Mike Mitchell’s Bantam Karts

Columns: Legendary kart
Back in 1959 The M. Mitchell Company located at 249 Streetsboro-Windham Road in Hudson, Ohio, were primarily in the business of making sprockets and gears. Then along came a new form of low cost motorsport known as karting which resulted in the formation of the Bantam Racer Division within the M. Mitchell Company.Text and Photos: Frank Weir

Mitchell’s first production kart featured square tube construction. The main chassis legs looked as if they had been formed from inch and half box section. The steering column support in front of the seat was folded from sheet metal in the shape of a tall triangle. 
The 1959 Bantam adverts suggested that the kart provided style as well as speed and that conversion kits and bodies were available to modify the Bantam kart into Quarter or Half Midget racing autos. The kart was designed as a ladder frame and featured a live rear axle which was ahead of its time. 

By 1960 the kart looked a lot more stylish than the previous model and was fitted with a full circle steering wheel which replaced the aircraft type 'wheel' on the previous model. The updated design featured deeper sheet metal sissy rails and a front bumper. The layout was well proportioned, looked good and was said to be capable of handling the power produced by three McCulloch motors. 
Kart design in the early sixties was developing at a fast rate and the 1961 offering from Mike Mitchell featured what was referred to as a stepped frame; the main chassis rails swept up at the front of the seat and ran backwards towards and above the back axle. Bending such a long piece of tubing was skilful operation back then before the advent of CNC benders. Later the frame was fabricated using left and right legs joined by a smaller diameter rear cross-member come bumper. The kart featured 'Z' shaped pedals and a double spoked steering wheel which were both distinguishing features of the Bantam. The steering wheels were made in house by Mitchell as was the upholstery.  The rear axle featured tapered keyed hubs similar to automobile technology. Mitchell also pressed his own alloy wheels and made his own taper locked sprocket carriers. The kart was marketed as the Bantam A-Bomb.

What was different about the 1961 Bantam from other kart manufacturers’ offerings was the engine mounting arrangement. A ¼ inch thick piece of sheet metal was cut and folded in such a way that it was welded to the chassis rail above the rear axle right side bearing hanger. The metal was folded to enable the mount to be welded to the rear bumper and to the cross member behind the seat. Three holes were formed in the vertical face of the mount, one round 5/16 inch diameter and two slotted holes of the same width, the slots being approximately 1 inch long. A quality piece of 5/16 inch thick alloy plate was attached to the engine and then bolted to the engine mount; the slotted holes facilitated the chain tension. Two versions of the kart were offered, the all out racer known as the A-Bomb and the lesser version marketed as the Whippet. The two karts were identical except the Whippet was supplied with knobby tires.
The A-Bomb continued in production to the end of Mitchell’s involvement with racing karts.  Along the way the only significant change to the kart was the substantial lengthening of the rear axle bearing hanger on both sides of the chassis. The hanger extended from the back axle position tapering to the mid seat position. This additional length of sheet steel acted as a stiffener reducing the amount of flex from the back of the seat towards the rear axle.

The Bantam market was mainly the American Midwest. It was thought that somewhere between 500 and 550 Bantam karts were made; surprisingly only 3 people worked in the kart section of Mike Mitchell’s company.  Did Bantam Industries also make the Alley Kat kart? Both karts looked very similar. Karting World magazine in their June 1961 issue listed the Alley Kat alongside the Bantam at the same Hudson, Ohio, address.
There was a 'works' Bantam team that went by the title Cleveland Marine Kart Team. When you know that Hudson back in the day was and still is part of the greater Cleveland metropolitan area and that Cleveland is located on the southern shore of Lake Erie, hence the marine connection, the name was understandable. 
Mike Mitchell died in 2014 aged 92.

Together Again
The rest of this Bantam story involves Don Thompson, a gentleman from Illinois, with a large pole barn workshop in Wisconsin. Don restores classic cars and old karts from the sixties era. The time had arrived for Don to reduce the number of karts in his workshop and the lucky recipient of one of Don’s give away karts was the writer. The kart donated by Don was a 1961 Bantam A-Bomb. The kart was complete but had been modified to allow a lawn mower type engine to be fitted to a flat engine plate.

Getting the kart back to the writer’s home base certainly posed a problem. All the usual scenarios were considered such as Greyhound, Fastenal, UPS and FedEx.  FedEx were immediately struck off the list because of previous experience with the company; they got the decimal place in the wrong position in the last transaction with the writer who having paid up front, as normal practice, for a 5Kg parcel. FedEx later demanded the price for a 500Kg load after they had delivered the 5 Kg package; what a nightmare, every month FedEx kept adding interest because the bill was not settled. Eventually FedEx saw sense after having sold the debt to a private collector who was politely told where to go in no uncertain terms or else sue and let the lawyers deal with the issue.

To solve the transportation issue it was decided to buy a 32 inch roller suitcase case. The chassis was cut into 3 sections after removing the steering and seat hoops and loaded into the case. For the airline to accept the case the weight had to be less than 23Kg and for that reason the steel floor pan, seat back and sides had to be removed. 
The kart made it back to the writer’s shop where it was reassembled using a version of the FAA method of splicing aircraft fuselage tubes. Because the kart was 62 years of age it was never again going to be raced in earnest so the cutting and splicing of the frame was never an issue. To keep the restoration authentic the flat engine mounting plate was removed and replaced by the proper Bantam Industries engine mount.

Today the kart looks almost as good as new and has prominent position in the writer’s collection of 1960’s historical karts; Don was pleased with the restoration outcome and that’s the main thing. 
The writer wishes to acknowledge Don Thompson’s generosity in donating the 1961 Bantam A-Bomb, the dissecting skills of Max-Torque’s Jim Donovan  and Rick Chapman’s help with the engine mount dimensions and supply of the alloy engine plate as well as the Bantam brochure and decals. Rick also liaised with John Mitchell, Mike’s son, on historical questions about Bantam Industries.

Created by: cggiuliano - 07/06/24

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