The Dawn of Postwar Speed –
Here’s your chance to bring home something special -
to own a piece of history - a tribute to the first salt flats belly tank
racer in postwar America - the Bill Burke belly tank streamliner.
It is generally agreed by historians of postwar racing, that the
development and debut of this car in 1946 changed the landscape of
racing on the salt flats of postwar America. For these reasons, a
tribute was built to recognize the achievement of this historic racer,
and now this streamliner is being offered for sale.
Mention the word “tank” to a hot rodder and the first
thing he comes up with isn’t Sherman or Abrams. Right after
“belly” he’s likely to come up with “Burke”, as in Bill Burke, the
father of the belly tank streamliner (now called “lakesters”). The
legend of the belly tank goes hand-in-hand with Burke, who became famous
when he first towed an unpainted streamlined racecar built from surplus
airplane parts to El Mirage in 1946 - barely a year after V-J day.
Prior to World War II, Burke
was part of the dry lakes racing scene. When the SCTA was formed
in 1938, he was the 45th
member to sign up, but when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941,
speed events at the dry lakes slowed to a trickle.
Burke spent the war piloting a PT boat in the South
Pacific. While he was docked at Guadalcanal, he spotted a barge
loaded with teardrop shaped aircraft drop tanks and immediately saw
their potential as racecar bodywork. But combat wasn’t over so the
tank project took a back seat to winning the war. And when he was
released from the Service in 1946, he was anxious to get cranking on his
Burke’s tank first raced at El Mirage, California in
April of 1946. People were stunned when they first saw it -
nothing had been built using these components before - simple, cost
effective, and fast! And the fact he shoehorned a full-size Ford
Flathead V8 engine in so small a space was a sight to behold.
To herald its arrival on the
dry lakes scene,
California Timing News commissioned an
original Gus Maanum drawing of the tank for its cover in June, 1946 -
the first magazine cover appearance of a belly tank streamliner.
This tank ran in the streamliner class four times under Burke’s
stewardship, and was sold to Howard Wilson and Phil Remington late the
same year. They raced it at the remaining events in 1946 but when
the season ended, Burke’s first tank was never seen again - an icon of
speed lost to time.
What Burke and his team learned in those four short
runs laid the groundwork for his next and more famous belly tank - a
tank that would be honored as the “World’s Fastest Hot Rod” by Hot Rod
Magazine in August, 1949. This is an achievement that Bill Burke
is still remembered for today. Few people remembered Burke’s
initial tank which differed radically in design and size from the second
tank, and over the years memories of this very special first “build” and
the lessons they learned from its design and performance were mostly
Not so anymore.
In 2008, Geoff Hacker and Rick D’Louhy put together a
team in Tampa, Florida headed by Ted Kempgens and Tom Bambard of
Creative Motion Concepts to re-create Burke’s original tank.
Ninety year old Bill Burke agreed to serve as project consultant to the
team to ensure the authenticity of this effort. The contributions
of Burke to this project were critical as the team insisted on using
both period parts and techniques that were authentic to the original
This process continued through the summer of 2009
when the tank was completed at CMC. Then, it was prepped for the
cross-country trip for its ultimate debut at Speed Week in Bonneville,
As a tribute to Burke’s achievement, this belly tank
has made headlines across America:
* Debuted at Bonneville Speed Week in August, 2009.
* Featured at the “West Coast Nationals,” Pleasanton,
California in August, 2009.
* Appeared for a six month engagement at the National
Hot Rod Association (NHRA) museum in Pomona, California from September,
2009 through March, 2010.
* And most impressively, it became the first belly
tank streamliner to appear at a world-class concours d’elegance.
It was featured along with other rare and significant race cars at the
2010 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, at Amelia Island, Florida.
* It is currently on display at the Sarasota Classic
Car Museum, in Sarasota, Florida.
In addition, Bill Burke’s achievements with this
special streamliner have been showcased in the following publications:
* Feature story in Rodder’s Journal, #48, Fall 2010 -
author Harold Pace
* Feature article in Hemmings Motor News, November
2009 - author Daniel Strohl
* Feature chapter in Tom Cotter’s 2010 book,
“Corvette in the Barn” - author Daniel Strohl
* Full page dedicated inside cover in Mooneyes
Catalog, Winter 2009
It doesn’t get more iconic than speed, salt, and dry
lakes racing. This tribute to Bill Burke’s 1946 belly tank
streamliner is perfect for any museum or collector who appreciates the
history of speed in postwar America, and who wants something special - a
tribute to American ingenuity and a piece of history unlike any other.
As Bill Burke said in recounting his memory of
building and driving this beast….”Shake, Rattle, and Go!”
Bill Burke, personal interviews: 2008-2010
Harold Pace, personal interviews: 2008-2010
“Tank Tracks: Bill Burke and the Birth of the Belly
Tank” - The Rodder’s Journal Issue #48
“Bill Burke Belly Tank” - Hemmings Motor News,
“The Belly Tank Tribute” - Corvette in the Barn, 2010