How to Build a Motorless Go-cart

MOTHER's children article showcases a young man who learned how to build a motorless go-cart that is fast, fun, eco-friendly to run and low-cost to make.

| July/August 1985

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    Greg Matthews' "Heavy Hauler" go-cart. Greg used fencing nails to fasten the wheel-and-axis units onto his Thunder Racer.
  • How to build a motorless go-cart
    Diagram: Details of the go-cart's steering mechanism.

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  • How to build a motorless go-cart

MOTHER'S CHILDREN: Greg learns how to build a motorless go-cart from scratch and has great success with his building project and his consultation gigs to help his friends build a homemade go-cart. 

MOTHER feels strongly that youths can be creative "doers," working toward more ecological and self-reliant lifestyles — ;whether their tasks be raising chickens on a farm or maintaining rooftop container gardens in the city. To support the endeavors of our often overlooked "underage" citizens, we're glad to publish well-written articles from younger children and teenagers concerning projects they've undertaken. 

It all began when my dad told me about the soapbox derby cars that he built when he was a kid. His stories made me want to build a motorless go-cart of my own. I didn't have any money to spend, though, so I used stuff we already had. At the time, I had two broken-down Green Machines, which are low-riding, big-wheeled, plastic tricycles. I also had some white cedar 2-by-8s left over from an old sun deck that my dad said we kids could use for projects. With that and a few other odds and ends-mostly from my "junk jar" — I learned how to  build a motorless go-cart, the Thunder Racer!

I used the axle with attached wheels from the back of both Green Machines for my go-cart wheels. I built a basic frame from 2-by-8s and added side and back walls (my younger sister insisted that she wouldn't ride in the go-cart unless it had sides). I lined the seat with carpet for comfort, made a steering mechanism so I could turn it with a rope, and even put on a brake shoe — made from an old shoe, naturally!

To find out how to make a cart like mine, read the section below, "Ten Simple Steps for Building a Really Good Go-Cart." Right now, though, let me tell you about some of the experiences I've had with my downhill racer. I made two big, important mistakes right off: First, I built the frame in a rectangle shape that was just wide enough to fit between the wheels. But that meant there wasn't enough room for the wheels to turn sideways at all, so I couldn't steer! I had to tear the go-cart frame halfway apart (which was a lot of work I could have saved myself if I had thought ahead), then put it back together again with the front end cut narrower. Then there was room for the board with the axle on it to pivot.

My second big mistake was using cedarwood for the sides of my go-cart. It made very thick, heavy walls that I felt would last forever. But they didn't. When my older brother and his friend tried to ride on the cart together, the two of them ran smack into a brick mailbox, and the sides of the go-cart split in half. (The two boys nearly did, too!)


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