Vintage Travels with Max-Torque Jim: Don Thompson’s Car and Kart Restorations

Columns: Legendary kart
Don is similar to Bud Hanna in that he’s a car and kart guy. Currently Don has a 1966 Corvette Stingray undergoing restoration as well as an Austin Healy (Text and Photos: Frank Weir)

Don’s kart collection is so large it is difficult to count; there are karts in various stages of restoration all over the upper level of his large workshop sharing the space with the body panels and seats belonging to the Healy that is undergoing full restoration.  

On the lower level of the facility there was a Red Devil sidewinder that was just about to have its make-over finished. The Red Devil was made during the sixties by Don’s Karts (a different Don) in Butte, Montana, and later by Red Devil Engineering at an address in Walla Walla, Washington. The kart featured an interesting type of suspension associated with the rear axle. The feature had been issued a US Patent Number 430915 in 1964. The rear axle bearing hangers on both sides of the frame were welded to the top chassis rails and attached using a narrow bracket about 1¼inches wide to the lower chassis rail. Each of the narrow brackets was sleeved over the lower chassis rail. A round rubber bush also 1¼inches in diameter and approximately ⅝ of an inch thick (Lord Mount) was sandwiched between the bracket and the rear axle bearing hanger. No doubt the torque applied to the connecting bolt would affect the stiffness of the kart’s rear end.

Don’s comprehensive vintage kart collection included Evans karts, Hornets made by Richard Peck in Texas, both the sprint and enduro models, various Rupps, a very nice Gilson as well as a couple of Gilson’s that could only be described as challenging to make like new. Another rare kart that had been fully restored by Don was a 1961 Dexon Dragon, the worlds only all-aluminium kart that offered uni-frame construction according to the Dexon adverts at that time.  There were examples of 1961 Rathmann’s, SAE’s that were advertised at one time as the Lotus of karting, Bug Stingers from the late sixties, Margay New Breeds, and a few King karts from which the Margay evolved. 

Since Don’s workshop was located in Wisconsin it was no surprise to see King karts, Fox karts and Blackhawks in the collection since all of them were manufactured in 'America’s Dairyland'. Don also had a rare Fox concession kart awaiting restoration but not the one with the additional kiddie’s seat ahead of the adult seat. There were also Go Kart 800’s and 1200’s and a single Big J Lancer. The collection also contained a few karts that could not be classified as pedigree; probably homemade and a 1961 Bantam A-Bomb that was currently on loan at another collection.

There were shelves full of engines mainly McCulloch models as well as West Bends and Clintons and all the wheels from the early days that you would ever need plus the spun alloy and pressed steel fuel tanks that were popular then, either mounted on the floor pan or attached to the seat back, namely Palmini, Trophy, Azusa and Kenilworth. Don explained the work around he had to undertake to fabricate a Gilson fuel tank starting with a vintage rototiller tank and widening it by adding a section in the middle. Chilton tanks were also in evidence on the storage shelves. Long lines of period correct tires adorned a rack on the side of the shop. 
Looking at all the karts in line for restoration it would be true to say that Don certainly has very good job security!

Hats off to Bud, Roy, Merv, Ralph and Don for preserving the karts from the early sixties, considered by many vintage karting enthusiasts as the halcyon days of karting, when there was said to be around 100 manufacturers in America during 1961 producing a wide variety of chassis designs. 
Once again the writer is indebted to Jim Donovan owner of Max-Torque for not only collecting and returning me to O’Hare airport, organising the visits to the various locations, acting as my personal chauffeur for 6 days (covering 2770 miles), taking care of the gas expenses and for providing a roof over my head during the time that I resided at his beautifully appointed home.

The Bud Hanna Classic Car and Karts Collection

Created by: cggiuliano - 13/03/24

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