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Building a 1946 Belly Tank Streamliner
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Building a 1946 Belly Tank Streamliner
 

Building a 1946 Belly Tank Streamliner

In early 2008, a gentleman named Geoff Hacker was in the middle of a research project focusing on the early history of fiberglass sports cars in America.  His research  led him to one of the most interesting characters involved in the development of these cars, Bill Burke, who did projects with guys like Mickey Thompson, Roy Kinch and Bob Petersen. Burke, who is now in his early 90’s was also one of the pioneers of land speed racing in the early dry lakes era. Bill had started the “Belly Tank” movement in the 40’s by building the first streamliner racer from a WWII P-51 Mustang “belly tank” and in 1946 he set a record in it! 131.96 mph.

Geoff became intrigued with the unusual race cars and the bare bones building methods of the era.  Geoff found a partially completed tanker that had begun construction in the 1940’s but was abandoned after only basic layout work. It had been planned to utilize a flathead Ford V8, Model A axels and wire wheels.  When Geoff met with Burke and showed him pictures of this pile of antique parts Burke told him that it looked a lot like his very first tank, and that if Geoff was going to bring it to life, why not make it like his first car.

Bill Burke at Bonneville in 1946


Geoff couldn’t resist the idea so while traveling back from California to Florida he picked up the pieces to the old project, and headed for home. 

The original pieces
Loaded and heading to Florida


Geoff needed to find a build team to move the project forward so after talking with several folks in the Tampa Florida area, he found us here at Creative Motion Concepts .  Attracted by our many years of diverse experience building race cars, hot rods, movie cars, restoring cars, etc., etc., he decided to sit down with us and discuss his plans.  Of course we were excited by the notion of being involved with such a unique project and all of the fascinating people from the early years of performance who would be involved.


 In late February, 2009, Geoff asked us to re-create the very first Belly Tank streamliner ever built using information that would be available from photography and the memories of the 92 year old Bill Burke! Cool, but where to start?

First we started doing a series of interviews with Bill Burke in search of his memories on how he built the car.  Next…we went to collect the hundreds of pictures that we knew must exist of such a historic build and debut of the belly tank that he built and ran for record speeds in 1946. With Geoff doing his “research” thing, he uncovered an amazing photographic history of the car which provided us a number of angles to view the design in various stages of its racing life. Unfortunately these were taken to document its racing history, not component and build specifications so we could only generalize the exact details of the components and design .

With a rough outline of how the car was built, we used the information we got from the interviews with Bill himself to confirm our observations, and developed a design plan for the project. We decided from the start that we would go totally “old school” in the way we crafted the car to try and re-create the most authentic tribute possible in the manner of Bill Burke by utilizing only the equipment, tools, methods and components that he would have used in the mid 40’s.

General Specifications for the build:

  • P-51 belly tank
  • Ford flat head V8 with Fenton aluminum heads and intake and dual Stromberg 97’s
  • 39 Ford 3 spd top-loader
  • Model T frame rails and rear spring
  • Model A rear end, front axle and front spring
  • Hand operated rear brakes only (Model T brake handle)
  • Center mounted Ross steering box
  • Hand made butterfly steering wheel
  • Water tank instead of a radiator
  • 87 inch wheelbase / 55 inch track
  • Bicycle seat welded to the torque tube for the driver to sit on!
  • The car would be finished in canary yellow


Kickin’ it old school can be a lot of fun but it can also take a lot more time to get a nice result. Still, we started just like Bill did by cutting the tank in half at the seam and outlining it in chalk on the floor. Using the outline as our guide, we laid a Model T frame over the chalk shape and began brainstorming. This is a big departure for us since we’re used to building race cars on our surface plates and jigs but that was not the way this was done in the 40’s by hot rod pioneers with no budget and dreams of speed. In fact, for inspiration we all watched Roger Donaldson’s fantastic film “Worlds Fastest Indian” to get fully into the right mind set. If you don’t know the film, it’s the story of another early dry lakes legend, Burt Munro, who hand built a streamlined Indian motorcycle in a little garage in New Zealand with virtually no money and came to America to set a speed record at Bonneville. I highly recommend you rent the film if you haven’t seen it already.


Since the basic shape of the “tank” bodywork was a given, we knew we needed to start with a frame shape that fit the body and everything else would have to be made to fit whatever that left us for drive train, driver compartment, controls, etc. After another consultation with Bill about how he went about building his first car, we got started. We notch cut the frame rails to fit the tank’s shape (chalk outline)and re-welded it. Then we put it on jack stands and set the two halves of the tank over the frame approximating a ride height that would provide an appropriate minimum ground clearance. Nothing scientific going on here, no plans to develop rake angles or shape with a wind tunnel or doing any computer modeling. Just use your eye’s and go with your gut! We set the Model A rear end and front axel underneath and started to determine where and how to mount spring hangers to achieve the desired wheelbase.


We unceremoniously lopped off any extraneous mounting brackets with the prescribed tool of choice – the “smoke” wrench (which would see a lot of use later on) and positioned the bare components in their approximate locations. A unique feature of Bill’s first tanker was its use of rear suspension – a feature that none of his future cars would share due to the unnecessary complexity and components required to have it sprung so stiffly that it ended up virtually rigid anyway. Oh well, rigid was a later evolution and we needed a spring so back out to the pile of rusty old Model T parts and voila! We selected a front spring and a rear spring perch. A Model T rear spring is simply to tall for this confined application.

 After narrowing the spring perch and welding to the back end of the frame rails in a suitable position, we bolted the original “T” front spring in place at the rear and once again, used the eye and the gut to decide how many leaves to remove to achieve the ride height and stiffness required. We chose a combination of 5 leaves, modified the spring and bolted it back in. Another benefit of using the front spring for the rear was that we had a neat “T” front axel to make the spring hangers from – heck, they spent decades together already, why split up a winning combination. A little quick work with our new best friend “old smokey” and yep – 2 spring hangers which we welded to the Model A axel tubes. Hey, this old school shit is getting fun! A couple of wishbone mounts and we’ll have rear suspension (sort of). OK, its virtually rigid after all, given the stiffness of the modified spring and perch configuration. Cool, we wont miss the lack of shock absorbers!

Hmmmm, now what about the front? We have a big, heavy flathead V8 going up there. On this end we decided that we would just have to create our own suicide perch for the Model A spring and axel and deal with stiffness and ride height issues later after we set a motor in place and see what affect it has on spring compression and suspension travel. This is really straight forward for anyone who has built rods before. We welded our home made perch to a cross member we built out of an unused piece of frame rail – Burke style, waste nothing - and in no time our tanker was sitting on all fours. A quick check verified we had the wheelbase we wanted. With the four corners now located, we added mounting points to the frame for the front wishbones and our basic rolling chassis was roughed in. The rear wishbone mounts would have to wait for the transmission and torque tube locations to be final in order to align them properly.

  


Since this car is about maximum speed and not driver comfort, the next step was to address a drive line layout that would work best, though we made a mental note of where the driver sits for later consideration. Out with the engine lift and we lowered the block into place toward the front of the frame as low as possible keeping an eye on oil pan clearance. OK, what do we need room for up front… pulleys, a belt and a water tank. That’s right, no radiator. Bill used a water tank since extended running was not required. That can be made to fit the available space under the nose of the body so lets think practicality of design. You can only go so far forward before the engine is too wide for the frame rails anyway so, what looks like a good location for motor mounts that would leave enough room for exhaust. This was a point of good fortune for us as the front motor mounts (part of the water pumps on a flatty) lined up level with the inside flange of the frame rails so we made mounting plates at the point where the motor mount flanges met the frame and bingo.

 

At the rear of the motor, we fabricated a brace out of steel angle that would serve as a location for the bell housing and transmission mount as well as a frame stiffener and a place to mount a steering box . Kill as many birds with one stone as you can. A quick estimate of component weights and locations based on this layout suggested that we could achieve a good weight distribution balance with a little care in planning the positioning of the remaining components.

The last major driveline hurdle was the drive shaft and torque tube – both of which were way too long for our tiny racer. Again, this is straight forward hot rod guy stuff but it must be done carefully to ensure strength and vibration free operation. We mounted the 39 Ford transmission, set the pinion angle and measured our torque tube length. Once the tube was cut and welded back together, we shortened the pinion shaft and determined the proper length for the drive shaft. Making the coupling sleeve did require the use of a lathe but, in keeping with the old school premise, we used an antique 1939 Le Blond lathe that we have at the shop. The part and the machine are both consistent with Burkes car. We fitted the coupler, cross drilled, pined and welded it and refitted the assembly back in the car. With the torque tube pivot location established, we located the forward mounting points for the rear wishbones and our drive line and suspension was now complete.

This is where the project takes an interesting turn…

Geoff contacted us and explained that there was a lot of growing interest in what we were up to and that magazines and “persons of interest” were taking note and seeking ways to get involved. This included the aging “king of Bonneville” himself, Bill Burke. At 92, he told Geoff “he didn’t know how many more Bonneville's he had left” and wouldn’t it be cool to bring the finished car to Speed week in August. OK, lets see…. Its now mid May and by my calculations that would leave us roughly 8 weeks to complete the project and put it on a trailer. Time for a shop brainstorming session. It would be very cool to see the car unveiled at the salt flats before a cheering crowd of enthusiasts who could appreciate the nostalgia and at the same time honor a man, hell, a legend, whose contributions to the world of speed benefit us all today! Still, we have 10 other projects in the shop and more scheduled. How the hell would we get it done in time? This is where ego, a sense of history and a deep love for racing history should not be mixed with alcohol and bravado. Sure! We’re in! Call the wives and let them know we won’t be home till the end of August……..


With the basic chassis in place, it was time to start forming the bodywork, no time to waste now. The lower half of the tank was straight forward. It simply required us to cut it to provide clearance for the axels. The upper half of the body was another story. First, after carefully viewing dozens of photographs of the original car from every angle over its history, we discovered that it went through a continuous evolution. Of course it did, anyone who has ever ventured into the world of speed and rodding knows that its all about continuous development and improvement. The car was virtually never the same twice. Each time Bill tested or raced the car from the time he first started the project, he made changes – some drastic – to every aspect of the body. Initially, it appeared only in a rough and unfinished fashion – un-painted and raw - as he began taking it to tests. Over the course of the following months, he re-configured the shapes of the drivers cowling, the hood and the tail shape. He added or changed fairings around the brake rods, the exhaust, the carburetors and other mechanical protrusions in an effort to improve the streamline affects. He also ran the car in several different classes requiring even more significant alterations. We had to collectively make some decisions about which characteristics best represented the overall spirit of this historic first car and still pay tribute to the ingenuity represented by Bills development efforts. Since this car would never see a life of testing and development, we needed to choose every detail up front.

After much discussion and further consultation with Bill, we settled on a final combination that represented aspects of the evolution and decided that it would be finished in the canary yellow color the original finally received though much of its racing history was bare unfinished metal.

The thing about metal work is that “old school” is still the way custom car crafters work – provided they have the equipment and know how. This is one of our favorite parts of a project because it truly combines art and craft. The shapes required to create the hood, cowling, fairings and panels for this car allow us to take advantage of our shops full metal working capabilities. Because our starting point was a tank that was partially cut up for a different engine and driver configuration, the first thing we had to do was put the original shape back so we could start over. We cut out sheet metal to replace what was missing and reformed the tapered shapes on the english wheel. With the tanks original shape back in tact, we laid out and re-cut the hood and driver openings and the clearance for the axels.

Again, consulting our photographs to re-create the drivers cowling, we created a basic wire form as a template for the shape covering the form and comparing it with the original pictures until we were satisfied that it was as close as possible. This took quite a bit of trial and error as we each had our own version in our minds eye. Especially since there were so many variations of the original car. Fortunately , two heads are better than one, and we had four metal guys all eyeballing this. Through collaboration, we developed a “best overall” combination of ideas and started cutting sheet metal.


The driver cowling is a complicated shape with a lot of compound curves and tapers and it required rough hammering, our Pull-max, hand planishing, and every shrinking and stretching technique known to man in order to fashion the shape to match our form. After several tries and a lot of late hours (ok, and some cursing and smashed fingers), we arrived at a shape that fit the tank and looked correct. With the cowling welded in place, we now had the available space for the driver defined. Remember the driver – the nut that has to wedge himself into this thing and control it? True to the original, the driver is stuck with whatever is left over after you make the thing go and in a Belly Tank streamliner, that ain’t much.

Probably the most unique (and crazy) feature of Bill’s first car is the use of a bicycle seat for the driver. What's more, in order to get the driver as low as possible, the seat is welded directly on the torque tube! If being cramped into this tiny space wasn’t enough, the seat manages to re-define driver dis-comfort. Again we went to our trusty pile of antique parts supplied by Geoff and sure enough, he’d thought of the seat. It’s a relic of the 30’s and was perfect for the job. We placed the seat in position and welded it in place and for the first time, sat down in the car and said – “you’ve got to be kidding me”! Our appreciation for the fortitude and daring of Bill Burke went way up as we envisioned actually riding in this for a speed record of 131.96 mph. That’s balls my friend!

1930’s era bicycle seat
Seat positioned in car


What’s next…steering, brakes, pedals – nothing is going to work as originally designed so everything gets fabricated. We found that our combination frame support / transmission hanger was indeed located ideally to build mounts for a center steering box as we had hoped. We located an old Ross box out of an early Crosley, which was widely used in early racing applications, and basically re-created the steering set up from an early midget or sprint car – again, just like Bill Burke. We fabricated the mounts , supports and steering shaft so that we could use the pitman arm from a Model A and hand bent a butterfly steering wheel (torch and vise method) and we were in business. With a modified tie rod and a fabricated drag link we had steering.

We used the mechanical brake handle from the pile of Model T parts and re-located it to the brake rod so that the driver could pull up on it to operate the rear brakes by reaching down between his legs. The shifter was cut and re-bent just like the old days when sprint car guy’s converted Model A transmissions to in-and-out boxes. This kept it low and out of the way but still functional. Using a 40’s vintage floor mount brake pedal, we modified it to work as a hanging pedal with a pivot we fabricated, and placed it in the car for our clutch pedal. This was tricky since the cramped quarters really limit leg movement and provide almost no space for pedal travel. We modified the original clutch lever from the transmission and fabricated a linkage system that allowed the clutch to operate with minimum pedal movement. Sitting in the car testing this, it seemed workable but until it got tested in a running state, we would have to hope for the best.

1

Steering, clutch and brakes
all get fabricated


We used some thin plate steel to create two floor plates on either side of the trans and made a throttle pedal - linkage to be worked out later. With the cramped little cockpit now filling up, we went to work using the remaining space under the nose and tail, since those are the only spaces available, for the fuel tank and the water tank.


We fabricated each to fit into the tight confines and shapes– fuel tank just behind the driver and water tank wedged into the nose partially around the front spring perch. The water pump outlets plumbed neatly into a hose flange on either side of the bottom of the tank and the top inlet designed to use a single hose from a small manifold we modified to accept both upper engine hoses and a radiator cap. Everything done to make the tank as large as space would allow for. It’s a good thing these cars don’t have to run for long ‘cause this set up won’t last 10 minutes before you would have to shut down to prevent overheating.

Our friend Geoff was providing us with a complete motor to replace the mock up block but it wasn’t ready yet so further fabrication of the hood would have to wait. No sweat, there’s still plenty to do. Now that the majority of the fabrication work was done, it was time to convert all those nasty, rusted old components into refurbished, shiny, like new parts.

We disassembled everything and came up with a game plan to get it all done in the short time left. We let the body guy’s have the roughed in body skins and frame while we continued stripping apart the axels, springs, wheels, brakes, transmission, etc. All the mechanical bits needed complete restoration and some new parts.

We sourced and ordered all the necessary hardware for rear brakes, king pins, bearings, rod ends…you get the idea. We put Geoff on helping with this so that we could stay focused on the build. “Hey Geoff, where’s that motor, we’re going to need it asap to finish the layout and fabrication.”

We went through all of the available parts in our now dwindling pile and selected the best pieces we had for brake drums, backing plates and so forth and began media blasting. As quick as we could prep the parts, our paint shop finished them and gave them back. This played hell with their schedule for other projects and tied up our booth at some inconvenient times. Fortunately, our team was buying in to the excitement of the project and worked around the disruptions with barely a grumble (only a slight exaggeration here). We really have a great bunch of guy’s and my thanks to everyone for their dedication - BECAUSE ITS JULY DAMN IT AND WE”RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME!

With the running gear rebuilt and painted we began re-assembling everything for the final time (yeah right, like that ever happens). Geoff delivered up a beautiful set of red wire wheels from an “A” and a set of new vintage tires. Sitting on the floor painted and shod, this thing was really starting to take shape. OK time to drop a motor in the hole and get on with the last of the fabrication work that would have been nice to do last month. Now everyone can be careful not to scratch anything. Oops, no motor yet – GEOFFFFFFFF!

Ted sits is the completed rolling chassis


We worked on every possible thing other than the motor and related issues and by the time the motor finally arrived – Thank you Geoff but where are the carbs and fuel pump– we had battery mounts, wiring, plumbing, steering, brakes etc. done. The absence of the fuel delivery system would mean we have to wait on designing the hood until the very last.

The Flatty Arrives


The motor saga….

Flatty’s may look alike to the average Joe, but guess what? There not. The differences often do not pose a problem to an experienced rodder because minor dimensional variations and differences in manifolds, clutches and numerous other small details can be easily overcome because there’s usually room to be flexible. There’s usually time to sort these issues out as well. Unfortunately we have little time and absolutely no extra room. The motor delivered to us had different water pumps and a different clutch and pressure plate. It also had a deeper sump oil pan than the mock-up block. The clutch issue was resolved easily enough by some excellent re-work by our mechanical genius Randy Alvarez who resurrected old parts from the first motor and created a workable combination for the flywheel and clutch splines. The other two issues were another story.

Now, the water pumps interfered with our cool (pun intended) water tank and the oil pan hit the bottom of the bodywork – shit! Out came the now painted water tank and modifications were made to notch it for clearance. Sure we could have tried sourcing different but compatible pumps, but we’re flat out of time so changing the tank and re-painting it was the swift solution. As for the oil pan, we had no choice but to carefully lay out and remove a small section of the lower body shell to allow clearance. (I’m sure you can hear Brian, the painter, crying right now). Oh well, the motor is going in today and that is that. With the lower body modified and all hands on deck, we carefully guided the large V8 back into what now looked like a very small space.

This is where you never hurry even when you feel the pressure of a looming deadline. This thing is only going in here once more so get it right. The tight tolerances for the front mounts require that the water pumps be installed after plugging the engine into the transmission and aligning the engine between the narrow frame rails. Aligning the transmission input shaft blind and without room to work the engine around to get the tight fitting splines of the clutch to line up was slow work. Of course we finally mated the two and with the engine in place, managed to squeeze our fingers around the tight spaces to put everything together.


Fabricating the exhaust system to match the original exit configuration required a customized header design that allowed for a very tight 90 degree exit at a collector that had to be straight down from the center exhaust ports. Then pipes running along the inside of the bodywork and exiting out through the body just behind the driver as the body tapers in. We had no trouble fabricating this but clearly, this set up has limitations. The tight bends limit exhaust flow reducing performance and the hot exhaust pipes run right next to the drivers feet. These are just a couple of the many reasons why all of Bills later Belly Tank cars were a rear engine, driver in front design.

With only a week to go, the carbs, fuel pump and other delinquent ignition parts arrived so we could begin the final push. With the fuel and ignition systems complete, we were ready to fire her up. Its always exciting to hear a new creation come to life and this was no exception. After a little priming on the rebuilt Strombergs, the engine lit and ran. This was great, lets try for clutch engagement. Awesome, the pedal and linkage we designed works, she moves forward. “Ted, put it in reverse and try that…..what do you mean its in reverse now”? The car rolled forward – Houston we have a problem.

 

Remember I said Randy was a mechanical genius? Well he has a new nickname. Ring Gear Alvarez! Yep, the ring gear is on the wrong side. Many of you will know that on a Model A rear end the ring gear and axels can be put in from either side. It doesn’t know. You just have to remember which side is which. So what do you do with one forward gear and three reverse? No, you don’t turn around and go the opposite direction. You take it apart and flip the gear. No time like the present “Ring Gear”, have at it…BUT DON’T SCRATCH ANYTHING! Actually, its an honest mistake given the pace and late hours. Especially since Randy has modified so many of these differentials over the years to convert them to racing quick changes which require the gear on the opposite side. We’ll chalk this one up to muscle memory rather than brain fade.

Finally, the time has come to mate the upper bodywork to our now completed chassis. Huge kudos to our painter (and fabricator) Brian Grossman for doing a beautiful job finishing the body and making the small fairings. It looks beautiful. We carefully lowered the body over the chassis and secured it in place. The fit and alignment were perfect and there were no clearance issues with the firewall and protruding parts. We were sweating this because a lot of work had to be done without the body in place using only measurements. That always leaves room for trouble but this time lady luck was smiling.

 

The body

goes on


Now for the part we’ve all bean concerned about. Building the hood and front fairing on a finished body without scratching or damaging anything. We had built the hood support flanges into the body already so with everything taped off and padded, we laid the rough cut out of the hood sheet metal over the engine and started making marks for clearance cuts. Once the hood fit the openings and provided clearance for the carbs, water hoses and so forth, we had to build the fairing shape that would attach to the hood and extend over the nose.

Back to the hammers and roller.

Lets make a hood!


The shape of the hood fairing is one of those composite characteristics on this car because it originally appeared so many different ways. As we formed our version and tacked it into place, we took some pictures and compared the look of ours to those in the historic images and worked it until it gave the car a truly authentic “minds-eye” representation of the original. We carefully removed the body and took it to Brian so he could work the finish on the body. Anything else would risk altering she shape and creating alignment issues and a poor fit. Again, Brian did a great job managing to create a great finished piece . With the hood sheet metal completed, once more Brian went into the paint booth (for the final time.)

Now that the car was completed, we gave it a final check over and detailing and evaluated the finished piece. The ride height was good, the front spring was adequately stiff and a quick check on the scales told us it was nearly a perfect 50/50 weight distribution with a driver in place. The steering was accurate and everything functioned as planned. We drove it around the lot a couple times and certified it ready to deliver.


A quick note on driving the car –

Though cramped, it really works well enough to easily perform its intended purpose - quick blasts in a straight line. The bicycle seat provides absolutely no support and is uncomfortable but if you wedge your ass to the back and your legs to the sides with your elbows stuffed between them, you could tuck down and manage the required distance for a run at the speed record… pretty damn cool actually!

Finally, the day had arrived to deliver the car to Geoff so he could leave for Bonneville. Despite the late nights and hard work, It is always an extreme pleasure to deliver a special project to a customer. In this case, it was even more rewarding because of the cars destiny – a trip to Bonneville for an un-veiling in front of Bill Burke and his family along with many other legendary wizards of speed. After press and photos at Bonneville, it heads to LA for a photo shoot with Rodders Journal and then on to an extended exhibition with several of Burkes other Belly Tank Streamliners at the NHRA museum. All this was made possible by the efforts of the car’s owner Geoff Hacker and is supported by his outstanding research into the history of these cars and of Bill Burke. Geoff even created banners, posters and flyers to promote and commemorate the event. Our special thanks to Geoff for bringing us this project and to all the special individuals whose information, guidance and support made our efforts both possible and memorable.



Geoff is ready to leave for Bonneville

Then & Now


The Bonneville Experience

After a multi-day journey to Bonneville which fortunately saw no difficulties, Geoff arrived at the salt flats with the car. I am happy to say that the car was a huge hit with the competitors and spectators alike including the Burke family who were there with their current speed record effort.

 

The Good, The Bad & The Beautiful

The Good
Ted and I flew out and joined Geoff the next day. As this was our first time to the Salt Flats, it was quite an eye opening experience. The vastness of the salt and the tremendous scale of the event are unique in motor sport. We were pleased to find Geoff and the car in the paddock surrounded by a large crowd all fascinated by the car and its story. Bill Burke’s long affiliation with speed record efforts here make anything associated with him an instant draw.

Ted & Tom with the Burke gang
Bonneville is an amazing place


It was a real thrill for us to meet the Burkes and an even greater thrill when Ted, myself and Bill Burke’s grandson Josh Burke (yeah, a third generation of speed record chasers) each took a turn driving the Belly Tanker on the salt. The car ran fine though at one point, a small issue needed to be corrected in the transmission (see “The Bad”). The experience of driving this antique offered an entirely new perspective on the daring and passion required by the early pioneers of speed. There is absolutely zero margin for error, especially considering the complete lack of safety consideration designed into the car. A mistake would be fatal! Interestingly, the bicycle seat worked quite well and was not uncomfortable for the short runs associated with land speed racing. The steering was adequate and the car ran straight with all controls easily managed even in the very cramped confines. Though we only made passes at reduced speeds for obvious reasons, it was easy to imagine what it was like to go flat out and hang on.

 

Josh Burke follows in his grandfathers footsteps


The Bad
The mechanical issue with the transmission actually turned out to be an opportunity for another “special moment” in the story of this project. When the trans got stuck in gear, we needed to fix it to continue our saga. As Ted and I prepared to tackle the problem, we were approached by none other than two of the most famous names in flat head and hot rodding performance – Vern Tardel and Ed Binggeli! We happily turned over the job of repairing the transmission to these two historic figures (who could have fixed this issue in their sleep). They pulled the top cover off and in no time, made the appropriate repairs and adjustments. We were back in business and had the pleasure of seeing to greats at work. It was 1946 all over again!


The only true “bad” we experienced would unfortunately leave a lasting mark on my memories of the trip. Josh Burke was the last to make a run in the car. Josh brought the car back to the trailer and as I reached over to shut the engine off (leaning over the cowl as I did this), the coolant hose blew off at the cylinder head right onto my legs ( a clamp had loosened as the new hoses heat cycled for the first time). The 230 degree water completely dowsed both of my thighs which caused instant second degree burns. My many thanks to the guys at the Burke pit who immediately grabbed a cooler full of ice water and covered me with it. If not for their quick reactions, my injuries would have been even more severe. As I write this, my burns have healed but I’ve added new scars to the many collected over the years in motorsports. Oh well, another track, another care center – that’s racing. With my legs bandaged and some good pain medication, I spent the rest of the trip taking in the event wrapped like a mummy from the waist down but thoroughly enjoying the sites and the company.

The Beautiful
What could be better than magnificent cars, breathtaking scenery and wonderful people. To capture the Belly Tanker in its native environment, renowned photographer Peter Vincent arrived for a series of photo shoots featuring our car as well as capturing some great shots combining other historic tankers. His images will be chronicled in an issue of Rodders Journal due in early 2010. I encourage everyone to view a copy.


Both Ted and I want to express how impressed we were with the friendly and accommodating spirit of everyone we met from the competitors to the officials. We’ve been involved with every major sanctioning body in racing and the SCTA crowd is hands down the most laid back and easy to get along with group we’ve ever met. That, without sacrificing their strict enforcement of safety and performance rules. The event runs like a clock in spite of hundreds of participants in so many different classes you almost can’t count them. To tell about all the terrific people and their courtesy to us would take a book in itself so suffice it to say that if you ever get a chance to spend time with this organization – do it!

 

Bill Burke takes a trip down memory lane


The Burke Belly Tank tribute car can be seen through January 2010 at the NHRA museum in LA displayed with two other of Bill Burkes famous record cars. In March, it will be exhibited at the Amelia Island Concourse D’Elegance – a first for a vehicle of this type. Once again, Ted and I wish to thank everyone involved in this project and all the people we met along the way. This is what being an automotive enthusiast is all about.

 


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