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BaT Alumni Gathering: June 25 in Seattle at The Shop – REGISTRATION IS CLOSED!
June 25, 2022
PVGP Schenley Park Race Weekend
July 23 - 24, 2022
Lake Tahoe Wooden Boat Concours d’Elegance
August 12 - 14, 2022
BaT Alumni Gathering – WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca During Car Week
August 20, 2022
BaT Alumni Gathering – The Shop in Texas
September 17, 2022
The Birth of Kobus’s “Baby Beast”
When he’s not taking beautiful pictures at car shows or racing his Porsche 912, kobus can be found cyclekarting. He’s covered this corner of automotive subculture for us before, and he’s been dropping hints about his hand-built Beast of Turin cyclekart for a while. So we were very happy when he sent in this piece about his experience building and racing his tiny Fiat S76 tribute, accompanied by some truly fantastic shots of the Baby Beast in action. Enjoy!
You have the most fun with the least machine. How true.
I first discovered cyclekarts the winter before COVID (BC), and when a character named John Corey (founder of the Northeast Cyclekart Club on Facebook, and now a good friend) showed me his very cool Salmson cyclekart, I was inspired to build my own.
For the uninitiated: cyclekarts are compact, lightweight sports machines, homemade and hand-made by their drivers. The purpose of a cyclekart is simply the fun of driving a machine you’ve built yourself. They’re not for serious racing or show. Cyclekart “specifications” allow for a field of cars with similar performance characteristics, without the need for strict rules. Races are held worldwide, with a strong following in the USA. Heck, there’s even a World Series! After a trip with John Corey to the Huntsville Grand Prix in 2021, I was motivated to finish my build.
Cyclekarts are typically (but not exclusively) styled as caricatures of prewar race cars. Looking good is fundamental, and performance is secondary. Generally, they weigh around 250 lbs. and are powered by a nine-horsepower, 200cc single-piston engine. They ride on 17″ motorcycle rims set at a 38″ track, have a wheelbase of roughly 66″, and cost no more than $2,500 in parts.
In building my own car, the first task was to find a pre-war “inspiration” car after which I could pattern my design. That was the easy part! I had long been fascinated with the Fiat S76 “Beast of Turin,” splendidly recreated by Duncan Pittaway using a chassis and engine from the two original cars. Discovering his “official” photographer, Stefan Marjoram, and his treasure trove of S76 photographs gave a huge boost to my design. Eventually I connected with Stefan, and when my project was completed he blessed it with a single comment: “nailed it.” Whew!
I started out with only basic homeowner’s tools, and it was quite a journey acquiring and learning to use metalworking and mechanic’s equipment. With a lot of help from John Corey (and the Internet), I have managed to assemble quite the collection—though I wouldn’t yet call myself an expert with any of them.
The S76 is a perfect subject for caricature. I started with sketches that I eventually superimposed onto Photoshopped images of the real thing. For proof of concept, I projected the design onto a wall—and me—at 1:1 scale. It worked! And by the time I had finished designing, many of my tools and parts had arrived.
Without a real workshop, frame assembly was done on my garage floor (and sometimes two garbage cans). Boxes of Stella came in handy. My first attempts at welding were horrendous, so for safety’s sake I tacked things together and had all the critical welds done by a shop. I’ve kept a blog of sorts that gives more details of the build, for any of you who are curious.
When it came to the Beast’s body, I knew what I wanted to do but had neither the tools nor the skills to execute it. I managed to weld together a skeletal frame that closely resembled my vision and then had to figure out how to skin it in aluminum. Easier said than done, for the Beast’s radiator and tail have very complex shapes.
Fortunately I know Al Romano, a retired master panel beater who can build a car’s body from scratch. He has the most amazing barn in Connecticut filled with tools that would make any car guy cry with envy.
My first outing at John Corey’s farm, the Pennywise Prize, was an endurance race that cost me dearly in bruises. It was supposed to be a show-and-tell for the Beastie, but I ended up driving it hard. Without any padding, the rough farm track beat me up badly. No pain, no gain?
Later that year, I returned to Pennywise farm with the completed Beast for some “mud wrestling,” which turned out to be one of the highlights of 2021. Now I know what they mean by the saying “happy as a pig in mud.” We were laughing all day long—and still do.
Up top is a photo of my Beastie being put through its paces by Ben Terwilliger, and at the bottom, Ben takes his own Austin 7 cyclekart for a slide.
Because these machines are home-built, fooling around with their mechanical issues never stops. Here, John Corey and Ben Terwilliger troubleshoot a chain issue on Ben’s Austin 7.
Then it was on to Lime Rock Park, where the Beastie was quite a hit and brought the biggest smiles out of everyone. Gaspare Fasulo in the top photo, Murray Smith in the bottom shot.
Driving the Beastie around the track was sensational. According to John Nikas, a veteran racer shown here ripping it up, it drives very much like a pre-war race car. I’ll take that as a compliment.
Racing on ice was a bucket list item, and Ben Terwilliger snared our little group an invite to join the Squam Trail Busters Snowmobile Club on Little Squam Lake in Ashland, New Hampshire. Our hosts plowed a track for us through the 10 inches of fresh snow on top of the lake ice.
The sash chains we strapped around our wheels provided limited grip (which made for great photos). We’ll have to find a grippier solution for 2023.
Here’s John Corey in his Salmson leading me in a close dice.
These machines love to slide, and at the end of the day, dirt offers the very best experience. Pavement and sharp turns combine for ugly incidents, making helmets mandatory. More folks are now adding roll bars, and I’ll add a removable one to my Beastie soon. Other finishing touches will include cosmetic side drive sprockets with a chain and external levers.
My cyclekart bucket list includes driving my Beastie in the Huntsville Grand Prix, the Tieton Grand Prix, and Slyme Dawg races—but my ultimate dream would be a rendezvous with Duncan Pittaway and the real Beast of Turin. It would certainly be cool to stage them together at the Goodwood Revival or, better yet, in the USA. Here’s hoping!
If you like what you see, come join us! A full photo gallery showing our exploits is below.