Opinion: Billykarts teach kids about cars

HSV Kiddimoto Billykart

What’s the future of HSV? Schmick Colorados, say some pundits. Hot-hatch Astras, predict others.

But on the HSV website, you can see they’ve already branched out into a new field of vehicles no-one predicted – the HSV billy cart. Or “billykart” as HSV spells it – the k makes it faster, like in Superkart or Mario Kart.

It’s hand on heart, honestly for sale right now. And I don’t know how to feel about it. On the one hand, obviously, I want one. Of course, there’s no chance of me ever riding one, since the “maximum rider weight” is 50 kilos, and I’ll never be 50 kilos again – one of my legs probably weighs more than that.

HSV CollectionOn the other hand, it flies in the face of what a billy cart ought to be – namely, home-made. Building a billy cart is 80 per cent of the fun. Drawing the structural plans in crayon on the back of a McDonalds placemat, having serious discussions on whether bike wheels or skateboard wheels are superior, stealing an apple box from behind Old Pop Wiggleby’s sweet shop with Huck before he rafts away with Jim... I may be misremembering my childhood here.

But the point remains that buying a billy cart (or, indeed, a billykart) by definition leaves you with only 20 per cent of the fun. Because billy carts are almost always better when you’re imagining what they will be like (low-flying down a steep hill, perhaps with a pair of aviator goggles on, Little Rascals-style) than what they actually are like (speeding helplessly into a tree, crying).

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Steering a billy cart (or, yes, a billykart) with that push-pull feet-and-rope system is terrible. It’s a design born of frugal necessity, not design excellence, and maintained over the decades by a secret cabal of paediatricians who get paid for every broken arm they set.

And I used to think it was terrible because it translates every nervous leg twitch into a wildly swinging rear end, like a back-up dancer in a Snoop Dogg video. But apparently it was because I was using sub-spec rope. This is straight from the HSV website: “Strong rope allows easy steering.”

 HSV Kiddimoto Billkart steeringWhich sounds a lot like saying a car has better steering because you put a titanium steering wheel on it. No engineer has ever argued that the secret to better steering is stronger rope... until now. Kids learn important lessons from billy carts.

Like, mounting the squeeze mechanism from a self-wringing mop on the rear wheel seems like a genius handbrake, but only when you’re hooking down the driveway of Ryde TAFE will you discover that it actually does nothing.

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Nothing except lure you to take one hand off your steering rope, which (because the rope wasn’t strong enough, argues HSV) causes you to hit the gutter. At which point you discover the only good thing about rope-foot-swivel controls is that there’s no steering column to impale your bony eight-year-old chest.

Instead, that privilege goes to an ornamental shrub or a rose bush. We learn about carts and cars from youthful experimentation. Peter Brock customised his first car, a five-pound Austin 7 paddock-basher, by chopping all the bodywork off with his father’s axe.

HSV logoWhich doesn’t sound like it would teach you a lot about cars or do much good for the axe, but then, Brocky turned out all right didn’t he? Nailing together a billy cart from the leftover crap in Dad’s shed, and then promptly ploughing it into a neighbour’s hedge at unreasonable speeds, is how kids learn three important early lessons: A love of modifying vehicles, a love of speed, and the knowledge that you can survive anything! Never lift!

And I’m not sure if being given a ready-made billy cart (or even a billykart) from HSV would have the same effect. And it would have to be a gift – at 200 smackers, it’s not only out of the range of even the most ardent Junior Holden Fanatic’s pocket money, it probably carries about the same margin as a new Corolla.

Although it’s still better than the stuff on Porsche’s online store, like a set of cookie stamps for $32. Cookie stamps! Give that to a kid and soon enough they’ll be too heavy for their billykart.

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