Recipe For Speed: Belly Tanker Kit

As World War II came to a close, a number of elements combined in Southern California that gave birth to the hot rodding movement.  That “lightning on a bottle” was the combination of thousands of skilled workers, a favorable climate, tons of cheap war surplus gear, returning veterans with a little jingle in their pockets, and the good old American thirst for speed.  One of the offshoots of this movement was land speed racing at the nearby dry lake beds.  The purest of racers were the belly tankers, built from the droppable fuel tanks that fighter planes used to extend their range.  For those wanting to recreate one of these aerodynamic race cars, a collector is selling on eBay a collection of parts to create your own belly tanker.  Sitting in Brighton, Colorado, this project has fourteen bids, but currently sits at just $1,301.  Is this ultra cool collection of parts worth more than that paltry sum?

If you want to take a deep dive into this era, spend some time listening to the recordings at the American Hot Rod Foundation’s website.  These folks have collected a number of oral histories from the people that were pioneers in hot rodding both before the war and after.  Some of these histories go in depth on how hot rodders were running roadsters on the dry lake beds and recording speeds well over 100 mph before the war.  After the hostilities, the movement really took off and speeds began to climb.

Not satisfied with the 100+ mph speeds that modified production cars were capable of, some enterprising hot rodders began to build small streamliners out of the drop tanks used on fighter aircraft at the time.  These lightweight and strong fuel tanks were split open and then built up with frames, axles, a seat, steering gear, and an engine.  As space was tight, power often came from a Ford V8-60.  These engines were basically small Flatheads, and were popular powerplants for smaller open wheel race cars.  Speed parts were available, and they responded well to tuning.

The kit we see in the eBay ad is a collection of parts that the seller intended to build into a belly tanker.  Some parts are new, while others appear to be vintage pieces.  The intent seemed to be making the racer as period correct as possible.  The tank itself is believed to be from either a P-38 or P-51 fighter aircraft.  With dimensions of 11 feet from stem to stern and just 30 inches of width, you can see how there is not a lot of room inside for the driver and drivetrain.

Interestingly, the internal mounted frame and other pieces like the dashboard you see above are made of laser cut steel.  While this method of construction would surely result in a very well built and precisely formed race car, it kind of takes away from the vintage look.  Still, if you are serious about trying to break some land speed records, I’d prefer to have a well built and laser straight frame.  Believe it or not, belly tankers still show up at Bonneville in large numbers.

With the kit you do get most of a Ford V8-60.  The seller tells us that the intake is just a mock up.  In fact, the rest of the engine you see is a plastic mock up as well.  There are some legitimate parts, such as a motor mount, two water pumps, and a carburetor that needs to be rebuilt.

Below this plastic piece of art is one of two V8-60 oil pans that come with the project.  Locating a V8-60 shouldn’t be too difficult.  You could probably find a way to shoehorn a full sized Flathead in there as well, but it might be necessary to modify the tank a little.  I guess it all depends on how small your designated driver is.  You might want to consider how comfortable they want to be as well.

Once you are finished with building these parts up into a race car, your end product will look something like this.  The question is, what do you do with it when you are finished?  While racing at Bonneville is an option, there is also a growing list of “Race of Gentlemen” style events happening around the country.  These short course drag races are intended for period type hot rods.  However, belly tankers have started to show up.  Just don’t plan on being comfortable.

Do you have the skills to complete this build?  What would you do with it when you finished?

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Comments

  1. BlondeUXB Member

    Tanks a lot for posting this…

    9
  2. TODD S WARRINER

    After reading this had to go and listen to Bob Hope’s theme song. “Tanks for the memories.

    2
  3. Coventrycat

    Got a belly laugh outta those..

    5
  4. DAVID KENIRY

    i have a belly thats a tank

    2
  5. Del

    Drop kicked me.

    I am tanking about it. 🤣

    1
  6. KKW

    Velly intelesting.

  7. JagManBill

    tanks…but no tanks….

    2

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