“This is the story of Bloody Mary. She was built in 1929 by two schoolboys who wanted to amuse themselves by dashing round a field, and what fun they had!”
The opening lines of ‘Bloody Mary’, pamphlet #75 in the Classic Cars in Profile series. The story was written by acclaimed journalist, racer and co-builder of the car, John Bolster.
Bloody Mary is without doubt the most famous “special” ever raced. What is less well known is that Bloody Mary and Classic Cars in Profile are the inspirational kernels for the concept of cyclekarts. The Stevensons used the profiles in the series as working drawings for their cars and so have I. John Bolster’s boisterous tales about Mary also put a firm stamp on Gittreville’s approach to events.
Gittreville is committed to honoring John Bolster’s spirit and the spirit of the broader Classic Cars in Profile series. I hope my illustrations capture a little bit of the glorious pen, ink, brush and paint profile illustrations of the original series. I pored over these pamphlets as a youth. Bloody Mary in particular. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to build MY own car…
Mary was build number three for me. The first was utterly sensible. The second, utterly nonsensical. We had a couple years of events under our belt and things were starting to get a bit racier. There is nothing racier than Bloody Mary. A faithful recreation would be exceedingly light, lower than low and, of course, overpowered. Oh delight! Done absolutely right, it might even be a little tricky to drive and offer ample opportunities to get into trouble.
And so it proved.
Mary is light. Phenomenally light. Initially, well under 200lbs. The chassis is mostly wood. Glued up hollow 1/2″ plywood main frame rails and an integrated tub executed in 1/4” plywood. A minimal steel framework hangs the engine below and behind the rear axle. Getting the lines right on an all-bonnet and no tail vintage car is a challenge with a rear engine. The real Bloody Mary in its final form had two motorcycle engines ganged together with two straight pipes coming off each. Great visual distractions! The fourth pipe could be from the pressure washer motor.
My Mary was a cheap date. Costs were minimized and I set out to see if I could plan and build a car in 100 hours. Astonishingly, the first edition was done in 114 hours. The engine was a box stock “yellow clone” complete with “weenie” muffler.
All conventional wisdom goes out the window when a cyclekart hits the road. Many of the assumptions we are indoctrinated as to what makes a full-size car handle well do not hold true.
Truisms like low weight, firm suspension and as low as possible CofG all showed their vengeful sides.
True to the inspiration, Mary was a beast to drive! Off pavement, the front wheels didn’t contact the ground frequently enough to steer. Live axle understeered horrendously. The tub rivaled an F1 car for stiffness. Paired with stiff springs this kept the car dead flat as this naive engineer expected but the wonderful inside wheel lift that had by now become second nature with the Peugeot was thwarted. More point and shoot than a pony car. Switching to one wheel drive resulted in no traction, either in acceleration or braking.
But, she was cute.
Weight was added, especially toward the front (oh-horror). Critically, serious T-bucket friction dampers were added to the front suspension. Caster reduced. Initially very light aluminum wheels were employed – these failed. Heavier, steel rim wheels were fitted. Even with the added weight the car was one of the lightest in our fleet. The only contemporary rival was Bud Miller’s Miller Yellow Peril. Over time a new way to drive was learned.
What would John Bolster do? It was time to go faster! The box stock engine was switched for a Honda and the engine loving began. Some of the dark arts are best kept in the dark and off these pages. The car became reckless. Easily reaching over 65 MPH. If you have never driven a 220 lb car with a 64” wheelbase that quickly, don’t. I joked about adult diapers. Not so funny.
The configuration also presented an entirely unforeseen challenge. The low and exposed engine picked up gravel like a street sweeper. The throttle was chronically jammed. Mary sprinted away from the field at a Tieton edition of the Gordon Bennett until the throttle locked up. I pulled to the side of the road and reached back to clear it (everything is very nearby on Mary!). As I flicked the gravel out I goosed the throttle, the CVT engaged and I shot off the embankment and landed about 7 feet down wrong way up. The roll down the bank popped my shoulder out of its socket. Flipping the car back on its wheels and dragging it back up to the road by myself mercifully popped my shoulder back into place.
Shortly after this, we were running head to head hill climbs at Targa Maria. Predictably, Mary excelled at such things. I watched in horror as my daughter was literally leaping up the hill bounding a wheel’s diameter into the air at the bumps. With a rival car running along side, this was probably not the best idea.
Mary had to get her fangs pulled. The monster motor was exiled and yet more weight added.
Mary’s current incarnation has a GX160, modestly tuned. The original microscopic gas tank and pulse pump set-up has reverted to gravity feed from the heavy stock tank. The gas tank being placed toward the front of the car over the drivers knees. Oddly enough, this is where the gas and oil tanks were located on the original Bloody Mary. A small round slide Mikuni carburetor is used (the cable control on a Mikuni cannot be fouled by flying gravel.)
Mary is as cute as ever but her manners have improved immensely.
Chassis No.: 1003
Engine: Honda GX160, 22mm Mikuni round slide carburetor. Gravity fuel feed.
Drive: Comet symmetric belt. 3/4” jack shaft over and behind axle. #35 chain; 6:1 ratio.
Brake: Ø 6” hydraulic disk. Early Mary had two 4 1/2″ drum brakes – an attempt to make one wheel drive work. To say these brakes were feeble is giving them far too much credit. The right hand brake was controlled by a hand lever that, when pulled, tended to grind the driver’s elbow into the rear tire. A fender was added on that side (just as on the original). The rubber slowly grew its way out my elbow over the next year or so.
Wheels: 17” x 140, front (dirt bike/small hubs/steel rims). 16” x 165, rear (dirt bike/small hubs/steel rims) NB: 16”/fat wheels enabled by the long standing Gittreville 160 “loop hole”. We realized from the beginning that small/fat wheels/tires were among the biggest performance advantages and restricting the engine was to offset that. The 16″ wheels are great look for the later cars which also tend to be lower and better balanced. In the sense of fair play, the later cars ought to be less powerful. Certainly all the cars inspired by Specials.
Tires: 2.50 trials front, 3.0 trials rear.
Front suspension: 1/4 elliptic (36” buggy spring cut in half and leaves removed). Straight axle. Slight positive camber.
Steering: Go-kart type. Nothing tricky at all. 100% Azusa.
Rear suspension: none. Live axle. The seat cushion is heavy outdoor canvas stapled over foam plumbing insulation. An early attempt at a Moseley “Wind Bag” cushion using a coiled, softly inflated inner tube was like trying to stay in place on a bouncing trampoline.
Body: Aluminum sheet. “Radiator” cowling is poplar. Mahogany body supports. Deadly exposed metal edges trimmed in stick-on “chrome” (plastic) molding.
Frame: 1/4” plywood “tub”. Double box section “rails” glued up from 1/2” plywood.
Ground clearance: 3.5” (under seat)
Front track: 36.75”
Rear track: 33”
Overall length: ~ 8’ – 6” (to the tip of the exhaust)
Body width (at widest): 22.5”, radiator width 12.25”
Height: 31.25” (fairing over steering wheel), height at scuttle: 26”
Weight: 225 lbs (with a full stock tank of gas)
by Johnny Dumfries