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Real Racing History? 1953 Belly Tank Racer!

In the 1940s and 50s, there were a lot of two things in the United States: surplus WWII vehicles and young service members who were back from war. These two things combined with the Southern California hot rod culture and the desire of those young war heroes to maintain an adrenaline rush led to the development of belly tank race cars. This particular car is said to have been built by famous racer Bill Burke and was made from a P38 gas tank. It can be found here on Craigslist with an asking price of nearly $20,000. Located in Costa Mesa, California, this car has probably seen some action in the dry lakes of the desert SouthWest. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Ikey H. for the tip on this cool car.

Here you can see the cockpit of the race car. There aren’t any creature comforts, this thing is all function. The engine sits behind the driver, so that leaves the front available to squeeze two feet down into the nose. This particular belly tank is said to be 300 to 315 gallons. While that might seem like a lot, the actual driver compartment is less than half of that. Add the structural tubing, steering shaft, and front suspension, there isn’t a ton of room for the actual racer.

The engine is a Flathead V8 with a Lincoln Zephyr 3-speed transmission. It also features an Edelbrock intake with Sharp aluminum heads. There’s a photo in the ad showing some engine components including a radiator, heads, and carburetors. I’m not sure if these are extra pieces or if this was what went into the build?

This looks like an awesome race car! I’m not sure if the seller can prove the connection to Bill Burke or not, but it certainly makes for an interesting story. If you’d like to read more about Mr. Burke, check out an article here on HotRod.com. Even if this car wasn’t built by Mr. Burke, it still looks like a ball and is probably a blast to drive! Let us know what you think.


  1. Steve R

    The seller doesn’t claim it was ever raced, nor gives a build date. I’d bet its never has seen any on course action. If it had, he would have put that front and center in the ad, that’s where the money is.

    Like 2
    • Dave Mazz

      The listing says, “Call Doug…..to make an appointment or ask any questions.” Maybe Doug knows of its racing history.

      Like 0
  2. michael h streuly

    I do not think that this car ever ran at el mirage or bonneville.

    Like 1
    • Dave Mazz

      Google “Bangshift Belly Tank racer 432c” for more info on this car. It may have run at Bonneville….or tried to.

      Like 0
  3. Sam61

    Very cool. Perfect for a retired jockey.

    Like 0
    • Mark

      Regardless of any race heritage, it’s only good for shows. Utter foolishness to attempt to drive something like this.

      Like 0
      • Dave

        They used to run these on the dry lakes and Bonneville after the war. I remember seeing pictures of these in the speed magazines of the early and mid 1960s.

        While it probably wouldn’t pass tech today, it remains a period piece from a bygone era.

        Like 3
  4. Howard A Member

    It’s hard to tell what’s the front and what’s the back. A 100+ mph go-kart, what’s the worst that could happen?

    Like 1
  5. Jay E.

    Its awfully blunt on the front to be a P-38 tank.

    Like 1
  6. Gaspumpchas

    Wonder if this is a new build that never got finished? Lots of pieces included, wonder if that rad was ever installed? Very cool retro car, Good luck with the new owner!


    Like 0
  7. sluggo

    Im really uncertain of comparables for off the wall racers like this. Value is entirely speculative and largely based on provenance and history as well as anyone significant you can associate it with.
    Its not like you can blue book or NADA guides on the value of such race cars IOW. So if the seller wants $20k or whatever arbitrary number associated with it, better do a good job on research.

    Like 0
  8. michael h streuly

    I called the number in the ad and the info i got is that the car was mocked up but it was never finished. There is a box of other parts that come with the car so it can be finished. One major thing the car needs is a roll cage. This car could be made to run but it would cost a bit of money to make it pass tech inspection. Bottom line no racing history.

    Like 2
  9. daCabbie

    Seems like you could build that same things for about 10k… and I don’t see another 10k in that paint job so I have a hard time seeing a 20k asking price.

    I would pay $200 to drive it once… I’ll try anything once… and anymore than that would just be ill-advised.

    “Spam in a can” is what came to mind when I first saw this thing.

    Like 0
  10. Tony T

    NOT “aluminum” cylinder heads … cast iron stockers …

    Like 0
  11. gto4ever

    very cool – looks like the racer I made as a kid for the pine box derby

    Like 0

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