Living in Southern California in 1971, if you did not have a dune buggy and go to the desert on weekends, you were not normal. I could easily build a dune buggy and had built several for friends. One VW and one Corvair. But I have always hated towing a car or trailer. I had a 66 El Camino and wanted to build something to fit it the bed. Since I was busy working on motorcycles all day at AEE Choppers, I decided to build a mini dune buggy with a motorcycle motor.
I got a 350 Honda motor from a wrecked bike, and proceeded by building a tubular frame similar to a go-cart, but bigger tubing and added a roll cage. With a gravity feed carb setup, I needed to mount the gas tank high, and also wanted to protect the cart if it turned over. I bought spindles and rear axles, bearings and sprockets from go-cart sources. The motor was electric start, so I mounted a bike battery behind the seat. I mounted the motor, connected rear end with a chain, added go cart disk brakes and made a steel belly pan, since I would be running over all kinds of stuff.
I put small go-cart tires on the front, but got flotation style paddle tires for the rear, they were about 11 inches wide and 16 inches tall. I made a shift lever for my left hand; it had a motorcycle handlebar type clutch lever mounted on the end with a rod going back to the motor shift lever. I could release the clutch and shift with the same hand, worked great. Hooked up fuel lines and wiring and was ready to go. I called it a Desert Kart, since I mostly took it to the desert.
I went often to the desert or dry lakes with friends with dune buggies or motorcycles. The kart was very quick and responsive, turning very sharply, I had fun chasing rabbits. The electric start was great, no jumping up and down to start the motor. With the big rear tires, I could handle sand, dirt and mud; I often got very muddy from dirt off the front tires. A friend Norm Crum saw how much fun I was having, so he built one too. His had a Honda 450 engine. Now I could ride with someone similar to me. We often cruised the San Bernardino Mountains. What fun.
I had friends that enjoyed racing at El Mirage Dry Lake; there was a standing start, mile and 3/16 track there. I took my desert kart there, but it was not right for that kind of racing. A new kart was in the works. I wanted it to be light and sleek. I got a Honda 175 electric start motor. Made a new kart with light tubing, again using go-cart components. I added a partial body to make the kart more aerodynamic, and geared it for El Mirage. The motor was just stock, but I raced it at El Mirage going 79 miles per hour. There was too much wind resistance to really go very fast, but going 79 with a 44-inch wheelbase was very exciting. I had made the steering much slower than the other kart, to make it more stable at high speed.
I could get two of the karts in the back of my El Camino, so I often took a friend and went to the desert. I wanted more power, so I built one more kart using a Honda 450. It was a little faster, but the best one for the desert was the Honda 350. It was so cool to go on the dry lakes and make big broad slides in the powder on the lake. We all loved to get going fast and make a big slide beside someone and throw dirt and dust all over them.
I built one more desert kart. All the previous karts were only one seat. The new one had two seats, side by side. It was for a Honda 450, but I never finished it and sold the rolling frame to a friend. Sometimes, the terrain did not allow the desert karts to pass; they were about 42 inches wide at the rear end. I wanted something to ride on mountain trails that were narrow, so I took a Honda Trail 50 minibike, made a rigid frame on the rear to handle one of the 11" by 16" paddle tires. It was great and would go about anywhere.
I enjoyed those days riding in the desert or mountains, sometimes by myself, but mostly with others. I had bought a video recorder and would record the day’s activities. We would sit around the campfire and watch them in the evening. I also added a toolbox mounted to the kart to carry tools and supplies for the others, and me that proved very helpful. Glad I was young them, the karts had no suspension and were rough riding, but I wore a kidney belt. I had great times with the desert karts and friends.