Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Bill Burke's P-51 Belly Tank Streamliner

Number 23
(Ink and Monotype on A3 Bristol Board)

Bill Burke was racing a '32 Ford roadster on the dry lakes of Southern California during the 1930s through to the early '40s until WW II broke out. While stationed in Guadalcanal (South Pacific) as a PT boat pilot Bill saw some teardrop-shaped P-51 Mustang fighter plane belly fuel tanks being unloaded from a freighter. The streamline nature of these tanks made him wonder whether they could be used as a racer. He took the opportunity to measure a tank up and found that it was indeed possible to fit a Ford rear end and an engine block inside, and so the Belly Tank Streamliner was born.

Shortly after returning home from the war Bill Built the first Belly Tank Streamliner from a P-51 Belly Tank. These tanks were in plentiful supply from surplus yards costing $35 a piece making it cheaper to build a streamliner with this ready made body work than to build one from scratch. As well as being cheap aircraft engineers had spent a lot of time and money designing these tanks to be lightweight and optimally aerodynamic at very high speeds, making them ideal for racing on the dry lakes.

In 1946 Burke was the first to run a belly tank in the "Streamliner" class, and ran at both El Mirage and Harper Dry Lake. The car was a front engine design, and a bicycle seat was welded to the torque tube, real seat of the pants racing. Bill ran the P-51 Belly Tank three times in 1946, reaching a speed of 131.96 mph powered by a Mercury V8. Bill Learnt a lot from the 1946 season and came back the following year with a car utilising a larger P-38 Lightning Wing Tank, but that's a whole other story.

A3 signed and numbered Giclee Prints are available, to order email:

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