Vintage Go Kart Build

Article by Mark Trotta

Several years ago, I took a break from my old car projects and restored an old go kart. Aside from being fun, it was fairly inexpensive (less than $500 including original purchase price).

budget go kart build

Resting peacefully in a barn for several decades before I showed up, this old kart had seemed to have had an impact with a tree years ago leaving the steering linkage slightly bent. A new steering rod was easily fabricated from a piece of threaded rod.

build an old school go kart

Bird Engineering Go Kart

On the horizontal bar behind the seat, there was a tin sticker that read "Bird Engineering Inc P.O. Box J Fremont, Nebraska 68025" followed by a hand-engraved serial number.

I did a little homework and found that Bird Engineering was founded in 1959, and was a manufacturer of go karts, mini-bikes and three-wheelers. Their products were sold under their name as well as Sears and JC Penney. The company was bought out by Phoenix Engineering somewhere in the 1980s.

vintage Bird Go Kart

Dimensions of the cart are length 57", width 35", height 24", and a wheelbase of 43".

Tecumseh H25

The motor was original and fairly complete, but needed a complete overhaul.

vintage tecumseh h25 engine rebuild

Prep And Paint Kart Frame

Since the frame was a solid shade of brown rust, I could only guess what the original color of the kart was. I decided on a two-tone theme: Allis-Chalmers Orange for the frame, and Industrial Grey for the wheels, pedals, and linkage.

fun go kart build

The key to every good paint job is in the preparation.

Everything was stripped down to bare metal before being primed and painted. After cleaning the surface with mineral spirits, masking tape was applied to mask off anything not being painted.

TIP: Before you paint, select an area that is well-ventilated, near an open window or open garage door is good. Spray-can paint fumes aren't as harmful as other paints, but good ventilation provides you not only with fresh air, it also helps the finished product dry faster.

After letting the primer dry for several days, the frame was lightly scuffed with 400 wet paper before applying the color coat. I let the paint sit for a few days (out in the warm sun is best), then scuffed with 600 wet paper and applied another color coat.

Two-Piece Kart Rims

If you've ever tried to install a wheelbarrow or cart tire on a solid rim, you'll appreciate Go Kart Split Rims. They'll save you a lot of time and aggravation on assembly and disassembly.

two-piece wheels for go kart

These rims are five-inch, and have a 4-bolt pattern with a 2-13/16" bolt circle. Two-piece go-kart rims will always require tubes.


Vintage Small Engine Build

Many old go karts and mini-bikes were originally fitted with either a Briggs & Stratton or Tecumseh 4-stroke flathead engine. This one had a Tecumseh 2-1/2 HP motor, dated 1968.

vintage tecumseh engine repair

The engine build was the most troublesome part of this project, but it was mostly labor.

vintage tecumseh h25 engine rebuild

Issues included removing a frozen piston, integral valve seat repair, and restoring engine tin.

repair integral valve seats Tecumseh engine

Also time-consuming was finding obsolete parts, such as the connecting rod and engine valves.

rebuild vintage Tecumseh engine

After sitting for decades with a seized piston, this rusty old Tecumseh was able to be restored to it's former glory. The fact that it was rebuildable after 50+ years is a testament as to how well these small engines were originally made.

vintage tecumseh engine rebuild


Go Kart Clutch

A centrifugal clutch found on old school go karts does not like "on-and-off" operation. If you drive it this way, the clutch will have a very short life, so it's better to run pedal down or not at all.

vintage go kart with scrub brakes

A solution to this would be installing a Torque Converter, which also gets more power to the rear wheel.


Vintage Kart Tire Replacement

The old, worn-out knobbies were replaced with 4.10-3.50 x 5" sawtooth tread tires.

vintage go kart tire choices


Scrub Brakes

Scrub brakes were fitted to many vintage go karts, including this Bird Engineering kart. Pressing down on the left foot-pedal activates a long rod, which activates the rear cross-rod, which has two pucks of U-shaped metal pivoting on a bolt in front of the rear tires.

go kart with scrub brakes

Their efficiency is dependent on the type of tires they are being used with.

Sawtooth tread tires, like the ones on this Bird kart, work pretty well with scrub brakes. But, being powered by a 2-1/2 horsepower Tecumseh, the kart's not going very fast to begin with.


Simple Kill Switch

To stop the motor, a two-pole switch was installed. One wire gets grounded to the frame, and the other wire goes to the engine. When you throw the switch, it grounds the ignition and kills the motor. A momentary switch would also work.


First Ride

With everything tightened down and inspected, I fired up the motor, climbed in, and off I went. What a blast! Rolling along six inches above the pavement, neighborhood kids smiling and waving.

vintage go kart build

After the trial run, my son and I took turns driving around the block to work out a few kinks (gas tank foam got sucked into carburetor, then the old chain broke and fell off).


This old go kart restoration took 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.

go cart restoration


Related Articles:

Restore An Old Go Kart

Classic Mini-Bike Build

Minibike History