Make: Projects

Soapbox Racer Out of Found Material

Build a soapbox car out of trash found in your neighborhood.

  • By
  • Category: Home
  • Time Required: 5-10 hours (finding the material can be hard!)
  • Difficulty: Moderate
Soapbox Racer Out of Found Material

I am the owner of the Open Source Gallery, an alternative art space in the South Slope district of Brooklyn, NY. We host a Soap Box Camp for kids and a Soap Box Derby for kids and adults every August. All cars are built completely out of trash we find in the neighborhood. We organize a block party and, given the fact that our street has a nice incline, we race dozens of vehicles down the street. Judges evaluate the entries on criteria including engineering, design and SPEED! My car made it up to the top 3!

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Steps

Step #1:

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Explore the neighborhood for materials that can be recycled as parts for a soapbox car. Specifically, look for a base, wheels and a seat. Old pieces of wood, discarded strollers and cushions are very helpful.

Step #2:

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Attach the rear wheels, which should be larger than the front wheels. I had to build a structure around the wheel out of wood. Make sure the wheels spin straight.

Step #3:

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  • Decide on a steering mechanism for the front wheels. This can be accomplished easily by drilling a hole in the middle of a 2-by-4-inch wood block, then connecting the 2-by-4 to the axle and base with a screw. Steer by pushing with your feet on either side of the 2-by-4.
  • For my own car I did steer with my feet in some boots I found. The skis were attached with one screw on the front axle, but were not attached in the back. I made some simple tracks with stoppers for stability.

Step #4:

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Soapbox Racer Out of Found Material

While the point of a soapbox derby is to go fast, it is still important to slow down after the race. A simple piece of wood, screwed to the side of the car, functions as a good hand brake, slowing the car as it drags along the ground.

Step #5:

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  • Construct a seat back by using a flat piece of wood. Foam packing from computer boxes can provide a good cushion.
  • I just screwed down a wooden wheel and used that to sit on.
  • We had all kinds of funky seating. My son sat on a skateboard, steered with his feet and used the built-in brakes of the back wheels - a set of roller blades.

Step #6:

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  • Finally, accessorize! Get creative. Add a spoiler, license plate, roof, umbrella, sail and headlights. Then paint your soapbox car your favorite color.
  • In my design I integrated all the design elements in the engineering.
  • My students went crazy!!!!

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