Bonneville Salt Flats Rods, Racing & People

Belly Tank Lakesters at Bonneville

I love the belly tank lakester.  It’s the perfect combination of hot rodding and World War II warbirds, my two favorite mechanical things in this world.  These drop tanks turned racecars were cheap to come by 60 years ago or so when WWII was over.  The aircraft mechanics and their buddies snatched these up and started building them into lakes racers.  They have a perfect aerodynamic shape, tested by the US Army Aircorp and Air Force to go at least 400mph as that was the top speed of the warbirds like the P-38 Lightning, P-51 Mustang and F4U-1 Corsair amongst others.  Nowadays, there is at least one company I know of that makes fiberglass replicas of the P38 drop tank for racing purposes.

Here’s a photo off the internet of a P-38 Lightning with two drop tanks chasing down a Japanese Zero in a mock battle at an airshow.

Two aircraft mechanics get ready to load a drop tank on a P-38 Lightning.  Gives you a good view of the shape.  Now picture one of these dudes hunkered down inside one of these tanks going 200 mph on the salt flats!  That’s what I’m talking about!

You can still spot a few belly tanks at Bonneville today.  Some tanks have been borrowed from 60’s jets as well.  You can tell the difference cause they’re much longer.  Tonight, lets take a look at some belly tank lakesters I’ve spotted at Bonneville in the last couple years.

Waiting in line is the #132 lakester from Scandinavian Street Rods in California.  If I remember correctly, this is a restored drop tank that raced in the 50’s and 60’s at Bonneville.  It runs a flathead V8 and looks period correct with its weathered paint scheme.

The “Old Crow” Speed Shop lakester is one of the more well known belly tanks out on the Salt Flats.  I don’t know the history behind the Old Crow machine but WOW, I love the looks of it.  It is a record holder as well for the blown gas vintage 4 cylinder class with a speed of 137 mph.  I love the “Old Crow” reference to the P-51D Mustang warbird which carried the same noseart name.

Here we have a view of the innards of the Old Crow lakester.  Just pop the top half of the body off and you have full access to the entire thing.  Starting at the near end, we have the push bar, then the gas tank which sits in front of the rear axle, next is the old Model A or B 4 cylinder engine with supercharger and 3 Stromberg 97 carburetors.  In front of the engine is finally the drivers seat and steering components.  Not much room in there for anything else.  Definitely not gonna be able to fit any luggage for a road trip.  LOL

One more view of Old Crow, this time a close-up of the supercharged 4 cylinder.  The intake setup looks custom.  Look at the details of the frame and how the wiring and hoses are wire tied to it.

I spotted this aluminum drop tank strapped down to a flatbed trailer for sale at Speedweek 2010.  Just waiting to be modified for land speed racing duties…

The Danny Boy II lakester is a much bigger drop tank likely pulled from a 60’s era jet.  The large vertical tail used for high speed stability is very noticeable from afar.  It looks kinda goofy with the smaller wheels, but land speed racing is not about looks is it?

The “Das Bullet” is one of the more successful belly tanks at Bonneville.  It currently holds the F/BGL (1.5-2.0liter engine, blown gas lakester class) record at 218 mph.  It too looks like a 60’s era jet drop tank.

Last shot here is of the Ratfink inspired Belly Tank Lakester from the San Diego Roadster Club.  The coolest part to me is it’s powered by a stout turbocharged Subaru flat 4 cylinder engine and runs at over 200 mph.  Modern hot rodding power in a vintage hot rod body.  That’s cool!

Lots more to show you from Bonneville.  Any requests?


12 responses

  1. Rick Hecht

    If that P-38 doesn’t hurry up and drop those tanks that Zero is going to reverse on him and “bag” another Lightning Jock. Cool story, nice pics, I am also a huge fan of Tanksters. How about a profile on the company making the P-38 and Extended P-38 fiberglass replicas. Also, is the “funny car” style roll bar required ? It ruins the profile of the tank. But; like you said, it is not about looks.

    April 6, 2011 at 7:51 pm

  2. Yes, the roll bar is likely required. I’m sure there’s different ways to design the cage, but it’d likely look better if you did it like the Old Crow, where you built a canopy that can hide the cage. I’ll look into that company who does the fiberglass tanks again, its been awhile…

    April 6, 2011 at 8:11 pm

  3. Dallas

    Excellent showing the tank on the aircraft and then the car. Great job

    April 8, 2011 at 2:46 pm

  4. Nice photos although I’d like to see more. I’m putting the finishing touches on my lakester. You can see 2 sessions with it on you tube and enter polson lakester. I had thought about taking it to bonneville at the least for some photo ops, but then I saw some pics where the cars were covered with salt. Think I’ll just parade and show it in Montana. Gil

    February 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm

  5. p.j.o furey

    enjoyed the photos and the stories,thanks! found your place while grabbing some songs from the ‘old crow medicine show’-we race motorcycles at bonneville speedweek but love the car stuff too-especially the old crow-greets from sunny england!!

    March 26, 2012 at 12:29 pm

  6. I have a real P-38 Belly Tank for sale for a Bonneville Lakester.

    June 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm

  7. Bill Brandt

    Great job. Just finished seeing the movie “The World’s Fastest Indian” and they really got into the 60s era culture of Bonneville.

    It took some imagination to see a drop tank and envision making a land speed record holder out of it

    June 14, 2013 at 8:21 am

  8. Peter am. Leach

    Hello There, I would love to see more pics of the early P-38/ P-51 belly tankers cars. I have one I’m actually building right now. Cheers, Peter

    November 25, 2014 at 11:40 am

    • I don’t know how to do much on the computer, but could send more photos via email. Since I was building it to have fun with and present and preserve part of racing history, I took some libertys like a little heavier frame, 3 speed and reverse, and a radiator. If I cared about setting a record, those 3 areas would have been some different. There are 2 videos of it running around, but No open straight stretches around here. See it on Polson Lakester. If that doesn,t show up, use the museum name also. miracle of america museum, at Polson, Montana. Thanks, Gil

      November 26, 2014 at 10:56 am

  9. i have belly tank for sale. 1943 p38 tank

    November 3, 2015 at 3:56 am

    • Bryan

      Hi, I was wondering how much you are asking for your tank? Thanks, Bryan

      November 3, 2015 at 9:50 pm

  10. Naomi Atkinson

    I was wondering if you can tell me where you got the photo of A 165 Gallon Lockheed Drop Tank in front of a P-38 Lightning Fighter as we want to use it for our TV programme? Guy Martin has rode a Triumph vehicle on the Bonneville Salt flats recently and we filmed his attempt for a Channel 4 programme, I am just trying to track down the rights holder of this image.

    October 26, 2016 at 2:02 am

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