Craigslist Cart Race for Dummies
July 17, 2009 10:25 AM   Subscribe

In a nod to the Depression-days of yore, a group of us are holding an unofficial soapbox derby this summer, with cars that are made from items we’ve scrounged from cheap/free places. It will be a ton of fun. However, I am mechanically inept.

The rules are simple: $50 limit. All items must be procured from Craigslist, the junkyard, garage sales, the dumpster, etc. No peddles or motors. Must be able to brake and turn (really, this is a must, as I have seen the proposed “race track”). Must be able to fit at least one member of the team. Must be completed in approximately one month.

The catch: I am a Humanities geek who hasn’t a clue how to build a car. My team consists of other people who are also not mechanically minded (but we’ve got spirit, yes we do!).

Rival teams boast such types as engineers, people who enjoy fixing cars for fun, handymen, kids who’ve won awards at science fairs for building robots, etc. These teams have already created blueprints and possess intimidating power tools.

I’m not sure I even own a screwdriver. We are doomed.

I’ve done some research online, but it’s all still a little technical for me. Nor do I want to make an “official” soapbox car - I just want something that will hold together and look cool. And maybe win.

So... what are the basics that I need to know? Feel free to speak to me as though I’m four-years-old.

(Obviously, our specific materials won’t be determined until we can figure out what bargains are available, but any suggestions are welcome, as I’m sure we could find appropriate substitutes. Also, the “real life” people I would normally ask to help are unavailable or on a rival team.)

If you can think of any shortcuts or sneaky tricks, I’d love to hear them, too. This isn’t an Eagle Scout race. This is war between friends.
posted by paisley sheep to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total)
Keep the center of gravity low so your car won't tip over. (no shopping carts..)

I'm going for ultimate ease of execution here:
The following could very well be the most ghetto/backwoods (depending on your locale) piece of engineering ever committed to type:

Could you and your friends scrounge up some unused skateboards? I am picturing a chunk of plywood (your "frame") with skateboards attached to the bottom at each corner. The advantage of the skateboards is that they take care of the relatively tricky wheel attachment issue. If you're really fancy you could even take the trucks off of the boards and mount them directly to the board.

For steering, you could mount two skateboards to a smaller chunk and have that mounted in front using a single bolt as a pivot point. Lengths of rope could be attached to the corners of the mounting piece for steering purposes.

As for brakes, a lever with an old shoe mounted to the end would act as a rudimentary drag brake.
posted by davey_darling at 10:51 AM on July 17, 2009

Just make yours look the fastest.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:19 AM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Frame - 2x4's
Wheels - easy to find (i.e. Harbor Freight), attach with carriage bolts
Steering - 2x4 mounted at the front & attached at the center of the frame (attach front wheels to this member) - use a rope & assist with feet for steering input
Brake - another 2x4 lever that will drag when pulled

This isn't rocket science. I built one of these from scratch when I was 10 years old back in the 60's. You're an adult with the internet at your fingertips. I can't believe you actually have to even give it more than fifteen minutes or so of thought.
posted by torquemaniac at 12:02 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

The basic formula for the hard wheel cars in the SF Illegal Soapbox was:

Wheels - Industrial handtruck wheels with metal centers and solid rubber tires
Axles - 2x4 with a slot routed into it to take a steel rod. Drill the end of the rod to take a beefy cotter pin to hold the wheel on. Shim with washers.
Brakes - some kind of hinged contraption to drag a chunk of old tire on the ground.
posted by zombiedance at 12:18 PM on July 17, 2009

If the course is long and straight make your cart as heavy as possible.
posted by munchbunch at 12:29 PM on July 17, 2009

Flame decals. That'll make you look badass. And maybe some of those sharp things on the wheels like in Ben Hur. Also badass.
posted by electroboy at 1:01 PM on July 17, 2009

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