Electric Mini Rat Rod

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Introduction: Electric Mini Rat Rod

I built this little go kart for our 5 year old next door neighbor who just loves all things mechanical. The body came from a wheelbarrow, the motor and transaxle came from a mobility scooter someone had given me and the frame is a Frankenstein conglomeration of pieces from the wheelbarrow, tubing scavenged from discarded bicycles and some lawn chair parts. Not the ideal materials to build a nice pretty frame but a great way to repurpose scrap tubing. The rear wheels are also from a wheelbarrow and the front wheels were purchased for the project.


Battery power comes from two 18 volt, 6 Amp hour Makita tool batteries. The batteries are wired in series so they supply 36 volts to the 24 volt motor which gives the car a lot of zip. The rod goes 10 to 12 mph depending on the weight of the driver. Power goes through the Curtis controller that came with the mobility scooter and is rated for up to 50 volts. Do not “over volt” a project like this unless you are certain the controller can handle the juice. To build a project like this you will need a welder or a good friend who can do the welding for you. You will also need decent tools to cut and drill metal tubing.

Step 1: The Frame

As noted in the introduction the frame is fabricated from a variety of parts and pieces that were laying around the garage. The rear portion of the frame is the hoop and side rails from a wheelbarrow. Photo 1 shows the frame from the rear. The red arrow indicates the hoop and side rails from the wheelbarrow. The blue arrow notes the joint where bicycle tubing was welded to the wheelbarrow section on each side. All the weld joints are reinforced with smaller diameter tubing slipped into the outer tubing which you see on the finished frame. Simple butt joints would be too weak even for this lightweight kart.


Photo 2 shows the front half of the frame fabrication. The red arrow notes the weld joint between the wheelbarrow frame in the rear and the bicycle tubing. The black arrow notes the bicycle tubing. The blue arrow notes the ninety degree curves from a steel a lawn chair and the green arrow notes another section of bicycle tubing. Photo 3 shows how the frame was further reinforced by adding additional bicycle tubing as a bottom rail (see red arrows). This configuration triangulates the frame structure and gives it its strength.

This is not necessarily how you would want to build a kart type frame if you have access to nice new steel. But if you like the idea of recycling and you don’t have a lot of handy cash, scavenged steel tubing from a variety of sources can be fabricated into an adequate but somewhat ugly frame. And for a rat rod type project, this technique fits the theme quite well.

Step 2: Front I Beam

Superstrut was used to mimic the look of an old fashioned dropped and drilled I beam front axle found on many early hot rods. Superstrut is a steel channel typically found in the electrical section of Home Depot or Lowes. It comes in 10' lengths and costs about $22. The Superstrut is cut at 22.5* angles and is clamped together for welding. (Photo I) Superstrut is galvanized so it should be sanded clean of the coating before welding to avoid any toxic fumes. The dropped axle is welded and then ground smooth. (Photo 2)

Step 3: Spindle Assemblies and Front Suspension

Spindle backing plates are positioned on each end of the axle to create 8 degrees of caster and 5 degrees of kingpin incline. The “angle finder” shown in the photo is hugely helpful for setting angles of all sorts. (Photo 1) Once in position the backing plates are welded to the I-beam axle. (Photo 2) The spindle mounts are fabricated from 1/4" flat stock. (Photos 3, 4 and 5) To create front suspension, the spindle will be attached to a “slider” which slides up an down the kingpin. The “slider" is made using two 12mm bore pillow block bearings and a cube cut from 1 ½" x 1/8" wall square tubing. (Photos 6 and 7) The slider is mocked up with the kingpin, which is a 12mm grade 8 bolt (Photo 8) and with the kingpin and spring. (Photo 9)

The spindle, a 5/8" grade 8 bolt, is welded to the slide cube at a 5 degree angle. This angle, coupled with the 5 degree kingpin angle, will keep the spindle horizontal to the ground. (Photo 10) The kingpin, spindle and spring can then be are assembled (Photos 11 and 12) . Note that the spring shown in the photo was later swapped out for 60 lb coil springs. (Photo 13) The final spindle assemblies are welded to the I-beam backing plates. (Photo 14)

Step 4: Steering

Steering arms are cut from 1/8" flat stock. (Photo 1) The arms are welded to the spindle cubes with their position determined by Ackerman principles. Basically this means the steering arms are on an imaginary line drawn from the center of the kingpin to the center of the REAR axle. If you are not familiar with Ackerman theory, there are many great web sites which explain it in great detail. (Photo 2)
The steering arms are connected to the steering column with adjustable steering rods. The steering rods are made using ½" conduit and 3/8" heim joints. The conduit has 6 evenly spaced notches cut in each end. (Photo 3). The notches are cut so that a 3/8" nut can be inserted in the end of the conduit and the flat sides of the nut line up with each notch. (Photo 4) A right threaded nut is welded into one end of the conduit using the slots as a guide and a left threaded nut is welded into the opposite end of the conduit in the same way. A left handed 3/8" heim joint is screwed in the left handed nut and a right handed 3/8" heim joint is screwed in the right handed nut. (Photo 5) The steering rod can be installed and is fully adjustable. Jam nuts are used to keep the rod secure once you have it adjusted to the correct length.

The steering column is made from conduit and the steering wheel is made by cutting and welding old bicycle handle bars into a semi-oval shape and that unit to a ½" bore sprocket hub. (Photo 6) The steering shaft itself is ½" threaded rod and a plate is bolted to the end of the steering shaft to connect to the left and right steering arms. (Photos 7 and 8)

Step 5: Mounting the Motor and Transaxle

In the original mobility scooter the motor is mated to a transaxle and sits in a “cradle”. (Photo 1) The motor and cradle are removed from the scooter and installed as a unit in the wheelbarrow kart. A suspension system is created by fabricating two pivot bearings. These pivots will connect the motor cradle to the frame while allowing it to rotate up and down.


The pivots are made from 1 ½ x 1 ½ square tubing and the hubs from two bicycle front wheels. (Photo 2) The center section of the bicycle hubs is cut away and the bearing cups are saved. (Photo 3) The bearing cups are welded into the open ends of the square tubing. (Photo 4) Our new pivots are considerable narrower than the original hub and there are not enough threads on the bicycle axles to use them for mounting. They are replaced with 5/16" bolts. But the original axles and nuts are 7mm and the original nuts must be retained because they serve as the outer cone which keeps the bearing in place. To make this all work, the bearing cones (the original hub nuts) are bored out to 5/16" so that they will slip over the new 5/16" pivot bolts. (Photo 5) A 5/16" nut can then be used to tighten the bearing cones in place and retain the bearing in the correct position. (Photo 6) A pivot is welded to each arm of the motor cradle. (Photo 7}

Dropouts are welded to the frame to mount the pivots. Note that the photo of the dropouts is with the frame flipped upside down. (Photos 8 and 9) The motor and cradle can then be bolted onto the frame. (Photo 10) Coil spring brackets are welded to the frame and the cradle and the springs are bolted in place. (Photo 11)

Step 6: Electrical System

The Makita batteries are mounted using Power Wheels adapters. These adapters are made to allow the use of various tool batteries in a child’s Power Wheels electric car and are available on Amazon or Ebay for nearly any brand of 18 or 20 volt battery. The battery snaps into the adapter just like it would snap onto a tool and most adapters come already wired. The adapters are screwed onto a 3" wide board and a fuse holder is wired into the system for safety. (Photo 1) The batteries can then be snapped into the adapters. (Photo 2) The battery board is then bolted to the underside of the pickup bed as shown by the red arrow in Photo 3.


The hand throttle from the original mobility scooter is mounted at the front of the wheelbarrow body so that it becomes a foot throttle. Press the right “paddle” and the car goes forward. Press the left “paddle” and the car goes in reverse. (Photo 4) An on/off switch is installed on the dashboard area of the wheelbarrow and a speed “governor” is also mounted on the dash (See red arrows Photo 5) The governor is a potentiometer which sets the maximum voltage to the motor when using the throttle. It can be adjusted from 1 to 10 so that the top speed of the kart can be limited for smaller children.

Step 7: Seat and Upholstery

The seat is made with two pieces of 1/2 inch plywood hinged at the back and bolted to the floor pan. The boards are covered with 1" foam and then upholstered with outdoor, UV resistant fabric. (Photo 1) The interior of the wheelbarrow is covered in 1" rubberized foam which can be seen if you look closely at the interior photo. This foam was originally shipping protection/packing for a large item I had received. The foam is held in place with contact cement and adds a bit of protection for the driver.

Step 8: Grill Shell

The shape of an early 30's hot rod grill shell is fairly unique and difficult to replicate. But rummaging through my shop I found an old Rubbermaid mail box that looked like it could fit the part. I sliced off the front 2" of the mailbox. (Photo 1) I trimmed off some of the extraneous material, put on a coat of flat black paint and bolted it to the frame. (Photo 2 and 3)

Step 9: The Finished Mini Hot Rod

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    21 Comments

    0
    wobbler
    wobbler

    8 months ago

    Awesome! Only problem I found was in working out who was really the biggest kid in the video? Come on, admit it, it was you, wasn't it? The "I built this little go kart for our 5 year old next door neighbor" was just a ruse, wasn't it? We all know who you really built it for! Your grin gave it away.

    0
    dewey302
    dewey302

    Reply 8 months ago

    Busted!

    0
    albuck99
    albuck99

    1 year ago

    Amazing job - that kid next door must have been delighted!
    Hero neighbour.

    0
    joewatt25
    joewatt25

    Reply 1 year ago

    U r correct

    0
    dewey302
    dewey302

    Reply 1 year ago

    He's a great kid with mechanics in his blood. He gets up every Wed. morning at 6:30 so he can go out to the curb and watch the garbage truck operate. He once explained to me what torque was. Something which stumps most adults. I'm certain he will grow up and be a maker.

    0
    albuck99
    albuck99

    Reply 1 year ago

    What a fantastic kid, for 5 years old!
    He got lucky having you as a neighbour.
    (You're going to have to make him a garbage truck next.)

    1
    LeslieGeee
    LeslieGeee

    1 year ago

    OMG Dewey, I LOVE this build. Wish I was the "kid" next door. Not sure if you said how fast this goes my apologies. Do you need some kind of permit or license for this if you live in the US? Wonder if you can put knobby wheels on it so that it can be off road. Thank you for posting a wonderful project.

    0
    dewey302
    dewey302

    Reply 1 year ago

    Technically this hot rod can't be driven on the street so it has to be driven where there is little or no traffic or in private parking lots or back yards etc., pretty much like the Power Wheels cars you see in Walmart. Fortunately we live in a neighborhood that is very kid friendly and tolerant of activity out in the streets. I have timed the car with GPS and it goes about 10 MPH with an adult driver and just short of 12 MPH with a lightweight kid. Normally a mobility scooter is geared to go somewhere between 3.5 to 5 mph. But the new wheels are twice the diameter as the scooter wheels and the motor spins about 50% faster due to the 36 volt battery pack rather than the original 24 volts in the scooter. So that's how it gets the extra speed.

    0
    joewatt25
    joewatt25

    Reply 1 year ago

    Wow am impressed with ur knowledgeable design

    0
    LeslieGeee
    LeslieGeee

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you for the explanation :).

    0
    throbscottle
    throbscottle

    1 year ago

    This is very educational. I never knew how to make steering, and now I do! Great project :)

    0
    0067882
    0067882

    Question 1 year ago

    About the 8 degree caster and 5 degree kingpin...is that so the rear wheels "jack" when you turn? How did you arrive at those angles? Is there some sort of chart for determining those steering angles on a go-cart? Thanks.

    0
    dewey302
    dewey302

    Answer 1 year ago

    Yes on jacking the rear wheels. Caster also results in the wheels coming back into a straight line on there own after making a turn. Sort of like the rear wheels on a shopping cart will swivel to always track straight or your automobile will straighten out the front wheels on its own after a slight turn of the steering wheel. This is caster at work. The 8 degrees of caster, 5 degrees of kingpin incline and zero degrees of camber were all "rule of thumb" settings when I grew up building karts. They are still pretty much the standard for backyard type builds that aren't going to be traveling all that fast. It is a whole different story when you get into racing karts and such.

    0
    0067882
    0067882

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you. This is very helpful.

    0
    wim.leo
    wim.leo

    Question 1 year ago

    Great build!
    How did you make the rear wheels fit on the axl of the mobility scooter?

    0
    dewey302
    dewey302

    Answer 1 year ago

    In a stroke of good luck the wheel bore was the same size on the wheels as the axle shaft and the key slot in the shaft and wheel were identical. I did have to cut longer keys since the new rear wheels hubs were wider than those on the mobility scooter. But that was a simple task.

    0
    wim.leo
    wim.leo

    Reply 1 year ago

    you lucky b***rd :)

    1
    tytower
    tytower

    1 year ago

    Good stuff mate! Thanks heads up on Makita adapters.

    0
    dewey302
    dewey302

    Reply 1 year ago

    Yes, the Power Wheels adapters make tool battery installations a breeze. You can usually find them for most battery brands for well under $20 and they are well worth the price.

    1
    Ddupla27
    Ddupla27

    1 year ago

    This is really Rad! Great job on the look and function. Would love to see a pack of kids terrorizing the neighborhood in ratrods like this!