Sold for $440,000 at 2007 Gooding & Company
P-51 Mustangs and P-47 Thunderbolt WWII fighter planes were fitted with 165-gallon auxiliary aluminum belly fuel tanks. Larger versions able to contain 315-gallons were used on P-38 Lightnings. The designs of the belly tanks were very aerodynamic and their lightweight construction attracted the interest of war veteran and racing enthusiast, Bill Burke. He would become the first lakes racer to realize the potential of the war surplus belly tanks.
His first attempt with the belly tank was the smaller 165-gallon version mounted on a simple frame. The engine was positioned in front of the driver; the container proved too small to contain the engine and retain its aerodynamic form. So a larger version was used, this time mounting a Ford flathead V8 engine behind the driver. All components, including the cockpit, were fully enclosed to maximize aerodynamic efficiency.
It was not long before other hot rodders and speed equipment manufacturers were modifying surplus drop tanks and achieving 200+ mph in speed trials. The list of legendary tuners includes Alex Xydias - So-Cal Speed Shop founder, racers Bob McClure, Ray Brown and Tom Beatty, and speed equipment manufacturers Earl Evans and Howard Johansen.
The designs were perfected throughout the years and every attempt was made to reduce the vehicle's overall weight. Most did not have any creature-comforts afforded to the driver, engine cooling devices, or even brakes. The designs were simple yet effective and very functional. Engines were easily changeable so the belly-racers could compete in a variety of classes dictated by their displacement size.
One of the most legendary belly-tank racers was the Tom Beatty Lakester. Tom Beatty, a lakes racer, later became a speed-equipment manufacturer. Together with speed merchant Barney Navarro, the Lakester utilized a forced-induction setup. This configuration was not as popular as nitro-methane among racers, yet would prove its potential in the Lakester. Beatty and Navarro fitted the Lakester with a GMC-371 supercharger, four Stromberg 48 carburetors, ad a flathead V8 engine.
The results were positive but additional work was required to improve upon the vehicles aerodynamics. Near the close of the 1951 season, Beatty created a new lakester based on a P-38 Lightning drop tank. The chassis was created from 3/4-inch diameter chrome-moly steel tubing resulting in a rigid truss-type platform. The rear suspension was independent with ford-based swing axles. The front setup used a Ford Model A axle turned upside and mounted a transverse leaf spring directly behind it to reduce wind resistance.
Typical belly racers of the era used an in-out gearbox; the Lakester used an unconventional modified transmission with second and high gears used for acceleration.
The Lakester was brought to the 1951 Bonneville Nationals where it was painted in black with 'Auto Accessories Co.' prominently displayed on the side. With its 296 cubic-inch Mercury flathead engine and supercharger fueled by alcohol, the belly-racer ran in the D Lakester class.
The first run in the newly created Beatty Lakester achieved 188.284 mph; its inaugural journey had resulted in the 'fastest open-wheeled car' to that date.
The success earned Beatty sponsorship by Belond. When it returned to Bonneville with was paintd red and white and dubbed the 'Belond Equa-Flow Special.' Improvements included a Frank Kurtis built streamlined aluminum headrest fairing. The engine retained the 3-71 Supercharger and gained V-belts. The engine had plenty of connecting-rod failures; to resolve this issue, the rods were 'boxed' by welding on side plates.
Beatty went through his share of engines. He ran boost pressures as high as 15:1 and pushed the engines to their limits. When the engines managed to hold together, it often resulted in new records or fastest times of the day. Over a consecutive five year period, his flathead-powered belly-tank racer set SCTA's 'Top Speed of the Season', from 1951 to 1955, and again in 1959.
In 1952 Beatty ran 203.61 mph one way. The following years were met with impressive results, though in 1954 the belly racer was plagued by four successive engine failures. In 1955, Betty was sponsored by Weiand Speed Equipment and the belly-tanker was painted to reflect that sponsorship, in a Weiand Yellow paint scheme. During that year, he official became part of the 200 mph Club after having an average two-way run of 211.267 mph. The following year, he ran 211.888 mph and in 1957 a speed of 209.180 was ascertained. His records in the C Lakester category have not been broken.
In 1958, Beatty opened the Tom Beatty Automotive Engineering shop in Sun Valley, California. By this point, the flathead V8 engine popularity were beginning to fade as overhead valve V8s grew in popularity. Beatty joined the band-wagon, switching to Oldsmobile power and mated to a Ford transmission. A GMC blower 6-71 was attached, fitted to a Beatty-built blower manifold, and a new blower drive. The engine originally displaced 303 cubic-inches but was later de-stroked to 260 cid for higher revs. The Lakester was painted in two-shades of blue and proudly bore the label 'Tom Beatty Automotive Engineering.' In this configuration Beatty achieved a new Bonneville D Lakester record of 232.98 mph. The following year it reached 239.38 mph.
In the early 1960s, the tubular chassis was extended by 14-inches to accommodate a Halibrand Quick-change rear end and an Olds Hydra-Matic transmission. This setup allowed him to start without the assistance of a push-vehicle. In 1962, Beatty reached a record-setting average of 243.438 mph. The following year, the old belly-tank racer reached 252 mph one-way, but was unable to duplicate that speed on the second run.
The tanker was retired in the mid-1960s and sat in a corner of his shop until it was sold in 1985 to Tom Gerardi. Gerardi removed the engine and sold the tank. It would pass to another owner before coming into the care of Dave Simard, the present owner. While in the care of Simard, the original parts, including the original blown Olds V8, were gathered and put back into the belly of the tanker. It is currently configured in the condition as it last ran at Bonneville.
IN 2007, the belly-tank Lakester was offered for sale at the Gooding & Company auction held in Pebble Beach, CA. It was estimated to sell for $450,000 - $600,000. It is a very successful land-speed racer that achieved a Record on its inaugural debut. It was the Fastest SCTA Lakes Racer of the Season from 1951 to 1955, and again in 1959. It set records at Bonneville in 1951, 1952, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1962. It is the Fastest Belly-Tank Lakester ever created, having achieved a two-way run of 243.438 mph.
This aerodynamic WWII-surplus tanker is a big piece of history; being offered for sale at auction represented a rare opportunity and thus, the half-million dollar estimate was appropriate. As the gavel fell for the third and final time, the lot had been sold. The estimates had not been achieved, yet a high bid of $440,000 including buyer's premium, was enough to sell the lot.By Daniel Vaughan | May 2008