In memory of Jerry Solt (August 1934 – July 2020)

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Jerry Solt of Findlay Ohio, owner of one of the oldest kart manufacturing companies in the USA died 18th of July 2020. Jerry was almost 86 years of age and had been struggling with his health for a number of month (Article and Photos: Frank Weir or as credits)

Solt Automotive Engineering or SAE for short was first and foremost back in 1957 an automobile repair garage operated by Russell Solt a gifted engine builder. Russell and his son Jerry first tried out a kart in 1957. After that kart ride the Solts were converted to the new fangled motor sport sweeping the country at that time. They decided to build a kart but thought that they could make something a little better than the model they had driven. One of the initial modifications made by the Solts to their kart was to install a live axle despite the fact that they were told that it would not work; but as history has confirmed it of course did. The rear end modification that the Solts incorporated into their kart made them the first as far as they were aware to use a live axle, certainly in their area.

Building one kart led to another and then another and by early 1960 the Solt family were in the kart manufacturing business. The automobile repair garage that Russell Solt had operated in Findlay since 1946 was transformed into a kart manufacturing facility producing SAE karts.
Prior to becoming a kart designer and manufacturer Jerry Solt had been a student from 1953 at the General Motors Institute (GMI) of Technology in Flint Michigan now Kettering University. Jerry declined an opportunity to become an engineer at Cadillac and went home to Findlay to start making karts.

When Jerry initially got into kart manufacturing he was fortunate that his father who shared his interest in the new sport of karting was able to teach him everything that he needed to know about production engineering to enable SAE karts to be made efficiently. At GMI Jerry had been indoctrinated to think light and strong. At home Jerry’s father instilled in him imagination and the drive to think things out and to experiment with his own ideas; Jerry was moulded to be an innovator not a copier. Through racing he also became a very talented tuner of kart engines having a comprehensive grasp of gas flow and engine balance something which didn’t go amiss at Mercury who offered him a job developing their snowmobile line during the 1970’s.

SAE karts were made to be extremely light, strong and fast. The original 1961 models were fabricated from small diameter round chrome moly tube and took the form of a space frame. The kart used canvas suspended between two frame cross members to create a form fitting seat and was marketed as the Spider. However the Spider was not an easy kart to produce so Russell and Jerry carried out a redesign resulting in a chassis which had the main chassis rails made from 1 inch square tubing and was much simpler to manufacture. Approximately 2800 SAE karts were made by Jerry.

Early in 1961 Jerry produced a SAE racing special which was known as the Upside Down Yamaha. The kart was powered by a 250cc air-cooled Yamaha mounted behind a minimalist seat back but inverted to improve cylinder cooling. The engine inversion required the crankshaft rotation to be reversed. Jerry made a special engine sprocket with 13 teeth for the Yamaha which coupled a double row of 35-pitch chain to a rear axle sprocket having 84 teeth to provide the forward motion to the upside down special. 
The SAE kart manufacturing facility eventually moved from the city of Findlay. Until Jerry became ill the karts were made in a solar heated fabrication shop that incidentally Jerry constructed and commissioned himself at a location north of Benton Ridge approximately 8 miles west of Findlay. As well as the fabrication shop which was at the rear of the Solt family home Jerry also owned a clay-surfaced 1/5 mile oval race track and a smaller 1/8 mile oval inside the larger track all within his property lines.

Jerry was proud of the fact that the SAE kart won almost all the street races which they entered back in the day. At one such race held at Marine City in Michigan on a long fast track using a length of Main Street about 4 or 5 blocks long Jerry started from the rear of the grid and passed all of the karts ahead of him on the long first straightaway during the first lap! There were around 38 or maybe more karts in the race as far as Jerry could remember.
Jerry was an interesting gentleman to converse with despite his hearing having been damaged by what could only be attributed to his exposure to un-silenced two stroke kart engines over a period of 60 years or more.
Marylyn Solt summed up the SAE operation very well when she said of her pioneering and innovating husband, "Karting allowed Jerry to be creative; he’s was a very creative person, he would have difficulty making a box the way someone told him to make a box, he just didn’t make boxes the way other people did".
Cadillac’s and Mercury’s loss was definitely karting’s gain.

 

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