Rocket Thrust Go Kart Barn Find

Turboniques Rocket Kart

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I love ’50s and ’60s technology. With the space race, cold war, and speculation about the future all taking place at once, people were coming up with some crazy ideas. One company I had never heard of  was the Turbonique Company, but after seeing this rocket powered barn find go kart that Alan S tipped me off too I had to do more research on this brand. It would seem the guys behind this company were mad men with dreams of going fast. Well reality was, they built rocket engines for NASA and were looking for a consumer application. Drag racers are always looking for a new way to go faster and this company saw an opportunity to hurdle people down the dragstrip faster than ever before and make money doing it. While they came up with everything from jet powered superchargers to the jet engine Drag Axle, their craziest creation has to be these rocket powered go kart!

Rocket Kart

The story behind this one is that the owner acquired it from a car dealership he worked for. The dealership had purchased it as a promotional stunt. No one else at the dealership was crazy enough to try driving it, so he agreed to give it a go. He only attempted to drive it two times, once on a closed street to test it out and again at the dragstrip. The promotional race never happened, but he still got to race it down the dragstrip. After that, he somehow managed to make the kart his own. He parked it in his barn and that’s where it has stayed ever since. I’m guessing he never got up the courage to try driving it again, but I don’t blame him! Even if you wanted to race it, I’m not sure you could get fuel for it now.

Turbonique Catalogue

I can only imagine the thrill of tearing down the track on something this small and light. Add in the insane 1,980 horses each of the T-16 engines produce and the fact that they might explode at any moment and you’ve got something downright terrifying! I just love learning about obscure and rare technology like this, even if it isn’t practical or safe (if you know of some other odd products built during this time period, please share!). If you’d like to learn more about Turbonique, I’d recommend taking a look at the Iowahawk about the brand and some of it’s crazy products! So if you could get fuel for it, would you take this go kart out for a spin?

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  1. JoshAuthor

    I forgot to include a couple of links you guys might also want to check out.
    Here is a video about the Turbonique engine noises:
    And here is Mecum Auction’s video about the Tobacco King rocket car:


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    • Bill

      My name is Bill we drove 4 hrs to Branson mo for a car show over the weekend. While there we talked to lots of people then a man stopped and was talking with us about our studebaker truck and in conversation discovered he grew up in our hometown of st joseph mo. Proceeded to tell us his interesting 80 year history! Told me about his jet cart in early 60s. Said his father in law was a photographer for N .A.S.A and got the engines. Said he raced a front engine rail and beat off the line. Then mentioned a publicity shoot on a blocked off street i believe. Said he sold it in the early 70’s may of said 73 or 74 . Can you tell me if this is the cart you posted ? He is interested in its location i told him id do some research for him and give him a call .

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      • Steve Buffel

        I don’t think this is the Kart. Wetaskawin Motors in Alberta bought it new and then it was sold to Bill, the driver and only recently to a gentleman that has a huge collection of Turbonique stuff in Edmonton, Alberta. His website looks to be down at the moment, but I think it’s

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  2. pursang

    You’ll poke your eye out with that thing if you are not careful!

    Seriously, that is cool.

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  3. Jimmy Holt

    looks like it could be a hydrogen peroxide jet to me. If it has silver screens inside the chambers it will be, the peroxide reacts very violently to the shiver, producing a lot of thrust to propel you down the track! And I would love to have the beast!

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    • Alan (Michigan)

      The Turbonique had a shaft output. Propulsion was not by thrust, but by gear-down to more conventional drive axles. Another application was that the shaft drove a supercharger, with a design similar to the turbos of today, except that the drive end was not in the exhaust stream.

      The video linked in EKN shows one run with a similar kart smoking tires for nearly the entire 1/4 mile. Nutty!

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  4. Desi

    Ya, neat to look at, but you wouldn’t catch me riding in/on that barn find

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  5. John Cole

    Love the 50’s technology. I would be interested in buying this if the owner isn’t too crazy on price – have someone contact me.


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    • JoshAuthor

      Hi John,
      I don’t know if they are interested in selling it or not. If anyone is a member of the forum please private message Steve Buffel. Maybe he can shed more light on this karts story! If I hear anything, I will let you know John.

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      • Alan (Michigan)

        PM sent to Steve, advising that he or the kart’s owner post here.

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  6. Bill

    I’m curious too – what is the price?
    Let’s see, add some wings and a rudder, or pontoon-like structure, and away we go!!!

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  7. Randy Forbes

    You can do more research on Tom Thumb, on any of the several Vintage Go Kart sites/forums.

    From what I remember reading, there were some fatalities, and lawsuits resulting in jail time for some of the principals! Yeah, you wouldn’t want to do anything more than put it on static display!

    Found this one in the Garlit’s Museum a few years back…




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  8. Robert R.Member

    Was/is this cart named “Death Wish 1”?
    Firewall, full roll-cage, and pay someone else with a signed notarized release of liability while you view from google earth, that might begin to make sense?
    A cart museum piece.

    Randy I was keying in and didn’t see your post.

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  9. Randy Forbes

    Thanks, but I’ll stick to this one; 1961 McCulloch R1 with a pair of (later model) Mc91s on it!

    Rescued from the scrap pile, and with the help of eBay and Vintage Go Kart forums, I collected all the missing parts and pretty much finished it a decade ago.

    Every now and then, I’ll get a streak of self-destruction, and fire it up!

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    • jim s

      that i like a lot.

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      • Alan (Michigan)


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  10. Blindmarc

    Had a mini bike with a wombat combat 125, and a kart with a Honda 55o four. This thing has nothing on them

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  11. Doug

    What’s the brown stain in the seat?

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  12. Clay Bryant

    Andy Granatelli had a “Rocket Car” in the early 50s.Came out of the turns belchin’ smoke at a breakneck speed of 50-60 mph.People thought it was doing 100+.Now owned by Gary Kuck of Lincoln,Nebraska.He drove it in the Great Race.Very interesting car.(just a Ford flathead thou)

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  13. fred

    Closest I came was a mini bike my dad constructed, about 50% larger than normal and fitted with an 8 HP Briggs and Stratton. Zero to 30 in about half a second.

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  14. Karl Vacek

    I’m pretty sure I read about this in Karting World in the early or mid 1960’s, and I think they tested at an airport. I definitely remember the unique appearance of the engine and the Turbonique name.

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  15. jim s

    i know they have shifter karts today and i think they still run karts at Daytona. they used to put yamaha rd 250/350 and tz 250 motor/gearboxes in karts. but this is something else all together. i am not interested in driving it. great find

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    • Alan (Michigan)

      Yea, I run one with a CR125 Honda. Plenty fast for me…

      The “Superkart” big dogs run 250 twin cylinder two-strokes, or 450 4-strokes. They run the big tracks, and can top 140. Some years ago a promoter lined them up as the “support” race for NASCAR at Infineon/Sonoma. What a big mistake; they were so much quicker around the circuit than the cup cars!

      There are bigger engines on karts, but as far as I know, organized road racing only allows the 250/2 and 450/4 versions. There are a lot of classes for big track racing, including the sprint type situp chassis types, and the laydown types, with many engine choices.

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  16. Jeff
  17. Car guy

    Wow, what a great cart for a 13 year old with a death wish, ” How do you spell boom!”
    That cart has lawsuit written all over it. Great piece of history, but would be too afraid to run it.

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  18. cliffyc

    Growing up as a kid here in the UK we used the expression “skid marks”. Never be the one,in school class, if your underwear bore marks of the last “number two”…!. Think this little rocket would cause that problem…,if the velocity/acceleration didn’t do it,then the probability of a pair of rocket motors inches from you,hastening your demise….,would!

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  19. Chip H.

    Interesting concept. I was given an Arctic Cat years ago, I didn’t like the 2 cylinder Kohler, so I pulled it and replaced it with a Kawasaki 400 engine and trans. 5 speed, kick start snowmobile. Too fast for the snow, it just produced rooster tails and sunk. I could only use it on frozen lakes.

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  20. Steve Buffel

    The Story of the Wetaskiwin Turbonique Twin T-16 Rocket Powered Go-Cart Written by Bill Moore, Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Canada

    I had a friend, Ron Otteson, who worked in the parts department of the Wetaskiwin Motors Chevrolet Dealership in Wetaskiwin, Alberta Canada. This was in the spring of 1967. Ron and I were avid readers of Hot Rod Magazine and saw an ad for Turbonique products. Turbonique was an Orlando Florida company created by an ex aerospace engineer Gene Middlebrooks. Ron sold the manager of Wetaskiwin Motors on purchasing a rocket powered go-cart from Turbonique as an advertising strategy.

    We contacted the management of the newly opened car racing facility, Speedway Park, in Edmonton Alberta and they enthusiastically agreed to let us do demonstration runs at their drag meets and said they would pay us $2,500 per run. We ordered the cart and it was air freighted to us at the cost of $2,700 Canadian. Probably wouldn’t be allowed on a plane today due to the high pressure oxygen and nitrogen bottles strapped to the frame.

    When we received it we found there was no fuel in the shipment so I phoned Gene and asked him what it burned, and how could we get some? He said they supplied Thermolene to their American customers but he couldn’t ship it on a plane due to its volatility. Thermolene was N-Propyl-Nitrate and in the days before the Internet we couldn’t find a supplier in Alberta. N-Propyl-Nitrate is a monopropellant, which doesn’t require oxygen to combust. Gene informed us that Ethylene Oxide would do the trick, as it is also a monopropellant. Ethylene Oxide is used to produce many other compounds. I had a friend who worked at Dow Chemical at Fort Saskatchewan NE of Edmonton Alberta, and he said they made ethylene oxide there. He and I modified a five-gallon propane bottle to contain the ethylene oxide, which boils at 10.4° C so has to be contained under pressure at normal ambient temperatures.

    My Dow friend and I entered Dow using his pass at midnight one night. We went to the sampling shack near where they loaded product on rail cars and bled off five gallons into our container.

    So now we had fuel and I wanted to do a test run before we got in front of a crowd at Speedway Park. Ron requested I drive it as I was single and he was married with two young children. With the aid of some friends we blocked off access to three blocks in Wetaskiwin with their cars. We partially fueled it up and I drove it for about one block with a two block shut down. We then rolled it into a friend’s welding shop and shut the door before the police arrived. We told the officer that we don’t know what that loud sound was but we heard it too. So we knew the cart worked.

    Speedway Park advertised the rocket-powered go-cart for three weeks prior to their next drag meet in 1967. At the meet they told us we would be running just before a planned intermission. As the time drew nigh we fueled up and I donned my fire suit. A race official came to us and declared that due to a last minute ruling by NHRA they couldn’t run a rocket powered car for insurance reasons. We later heard that all Turbonique products were banned from official NHRA events as they had an inordinate number of explosions and fatalities. We heard opinions that Speedway knew this before the meet and used us for advertising and never intended to let us run.

    I appealed to the official that the car was fueled up with a volatile chemical, which we couldn’t put back in the container, and we couldn’t pour it out as it was toxic and explosive. They agreed to let us run after the crowd had left and they would leave the timing lights set up. Another friend from Wetaskiwin was there and he asked me if he could run his 426 Hemi Charger against me for comparison purposes. I said I wasn’t too keen on running beside a relatively large car as in the event of something going wrong I wasn’t going to come out on top when I was sitting on a small go-cart. He said he would then run behind me.

    The way the rocket powered cart works is this. There are two spherical rocket chambers on the back of the frame with machined rocket nozzles coming out of them and aiming backward. Two small high pressure steel bottles with regulators are strapped to each side of the frame, one containing oxygen and the other containing nitrogen. There is a tank vertically mounted directly behind the driver’s seat to contain the liquid fuel, in our case ethylene oxide. There is tubing from the oxygen bottle into the rocket chambers and tubing from the nitrogen bottle into the top of the liquid fuel tank. Tubing is connected from the bottom of the liquid fuel tank into the rocket chambers also. There are spark plugs threaded into the top of the spherical rocket chambers, which are fired by high voltage circuits energized by a 12V motorcycle battery.

    The run sequence is:

    1. Turn on the spark plugs just before the run with a toggle switch mounted on the steering wheel.
    2. Step on an electrical switch mounted to the right fixed “pedal”.
    3. This switch opens electrically actuated valves on the high pressure tanks. First, the oxygen is released directly into the rocket chambers, then the nitrogen pressurized liquid fuel is forced out the bottom of the fuel tank into the rocket chambers at around 600 PSI.
    4. The ethylene oxide hits the oxygen rich atmosphere inside the chambers with the presence of a spark from the spark plugs. It immediately ignites causing back pressure which stops the oxygen flow. Oxygen isn’t needed at that point as the ethylene oxide is a monopropellant and brings it’s own oxygen to the show.
    5. There is just a bit more than enough liquid fuel to complete a full power quarter mile run which was the length of a drag strip in those days. Do NOT back off then re-ignite part way down the track. It is theorized that the two fellows killed on these carts did just that, which caused some unstable combination of fuel and oxygen in the chambers resulting in the rocket motors exploding with disastrous results. This could have had something to do with the NHRA ban of Turbonique products.

    So I made the run in the right lane with only the drivers of the drag cars that had run that day as witnesses. I turned 151 mph in 9.7 seconds in the quarter mile. At the end of the run I braked, and as I slowed I made a 180 degree turn and turned back toward the start moving into the left lane. As I straightened out I was looking at the grill of the Charger coming at me in the left lane at way over 100 mph. I had left him in the dust, and was expecting him to be coming up behind me in the right lane. Later the driver said when driving behind me he was taking in very large smelly molecules from the cart’s exhaust through his ventilation system and moved to the left lane to get clean air. Luckily I had enough momentum to turn left back into the right lane and he passed by me harmlessly. That would have been a sad way to go after surviving a quarter mile run on the cart.

    Back to Wetaskiwin and we had to tell the manager of Wetaskiwin Motors that we wouldn’t be allowed to run the cart as advertising. They took the cart from us and as I found out later, stored it in a shed. I ran into the manager many years later and asked him where the cart was. He told me it was in a shed at his son’s place and I asked if he would sell it to me for nostalgia sake. He agreed and wrote a bill of sale on a paper napkin. I paid him and the next day picked up the cart. It had stuff piled on top of it but suffered very little damage. It was very dirty and somewhat corroded in places but otherwise as good as new. My plan was to restore it and donate it to the Wetaskiwin Reynolds Alberta Museum which is a world class museum celebrating virtually anything that ever had an engine. Their artifacts include old tractors, gas and steam, motor cycles, and virtually every kind of car and truck from the late 1800’s to about 1995. They also have an airplane facility. They display refurbished artifacts in the main building and have hundreds more in “as found” condition in a large storage building near by.

    A friend from Calgary who builds modern racing go-carts heard about my cart and put out some feelers on social media. I immediately was contacted by several people and institutions who are interested in purchasing the cart for various reasons. Due to the amounts being offered I am seriously contemplating selling the rocket powered go-cart rather than donating it. My house needs a reno! At this point I still have the cart and haven’t done any restoration on it in case a prospective purchaser would rather do it themselves. I am taking some time to reflect on where the best home for this piece of history would be and of course taking into account financial gain.

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    • Alan (Michigan)

      Wow. Thanks for posting the history behind the kart, and for clarifying the propulsion method. Apparently Turbonique made several versions, in both thrust and shaft-drive types.

      And… Who knew then that young and foolish bravery might bring celebrity and bank stuffing to Bill all these years later? :-D

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    • Randy Forbes

      Wow! You just can’t make this stuff up!

      Very glad to hear (read) the detailed operating process, as well as some insight to what might’ve gone wrong for the unlucky pilots that didn’t survive their adventures.

      I’m sure I’m not alone, when I say that I’m very glad you’re one of the lucky ones!

      I was a Hot Rod & Karting World, among other labels, magazine reader in those days, and I well remember the (positive) press and advertising on these karts and the drag products. It wasn’t until I stumbled back into vintage karting a decade ago, that I learned about the darker secrets of these things!

      I certainly don’t blame you for holding out for the best offer, especially in light of the fact that you risked your life all those years ago, and was able to track the kart down now__I hope you get A LOT for it!!

      Thanks again; I love the history and the details!

      Randy Forbes

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    • JoshAuthor

      Wow Steve! Thanks for getting on and sharing this with us! Talk about an amazing bit of history. If you get a chance to take more photos, please share them with us! I for one would love to see more. Best of luck with it and let us know what you decide to do with it!

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  21. Carlos

    Flux Capacitor?

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  22. Clay Bryant

    It’s stories like Steve Buffels that really make history on 4 wheels interesting.That cart deserves a place like Speedway Motors Museum in Lincoln,Nebraska which I consider one of the best museums in the world for diversity and interest.It would be a real fit, 150,000 square feet of the most interesting wheels but I’m sure they would make room for it.

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  23. Steve

    This kart frame, steering wheel, and color look a lot like my Margay Scat Cat which I got when I was 12 (and still have), one of only a handful made. If so it would date this at 1974. Who made the frame?

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    • Randy Forbes

      Steve, I can’t say with any authority too much about your Margay kart__I have a pretty narrow focus on the McCulloch chassis, built 1960-61__but I’d bet real money that *the jet kart* is built on a Bug Mfg. frame. I do however think that the reason so few of the Scat Cat chassis was made, was because it was right around that same time that the Margay New Breed__side-winder engine placement__gained popularity in the go kart ranks. I know of at least one vintage kart organizer, R.E.A.R.** uses 1975 as a cut-off date for their event(s).

      The initial pictures Josh posted show the frame in almost its original (gasoline piston engine) configuration, with the only mods being the bracketry added to hold the cylinders and battery. In the black & white reprint, the chassis on the extreme left has been lengthened behind the seat__at least__for those longer rockets.

      I envy Steve Buffel for his experience, the few times he rode the thing, something I think most of us would’ve done ourselves in that 14 to 20 year-old age bracket. You know, when we still thought we were immortal!

      Nowadays, I think that if I owned it (or one of the others, because now we know that there was at least two, so who knows how many were produced…?) I would be content to clean it up, retaining as much of its patina/character as possible, but keep it strictly for static display.

      ** R.E.A.R. is the acronym for Rear Engined American Racers

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      • Steve

        Cool info, thanks

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  24. Steve Buffel

    Here’s some pictures that Bill took yesterday.

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  25. Steve Buffel

    You can see the car dealership stickers on the side tanks.

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  26. Steve Buffel

    Blast off!

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  27. Steve Buffel


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  28. blindmarc

    Wicked cool!….. I guess the other drivers went to infinity and beyond!

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  29. hhaleblian

    At 12 I had a kart with a McCulloch 125. 52 years later I still have the sprocket scar running up my left leg trying to start it forgeting it had a live axle. I was sequestered to the front yard agreeing piously to my parents that I would do just that because I so wanted the kart. When they were out of earshot, BONSAI runs down Madison Street. God does look over idiots or at least this one. And trust me I have plenty more stories. I think I’ve beat out a cats lives. This barn find has me all fired up for a cart. Thanks Jesse. BTW your Miata is all primped as is an absolute blast.

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  30. Jeff

    Just spent pretty much all of today researching about the engines. Ran into a recent video of one of the carts going down a 1/4mile strip here’s the link.

    If anyone finds any others please share.

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  31. Cain

    Here is Captain Jack McClure on his Turbonique Kart! If you search on Youtube you will also find that he is still racing rocket Karts at 89 years old!

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  32. snuffy smiff

    That thing needs WAY more tire-as in size F1..

    Oh and flak jackets for everybody!

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  33. Stephen ThorMember

    I own a peroxcide powered ko-kart. While the body is by Krupp, the frame and engineering is all hi-tech and heavy duty. It is none other than the infamous “peroxcide baby” kart, with an attractive female doing the “peroxcide bop”. There is too much to the kart and its backstory to mention here. It has been sitting in my barn for over 14 years. I have not tried to fire it up for obvious reasons (certain death being one of them), but it is not one of the turbonique karts… it has a much larger single engine. I am thinking of either selling it, or hiring it out for new businesses promotionals, or donating it. I also have a rocket-assist aftermarket performance Harley type bike with a Rocketdyne lr-101 motor with about 1,100 pounds of thrust (I think), full gimballing with controllers and its custom stand, I built the bike from the ground up which also has a gear driven supercharger which I still need to install. It took me years to build the bike, the kart was already built when I bought it, all I did was add a modified magnesium steering wheel. If anybody is interested to buy, rent, lease or just to look at and take some photos of either machine, I am open to anything. I live in central California in the mountains and if anybody thinks I am full of it, a short visit will take care of that. There is much more to both stories than I can put here. I love social visits, so there is no obligation, we can have coffee in the a.m. and talk and see. You will be amazed. I never attempted to fire up either rocket as I am pretty sure both would turn out to be big weird bombs, but I have fired up and rode the bike on the internal combustion engine, it scared me so much that I had it towed back home after arriving at my destination unscathed. I feel I cheated death enough. Both machines are/were intended as working props for a script I wrote called “The Last Friends of Willie Coyote”, which is about what eventually happened to Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner well after their classic cartoon series ended. The story/script can still be googled to this day. I would be delighted to meet with anybody who has an interest in these old rocket powered karts or Wile E. Coyote fans and would be willing to travel to my location. No charge and no B.S. p.s. you will not be disappointed… Stephen Thor

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  34. 4504Member

    still in my barn. I have had the infamous acme”peroxide baby” for about the last 10 years or so. wannabe working movie prop. peroxide powered. sexy airbrushed bikini blond airbrushed on the hood doing the “peroxide bop”. Krupp kart body with super engineered frame. never had the guts to run it. Wile E. Coyote approved. I think about 1,100 pounds of thrust but I could be incorrect. it is a 200 pound hand grenade waiting to kill anybody brave and foolish enough to light it off. fuel might be a problem in obtaining, need at least 84% peroxide I believe. in my opinion, more radical, bigger and faster than the Turboniques, but I could be wrong, love those and all the others also!

    tanks for the memories… Stephen Thor

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  35. 4504Member


    obtaining fuel has been a problem

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  36. 4504Member


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  37. Stephen ThorMember

    I already got a visit from a very nice f.b.I. agent when I was living in texas on a boat in a marina. To my relief, the visit was about an unrelated small rocket I bought and sold. I do not know if I want to sell the kart, because once it is gone, it is gone and too late to go back. If I decide to sell it, ok, but I would rather I think donate it to a speed museum (where I or my heirs could get it back if needed) or put it on display so that speed fans could see an example of a speed machine of a crazy nature back in the day. Many race fans, especially those who are young never knew these machines ever existed, I would like to change that. It is a part of racing history, not all of which is happy, but there are pioneers in these machines that should receive the recognition they deserve before they are gone from the earth.

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  38. Stephen ThorMember

    I had as a young teen bought a 2 cycle ko-kart which I knew nothing about at the time except that the motor did not have a cut-off switch and a few other similar things. The first time it was started, it had to be push started. Fortunately, it was pointed towards a dirt field about 100 yards from the street. When it lit off, I was propelled forward at a terrifying speed towards the field… turning it left or right at the t-section just before the field was not an option as the warp-speed prohibited any such maneuvers. I plowed roughly and bouncing into the field about 100 yards before the hi-reving motor quit from lack of fuel… thank God. However, it somehow stayed upright during the short but wild ride and the the only thing that happened ito me was that I was covered with dirt from head to toe except for my eyes (I guess I had closed them) and I was reeling from the shock of the experience. The funniest thing about the whole incident was while I was shaking and ready to collapse next to the suicide machine after the wild ride is that my older brother ran up and yelled “IS IT MY TURN? CAN I RIDE IT NOW?! nothing like considerate or caring or compassionate words like “how are you!? are you ok!?

    I flatly told him “NO!” in obscene terms and sold it within a week. That machine had no business on being ran at all. The rocket kart would make that kart look like a wussy machine and anybody who attempted to light it off and anybody nearby should expect to lose their life unless they knew exactly what they were doing.

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  39. Stephen ThorMember

    The backstory on these classic rocket karts was that, at first, they were fully accepted by the NHRA, running the 1/4 mile. However, at about 160 mph they had a tendency to become airborne, sometimes plowing into the spectator stands and causing a casualty or two. Back then, air dams and spoilers in order to keep them on the ground were not really used. The NHRA then said no more than 1/8 mile runs and they were limited to 1/8th mile runs. Unfortunately, some of them still managed to blow up while on the pad (starting point on the strip) and sometimes killed or seriously injured the driver and those who were assisting in the starting of them. The NHRA then completely outlawed them. Later, a few of them were allowed to make runs after the drama of it all evaporated off from history. The maker of one of the more popular of them (turboniques) still ended up in prison. All I GOT TO SAY IS NO GUTS, NO GLORY!

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  40. Stephen ThorMember

    found this article while fumbling around on the net… appears to be the same kart a few years earlier while it was still functional and raced?

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  41. Stephen ThorMember

    right here, located on the informational super highway…

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