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Art Ingels and the Invention of the Go-Kart

Art Ingels (left) and Lou Borelli with the very first go-kart outside Ingels’ garage in Echo Park. 

Today, the inventor of the go-kart, Art Ingels, would’ve turned 100 years old. To celebrate, we thought we’d give you a brief history of the go-kart and see how Ingels’ little garage creation led to the explosion of interest in the small cars and grew to become the sport we all know and love today.

 

The Invention of the Go Kart

 

The go-kart story begins in 1950’s Southern California, not far from where we first opened our doors. Art Ingels was a fabricator at Kurtis Kraft, the renown racing company responsible for building five winning Indy 500 cars, plus a host of successful midget cars, Bonneville speed record cars, and sports cars.

the first go-kart

Art Ingels invented the first go kart during the summer of  1956. Ingels crafted a steel tubing chassis in his garage in Echo Park that was lightweight, yet strong enough to support the weight of adult passengers. The chassis was inspired by the racing cars he helped construct: low to the ground and featuring a wide track to improve stability. Ingels buddy, Lou Borelli, then mounted a surplus two-cycle West Bend 2.5hp lawnmower engine manufactured by McCulloch, that Ingels had purchased prior to the construction of the chassis.

 

The Debut

 

After an initial test/modification, Ingels proudly debuted the racing machine in the pits at Pomona Raceway, and it turned plenty of heads – including Duffy Livingston. Livingston, a local muffler shop owner, was enamored with the kart, and with permission from Ingels, created his own. Livingston’s business partner, Roy Desbrow, then created his own version.

 

The Explosion of Go Karting and Competition

early go karting at the rose bowl in the 1950s

This snowballing interest for homebuilt go-karts led to the very first kart races which were held at supermarket parking lots – a good source of flat, open pavement. They instantly attracted audiences, but it wasn’t long before the police caught on, and so the pioneering kart racers looked for another venue.

 

In 1957, they found their next racing venue at the enormous parking lot of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where even the local police didn’t mind the grassroots racing.

 

Soon, races began to pop up at other locations, even on dirt surfaces. Dean Moon of the famous Mooneyes brought racers and friends together for the dirt-surfaced “Moonza” (a clever play on words of Italy’s famous Monza circuit) near their shop.

 

The interest was great for the little cars, but many lacked the mechanical/technical know-how to build their own. So, later that year, Livingston, Desbrow, and Bill Rowles (a frequenter to Livingston and Desbrow’s muffler shop), created the Go Kart Manufacturing Co. in Monrovia, CA, to meet this newfound demand.

early go kart advertisement

The “Go-Kart” name was termed by Lynn Wineland, a former editor of Hot Rod Magazine. The first production go-kart, the Go Kart 400 racer, sold for $129.50 (around $1,100 in today’s money). As payment for the Go Kart name, Wineland received $2 per kart sold. In short time Wineland was able to purchase a house with his earnings from the royalty.

 

Kurtis Kraft had declined to create their own go-kart manufacturing division, despite Ingels creation, so Ingels soon left to create the Ingels & Borelli Kart Company, who manufactured impeccably hand-built go-karts called the Caretta, building just six magnificent karts in time for the 1958 Christmas season.

ingels & borelli caretta ad

With other go-kart companies popping up to get in on the action, an American Kart Manufacturer’s Association was formed to govern the quality and to work alongside the GKCA.

 

Eventually, the competition needed a little more technical regulation and governance. Enter attorney/racing driver/kart-racer Don Broberick who drafted up the regulations, inspired by those found in the Sports Car Club of America, and along with 12 others, he formed the Go Kart Club of America (GKCA: now the International Karting Federation).

 

Meanwhile Go Kart Manufacturing Co. expanded with their success and moved to much larger headquarters in Azusa, CA where they built the first permanent karting circuit in 1959 that could be used for testing and competition.

rod & custom karts in competition cover

In July ’59, GKCA hosted its first Grand National event at the new Go-Kart Raceway, and further increased the new sports’ visibility and sparked more and more hot rod/car publications to write about the burgeoning hobby, eventually leading to dedicated karting magazines.

 

Epilogue

 

From here, karting grew from being a Southern Californian hobby to a nationwide, then worldwide sport (reminds us of our company and indoor electric go-karting!). Go-karts would continue to evolve to the kinds of go-karts you see today, but all carry the noticeable influence from Art Ingels’ first creation, including K1 Speed’s all-electric go-karts.

 

Over time, Go Kart Manufacturing would go out of business, along with Ingels & Borelli, but their contribution to the world of karting and motorsport will never be forgotten.

 

From all of us at K1 Speed, here’s a massive thank you and happy birthday to the man who started it all, Art Ingels! Let’s make every May 14th Art Ingels Day and celebrate with some go-karting to remember the father of the sport.

art ingels and the go kart
Comments
  • Del Perry

    I was very lucky to know Art and Lou pretty well. I was also lucky to have driven one of their Carrettas to the national championship in 1964 at the Adams kart track in the A standard class. In 1966 they invited me to drive for them at the winter nationals at the Willows Springs raceway. Again in A standard class. The engine was a Lou Borellie tuned Parrilla. We won that race also. Yes I knew them well and have great memories of them both. They were both great men.

    • Staff Writer

      Wow, amazing to hear, Del! What an honor.. Thanks for sharing that with us!

  • Mark Lewis

    I actually owened an Ingles and Borelli kart. Bought it about 1982 and sold it when I bought a K&P used chasis. Couldn’t find parts for the antique and didn’t know it was that much of Karting history.

    • Staff Writer

      That’s super cool to hear! Thanks for sharing. Wonder where it is now…?

  • Jeff Tomlinson

    I have a Engels and Borelli Los Angeles 26. DB5 all there I was told it a one off built kart
    I also got a 1962 or right in there Dart kart both are endro kart with gas tank on both sides and the lay back seat also got quick change gears in the drive drain. I was told they were 1962 models
    West Ben motors on both with 5 extra motor and rebuild Kits I hear the rebuilt them after so miny hours but I got lots of part band new still in the box also cam with a trailer that hauled both cart with tire rack and storage it most of been the set up to have back in the day. I. Had them for twenty years or so hanging in my shop.i ride them every year on the fourth of July and they start right up.

    • Staff Writer

      Awesome stuff, Jeff! Thanks for sharing. We’ve got so much to thank for those early creations/creators!

  • Bob Bracilano

    Wow, so nice to have run into this wonderful page.
    I was the owner of a family business on Long Island: Bob and Lee’s Hobby Shop. I saw my first Go kart running around a parking lot and got the bug to sell these amazing pieces of equipment. I became a dealer for the original Go Kart out of Azusa California and started a God Kart Dept. in the hobby shop. This led to our store sponsoring a five man Go Kart Racing Team. The engines at the time were 2 1/2 Hp Clinton engines with a bushing crankshaft. With some careful modifications, we were able to boost these little guys up. The next engine was the chain saw engine McCullough 5 and then the 6 and then the Mac 10. As our business increased, we took on another line of Karts: The Blitz Kart which was manufactured locally. Live axles of course, by this time were standard over the dead axle machines. Cold rolled steel was replaced by Chrome Molly Steel which made the karts have more flex Another beautiful track had opened: Kartweelers Stadium with a beautiful blacktop road racing course. Safety became more important as the speeds of the karts increased. The clutches used also improved and mufflers were now used instead of headers. Manufactures such as Blitz Karts organized factory teams and of course, competition also grew. Trophies were the rewards, and as such, at Bob and Lee’s Hobby Shop in Richmond Hill, L.I. we had our share of trophies.
    This was certainly nice to share these thoughts, If anyone wishes to contact me about the old Hobby Shop or additional information that I may have feel free to contact me
    Another kart was added to our inventory: Simplex

  • Cammy K Thompson

    This is not correct, my father, Ronald B Hardwig, made the first GoKart. The East St. Louis Journal published an article on July 24, 1956 with my father and his go-kart.

  • Emilio Colantonio

    This is the first time I have heard about Mr Ingels, and the date of the invention of the go kart.
    I need to tell you that my father, Pasquale, built a go kart (with lawn mower engine) for my brother,s 7th birthday.
    We rode it in the neighborhood of Cranston Rhode Island, for many years, including the 1970’s when the grandkids arrived.
    My brother was born in 1946.
    However I don,t believe we have any provenance

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