Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Belly Tank Racers

P-51 Mustangs and P-47 Thunderbolt WWII fighter planes were fitted with 165-gallon auxiliary aluminum belly fuel tanks. Larger versions able to contain 315-gallons were used on P-38 Lightnings. The designs of the belly tanks were very aerodynamic and their lightweight construction attracted the interest of war veteran and racing enthusiast, Bill Burke. He would become the first lakes racer to realize the potential of the war surplus belly tanks.



It was not long before other hot rodders and speed equipment manufacturers were modifying surplus drop tanks and achieving 200+ mph in speed trials. The list of legendary tuners includes Alex Xydias - So-Cal Speed Shop founder, racers Bob McClure, Ray Brown and Tom Beatty, and speed equipment manufacturers Earl Evans and Howard Johansen.



 
The designs were perfected throughout the years and every attempt was made to reduce the vehicle's overall weight. Most did not have any creature-comforts afforded to the driver, engine cooling devices, or even brakes. The designs were simple yet effective and very functional. Engines were easily changeable so the belly-racers could compete in a variety of classes dictated by their displacement size. 



One of the most legendary belly-tank racers was the Tom Beatty Lakester. Tom Beatty, a lakes racer, later became a speed-equipment manufacturer. Together with speed merchant Barney Navarro, the Lakester utilized a forced-induction setup. This configuration was not as popular as nitro-methane among racers, yet would prove its potential in the Lakester. Beatty and Navarro fitted the Lakester with a GMC-371 supercharger, four Stromberg 48 carburetors, ad a flathead V8 engine.





The results were positive but additional work was required to improve upon the vehicles aerodynamics. Near the close of the 1951 season, Beatty created a new lakester based on a P-38 Lightning drop tank. The chassis was created from 3/4-inch diameter chrome-moly steel tubing resulting in a rigid truss-type platform. The rear suspension was independent with ford-based swing axles. The front setup used a Ford Model A axle turned upside and mounted a transverse leaf spring directly behind it to reduce wind resistance. The Lakester was brought to the 1951 Bonneville Nationals where it was painted in black with 'Auto Accessories Co.' prominently displayed on the side. With its 296 cubic-inch Mercury flathead engine and supercharger fueled by alcohol, the belly-racer ran in the D Lakester class. The first run in the newly created Beatty Lakester achieved 188.284 mph; its inaugural journey had resulted in the 'fastest open-wheeled car' to that date. 




Another well-known and successful tank racer was fielded by Alex Xydias, the owner of the So-Cal Speed Shop. Xydias' So-Cal Special was set up more or less like Burke's tank, except that it had a bubble canopy and was powered by a 156 cubic inch flathead V-8 and the rails were custom-built. At Bonneville in 1951, the So-Cal team set a new record for their class, running a 145.395 mph average.


The So-Cal Speed Shop team took the car back to their motel and--right there in the parking lot--swapped the engine out. They put in a larger, 259 cubic inch Mercury flathead and ran the car again in a larger engine class. They set a record in that class as well, running 181.085 mph.
The team then swapped the engine out once again, this time putting in a 296 cubic inch Mercury engine. It ran a one-way time of 198.340 mph, with a two-way time of 195.77 mph. This speed was a record for its class, until it was upstaged the next day by the Mal Hoopster lakester, which was running with a Chrysler hemi and turned a 197.88 mph average. But the Special's 198.340 mph run is still the fastest one-way speed that a non-blown flathead has ever run.