The demise of soap-box go-karts of yesteryear

Roadside skips are wonderful places for people who make and recycle things. Whenever I pass one I can’t resist a quick glance over the contents to see what items of use someone has decided to discard.

The other day I saw a traditional Silver Cross pram lying in a skip and immediately I was transported down memory lane. When I was a child a find of this kind would have been gold dust to kids up-and-down the country. The Silver Cross was the premium donor vehicle for a soap-box go-cart because its wheels had a spring plunger that enabled them to be detached from the axles, so the axles could be easily mounted on the go-cart.

In the pantheon of classic British vehicle designs the Silver Cross-inspired go-kart has to be right up there.

It then occurred to me that soap-box go-carts are now virtually extinct, as nowadays dads either don’t have the ingenuity or inclination to build one. Or, perhaps, they are simply short of time and energy? Another possible explanation is that children are no longer interested in anything that cannot stream data from the internet.  What’s happened in the space of one generation to wipe out this homemade resourcefulness? Is it a sign that Gigabits have won the day or rather a reflection that a traditional Silver Cross pram now costs comfortably over £1,000 and is more likely to be handed down than be thrown out.

There is still something of cult appetite for soap-box go-karts amongst some of us more nerdy grown-ups – see the The Red Bull Soapbox Race events, while other programmes that celebrate ingenuity and engineering pragmatism like Robot Wars and Scrapheap Challenge have kept our interest in building things alive.

In the case of the Red Bull Soapbox Race, the attraction has gone global with more than forty soapbox races having been held around the world in the past decade or so– from Australia to South Africa, Helsinki to St. Louis, Jamaica to Italy.  The one common thing on display at all venues is the innovation, joy and utter craziness on display.  The Red Bull Soap Box race taps into a phenomenon that transcends geographic boundaries and cultures.

But without any visible evidence that many young people are involved in hobbies like building their own go-karts, I wonder if I will be able to say the same with such conviction in another generation’s time?

Warley Design offers mechanical design, engineering and product development services to a broad range of industries. If you’ve got a project we can help you with please contact us.


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