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1946 BELLY TANK STREAMLINER TRIBUTE

Details

  • Year Built: 1946
  • Fuel Type: Gas

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 tank idea.

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 forgotten.

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 build.

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, August, 2009

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!”

Sources:

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, November 2009

“The Belly Tank Tribute” – Corvette in the Barn, 2010

Check out the first of three historical online books about the Belly Tank here:

http://www.undiscovered-classics.com/1_Flipbooks/2_Belly_Tank_Books_2014/Book%201_Vintage_And_Modern_Articles/

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