Cannonball Replica: 1929 GMC Tanker

Josh MortensenBy Josh Mortensen

Most of us probably just know it as the Cannonball, but its original name was the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (no wonder it’s just Cannonball now). It was also a slightly different event then what it has turned into, it was purely an endurance challenge to prove you could drive none stop from one coast to the other. The mad man behind the idea was Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker, who made the journey several times. In 1927 he ran from New York to San Francisco in a 2 ton GMC tanker. The tanker you see above isn’t the actual truck he made the drive in, but a replica. It’s ready to make the journey again, but needs a new owner up for the challenge. You can find this truck here on eBay in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas with a BIN of $9k and bidding at $5,600.

While this truck isn’t a perfect replica of the one Baker drove (it’s the wrong year after all), it is quite close to the real deal. It even has a Buick inline 6 under the hood! With the 61 horsepower 274 cui Master Six powering his truck, Erwin was able to complete the journey in 5 days, 17 hours and 36 minutes. He covered a total of 3,693 miles with an average speed of just over 35 mph. I wonder if this slightly newer model could do better?

Things didn’t change much from 1927 to 1929 on the inside of these 2 ton trucks, so what you see here is likely what Baker lived with for nearly 6 days. I can’t imagine spending that much time in this truck. According to the GM Heritage Center, Baker only had about 4 hours of sleep total for the length of the trip. That’s one impressive feat!

Baker was full of nothing but praises for the GM truck he drove, so hopefully this one will prove to be just as reliable. It really is amazing to think that in 1926, a truck and its driver could make the cross country trip non-stop with 12,560 pounds of Atlantic sea water in the tank and not have any issues! This might not be the actual truck that Baker drove, but it would still be neat to have. It would be fun to try and attempt to recreate Baker’s trip in it!

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  1. JW

    Would be interesting to attempt such a feat but I doubt any one today could do it, we have become spoiled and lazy. JMHO !!!

    • kman

      I’d do it.

  2. BHB

    Did you say 1926 or 1927 as the year of the run? In late 1926 gm finished their proving grounds and invited the press corp to see all the 1926 Buicks run at high speed on their new smooth track. Unfortunately the 60+ mph revealed hot spots designed into the heads which caused most of the cars to fail due to overheating. The heads were redesigned for 1927. 99.9% of the older cars never reached those speeds so Buick reliability held fast. Hence the interest in the model year and date of bakers run.

  3. Ikey Heyman

    I am not a big fan of “replica” vehicles but I think this is an interesting choice for one and the Cannonball Dash backstory is pretty cool. This would be a conversation-starter wherever you go, although if it were mine, I would keep it close to home.

  4. geomechs

    I’ve always liked the Cannonball GMC, and would enjoy having something like this in my collection. I’d take it to shows and just go for the occasional drive around in it but I think any long-distance stuff would be redundant; the feat has already been done and it’s in the history books. You could never be able to duplicate the actual run anyways; the roads have greatly improved….

  5. the one

    OK so, 1976 met A guy who was involved in this race. He told of how they would turn off the engine going down hill and other tricks to get the best gas mileage out of his straight eight 1948 Buick Roadmaster. That’s all I remember.
    Still, I haven’t heard of this race since then but it was always in the back of my mind.
    Thanks Barn Finds!

  6. mike quezada

    here is a write up on the trip’s_1927_Record_Setting_Cross_Country_Run

    Too bad it was not the actual truck, it should have at least been a 1927 truck

  7. Jim Benjaminson

    It wasn’t a race but an endurance run. Making record breaking transcontinental trips was a method of “proving” the reliability of your product. Erwin “Cannonball” Baker was among the top drivers for these stunts – I know he drove a 6-cyl. Franklin in 1927, this GMC truck, a motorcycle of one sort or another, I believe an American Bantam and more. Another not-quite as famous driver was Louis Miller who drove both an Imperial and a 4-cyl. ’31 PA series Plymouth to records – the Plymouth actually beat Cannonball’s ’27 Franklin record and was driven from San Francisco to New York and back again averaging around 45 miles per hour. Doesn’t sound fast by todays standards but considering the roads and that the “records” included through-town driving, it was an impressive feat.

  8. Peter K

    5 days across the country even in todays standards is quite a feat. I do it several times a year in a tour bus going from SanDiego to Maine and back. 6 days is my best averaging 10 hours a day of driving.

  9. Bill McCoskey

    In 1973 I, along with 2 more friends, had secretly planned to participate in the ’73 Cannonball race. We had to maintain secrecy as the 3 of us were in the Military Police at the time. We had worked for over a year outfitting a low mileage former military 1967 Cadillac Ambulance, fitting heavy duty GMC truck disc brakes, and under the back floor we had on loan 4 bladder-type fuel cells [Thanks to The Racer Store], so we would only need to make 2 stops for fuel. We removed most of the partition between the front seat area & the back area, installing 2 bucket seats from a Corvair, so we could crawl between the front & rear areas. This would allow one of our team to sleep on the cot in the back, while the other 2 drove & ran navigation.

    1973 Cannonball race? Well it never happened. Even with a switch of start location to Connecticut, [Darien, if I remember correctly], at a shopping center parking lot at midnite, as things heated up near the planned run date, Law enforcement got wind of it, and Brock Yates was told he [and others] would be arrested if the race took place.

    My commanding officer heard about our plans but the run had already been cancelled, so I was simply reminded that as a member of the military it was not permitted to be in any unsanctioned race. As he wrapped up our conversation, he commented that he thought we had a good chance of winning! I smiled and said; Thank you Sir. [My C.O. was a car enthusiast too.]

  10. Loco Mikado

    Trying to figure how he made it so fast. In 1924 my dad’s family(his parents, grandparents, sister and uncle)made the journey from LeMars Iowa to Portland Oregon in a model T with a camper built on the back. They called it a house car and it took them 38 days to make the journey. The time they took is on the slow side of what it would take normal people to make a journey like this. I think also the more northerly route they took was not as good a road as the more southerly route of the Cannonball plus a few years difference would have helped.

  11. Sign Guy

    Looks like a nice truck, and maybe even a good deal – but why the second rate graphics? Couldn’t they at least duplicate the fonts and approximate the look of the hand painted original?


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