trip I covered the 610 miles from Mexico City to Monterrey in less than a day and a half, sleeping time included. Thereafter I coasted along at a leisurely 250 miles per day.

Arriving in Dallas, Texas, I decided—for test purposes—to change over to a Power Products AH82 engine (the McCulloch had more than proved itself). The mileage delivered by this engine proved comparable to that of the smaller McCulloch engine but the PP mill gave me a higher cruising speed—60 mph.

I now headed east across the United States. As I crossed into Georgia the weather took on a chill and I donned my jacket; in South Carolina I bought a good pair of fur-lined gloves; by the time I hit North Carolina I had put on my boots and insulated underwear; and as I approached Richmond, Va., I was greeted by one of the worst snow storms the East had experienced in 12 years. This forced me to hole up in a motel for a day until the storm was over. Then, after thawing out my engine, I was on my way again.

The road was relatively dry until I was within 50 miles of Washington, D. C, when ice and snow patches became more frequent. But the biting cold and the fact that I was driving without a windshield caused me more anguish than the icy roads. Yet, I knew it had all been worthwhile when I finally scooted out of the New York side of the Holland Tunnel and into the Big Town.

I immediately set about making plans for my boat trip to Italy. During this time I made the acquaintance of cartoonist Stan Mott. When Stan learned of my plans to tour the world by kart he became as enthusiastic about the idea as I was. And any doubts I might have harbored about the sincerity of his enthusiasm were put to flight when he suggested that we make the trip together.

Stan’s choice of transportation was a Blitz Kart. We built a trailer similar to mine for carrying his art equipment, typewriter, clothes and miscellaneous gear.

Having fitted his Blitz with the fixtures required to make it a law-abiding highway vehicle, we then equipped it with the same model Power Products engine that had proved such a reliable kicker on my kart.

Although the Hands aluminum wheels on my kart showed little wear after my long cross-country run, we decided to try out another type: Go-Power magnesium wheels of a new stamped design. These we installed on both karts. Also, after all that mileage, I thought it a good idea to replace my #35 chain with a new one.

At last the day came when Stan and I stood together at dockside as our sturdy karts and trailers were loaded onto the freighter which would take us to Italy. A few hours later we were leaning on the taffrail watching the Ambrose Lightship fade into the mist behind us.

(Editor’s note: At last report, Davis and Mott had landed in Italy after a brief stopover in Tangier, then headed over the Alps through Switzerland and arrived in Paris. Future jaunts are planned through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Even the Far East is tentatively included in their itinerary. Good luck, fellas!)

14 comments
  1. Jack Welter says: December 8, 200712:40 pm

    My Self and Willi Bruggemann built the Blitz Karts for both of them by using our Huntington Long Island Production site, It was fun being envolved. Those Blitz Karts did not fail for the remainder of the trip, If William Glen Davis reads this, please contact me at the above E-mail address. Jack Welter

  2. Russell J. Thorne says: April 24, 20085:40 pm

    I can remember as a young child my father had a kart in the garage. I asked him about it years later and he told me he had named it ‘Blitzkart’ but did not actually get any credit for it. Can anybody shed any light on this? My father mentioned Willi Bruggemann often.
    William R. Thorne passed away 2 years ago at the age of 96.

    Russell J. Thorne
    Huntington Station, NY

  3. Baxter Culver says: November 30, 20083:45 am

    Just prior to joining the Army in the fall of 1960, I was one of the “kids” who hung out and worked at Echo Engineering, on N. Vendome St in Los Angeles. Wm Glen Davis, III (aka Beatnik) had been planning his LA to Mexico City by Kart trip for more than a year. I helped assemble the Echo Kart and was primarily responsible for constructing the trailer. Most of the component parts were donated by karting industry companies.

    We chased Davis halfway to San Bernardino that September day when he launched his trip. Last seen was the red flag atop a tall whip antenna as he darted in and out of LA traffic although, while I was stationed in Germany, I caught a picture posed by the Eiffel Tower .

    I later heard Davis had returned from Europe, his karting adventure over, and had ridden a mini-scooter across country back to California. The Karting scene in the early 1960′s spawned some interesting characters and many serious racing drivers. Bill Davis was one of them.

  4. David says: January 13, 200912:30 am

    I’m looking to get in touch with Jack Welter, who was involved with Blitz karts on Long Island NY.
    Thanks

  5. Robert says: July 14, 200911:50 am

    I got involved with go karts around 1959 in Huntington Station, NY. My first kart was a Bilbrook with a Clinton engine purchased from a guy who had a shop on Jerico Turnpike. His name was Rudy Cushman and he formed a team and gave us jackets..red satin type. My buddy actually got a kart first. It was a Blitz with a West Bend engine. My next cary was a Blitz Kart which my dad had crash bars welded on the side and front. I believe it has a Power Products AH 58 engine. I was not 16 so we were confined to the small oval at Blitz Kart Stadium. Through all this time we got to know Willi Bruggemann and Jack Welter. We also hung out with a guy named Jack Sutherland who had a shop in South Huntington on Depot Rd. He was part of the Blitz Racing Team and I believe around 1961 Blitz built a line of karts for them to race in the Bahamas. I purchased one after the races from Jack. We moved to the west coast and the Bahama Kart as it was called was lost in a fire in Denver. My memories is that all the guys at Blitz were always nice to us kids and we would go up to the shop at times which if remember right was past the train station on the street where Manor Lumber was. These are great memories of getting introduced to karting. We also got to run occaisionaly at Islip Speedway. On the west coast I got a Dart Kart and went on for a number of years of success and trophys until a ’51 Chevy and all the young girls changed my priorities.

  6. Jack Welter says: December 20, 200911:38 am

    David I can be reached at the above E Mail

  7. Jack Welter says: December 26, 200910:31 am
  8. John Macioce says: October 11, 20104:53 am

    Some of my fondest memories are of my dad taking me to the Blitz Kart shop in Huntington Station. My dad (Tony Macioce) was a Barber in the Fort Hill area of Huntington and Willy Bruggeman was a customer. Willy brought Bill Davis over for a haircut when he arrived in Huntington from California. It was winter and Davis was not properly dressed to be driving a kart in that weather. From Long Island, he headed across the Atlantic for further adventures in Europe.
    I raced at Blitz Kart Stadium as a youngster and was acquainted with Jack Welter, Jack Sutherland and many of the early Karting pioneers on L.I.
    Ended up living in Northern NY and raced in Clayton NY and Canada until the early 80′s
    My son then raced in NY and Canada in the late 80′s and early 90′s.
    Now living in Eastern North Carolina.
    Would love to hear from anyone connected with the early 60′s Karting scene on L.I.
    [email protected]

  9. baxter culver says: January 5, 201111:10 am

    Does anybody know what became of Wm Glen Davis?

  10. Dennis Tambasco says: July 15, 201110:10 am

    I raced at the Blitz Kart Stadium during the 1960′s. I have many fond memories of all the people named and many others. Lyle Ferguson[Jr & Sr] Ronny Zell, Tom McCann, Steve and Robert Stanton, Mike and Tony Gralto, Artie Pernhagen[flagman & son] Brent Dubester[made TV commercials] Frank Tulercio, Bob Hassler,Denicola family, Glenn Moreland[still racing at age 73] Jack Weigand, Buddy Schratweiser[worked in the repair shop for Willy] Jim & Bob Kowaleski, Anson twins, Frank O’frias, Larry Ciusano,Buddy Frankenberg and many others. It was some of the BEST years of my life. I still have a 3 X 5 Glossy promotional post card of a Blitz F-2000. I can be reached at 516-937-7653 from any Karting Alumni.

  11. DENNIS says: July 16, 20117:09 pm

    After pondering my thoughts of Blitz Kart Stadium and “Days of Yesteryear” some other names came to mind. Herb Newman Bob Fiscetti, Fleet Flessel, Gene and his daughter Becky Gordon, Tommy [T-3 from Conn.]Tony Cipriano, the Lolly family, Bob Watson, Randy Zazzi.

  12. Kathleen Zabinski Gremli says: September 1, 20112:02 pm

    My Dad and brother, both Joseph Zabinski’s were also avid go karters at Blitz Kart Stadium back in the ’60′s. I was a teenager at the time, but my family and many of those families that you mentioned were a very big part of my fondest memories of go Kart racing then.

  13. John Macioce says: September 1, 20113:18 pm

    Does anyone remember the Ulrich brothers? They adapted a water-cooled outboard engine (I believe it was a Mercury) to a Blitz Kart. My dad introduced me to Ritchie Ulrich and we watched him race his kart at the Westhampton Drag Strip between drag races. Blitz Kart Stadium had not been built yet. I have a photo of Ritchie on his Kart at Westhampton circa 1960 or so. They may have had something to do with the design of the ThunderBlitz Kart that was introduced in the early 1960′s.

  14. Doug Tenney says: September 5, 20112:58 pm

    Not sure if you know, but the “vintage kart” scene has really taken off in recent years! Mr. Bruggemann and Mr. Welter must’ve been doing something right, because Blitz karts are highly prized to this day. They are almost indestructible. My son found one in near perfect condition 7 years ago, when he was 12. We’ve had a lot of fun working on it together. Check out (1) http://www.rearengineka… and also (2) http://www.youtube.com/….

    If only these old machines could talk… I’d love to hear the stories they could tell.

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