Restore An Old Go Kart

Article by Mark Trotta

The go karts that we baby boomers grew up with as kids have become quite collectable, and in restored condition exchange hands for a surprising amount of money.

5hp flathead Briggs motor

Aside from nostalgia, reasons for the surge of interest include affordability, mechanical simplicity, and ease of transport and storage.



The three basic types of vintage go karts are the yard kart, the race kart, and the car body kart.

Yard Karts

The most common of vintage kart is the yard kart. These typically have a flat frame with no side supports, no roll cage, and no suspension. Power was originally from a 5-horsepower or less small engine.

Dart go kart project

Yard karts are usually one-wheel-drive only. They were not designed for competitive racing, but rather for use on private property, a vacant parking lot, or around a neighborhood.

Vintage Race Karts

Similar to classic muscle cars, the reason that vintage race karts are so rare today is because most were thrashed and abused throughout their lives. Very few complete original examples still exist, and if you find one, they sell for good money.

Most vintage race kart motors were two-strokes, with Mcculloch and West-Bend being two of hottest engines of the day.

restore an old go kart


Dual-Engine Karts

Back in the early 1960's, before we had the technology to get more power from a single-cylinder gas engine, the hot set-up was to add a second motor to your race kart.

dual engine go kart

Vintage dual-engine karts had the highest performance of their day, and today command the greatest value.



Vintage Kart Identification

Because they were easily swapped from one to another, engines don't help to identify what you have.

how to identify an old go kart

Visual Identification

If your kart has scrub brakes, it's likely from the 1960's. If your kart has disc brakes, it's likely from the 1980's.

Most post-1980s models will have a VIN or serial number on the driver or passenger seat frame.

In cases where a serial number cannot be located, you can often identify an old kart through pictures. Jump on the internet, google "vintage go kart" and start searching!

It's possible you may have a home-built kart with a one-off frame. Look closely at the welds - manufactured karts generally have smoother welds than home-built jobs.


Car-Body Kart

Several years ago, my wife bought me a Manco Corvette kart body for Father's Day. The previous owner had it hanging from a wall inside his house for 15 years before he decided to sell it.

Car body karts are almost always made of fiberglass, and for that reason, most haven't survived as well as this one had.

Manco Corvette body

Manco Corvette Kart

The plan was to find/build/adapt a frame for the Corvette kart body. After a year of fruitless searching for a correct frame, I thought about modifying an existing kart frame. But it's just not in my nature to hack up a perfectly good frame.

restore an old go kart

"Plan C" was to build a go kart frame from scratch. Unfortunately, this would have been too much of a project in itself. And from a financial standpoint, it wouldn't have been profitable time-wise.

So, after several years of moving it around from garage to attic to garage, I listed it on ebay. The buyer gladly drove out from another state to pick it up.

This NASCAR #3 kart was posted on my local CL in 2019. Even if you're not a fan, this would certainly be a worthwhile project.

nascar go kart

When complete and restored, vintage car-karts often appear at major auction houses like Barrett-Jackson, some have sold for $5,000+.


Where To Buy A Vintage Go Kart

Buying an old go kart locally is always best, as shipping is very costly due to their size. They're most always on ebay and FB marketplace. Beware of scams - if the ad sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

If you ever see a vintage race kart frame for sale, in any condition, grab it. A substitute engine can always be used to keep the project moving forward while you search for a correct motor.


Best Gas For Small Engines

Unless you will be using it up within a week or two, avoid buying ethanol-blended gas. Non-Ethanol fuel is much better for small engines. If you don't need a lot, consider canned gas, which is convenient but more expensive than pump gas.

Shop: Four-Cycle Canned Fuel

best gas for small engines

Shop: Two-Cycle Canned Fuel

Vintage Small Engines

Many old go karts and mini-bikes were originally fitted with either a Briggs & Stratton or Tecumseh 4-cycle flathead engine.

These old single-cylinder motors were, and still are durable, reliable and easy to repair. Compared to rebuilding a modern car engine, it's an absolute joy working on a small gas engine!



Budget Go Kart Build

This vintage go kart took me a few months of weekends to restore and about $250 in parts. Supplies included several spray cans of primer and top coat, and about $25 of hardware.

Bird Go Kart

Read: Vintage Go-Kart Build

vintage go kart build


Partial List Of Vintage Go Kart Brands:

  • Ala Kart
  • Bird Engineering
  • Bug Kart
  • Blackhawk Kart
  • Caretta
  • Clark - models include Cyclone 440
  • Dart - models include "A-Bone" with dual engines
  • Fox
  • GoBoy
  • Hartman Kart
  • Hoffco Kart - models include Hurricane
  • Hornet
  • King Kart
  • Rupp
  • Simplex