1949 World’s Fastest Hot Rod: Bill Burke and Don Francisco

Here's a Close-up of Don Francisco in the Tank and Bill Burke Along Side it - What a Great Image From So Long Ago.

Hi Gang…

Hot Rod magazine started in January 1948, and initiated the designation “World’s Fastest Hot Rod” with the August 1949 issue of their magazine.   Here’s how the article introduced Burke’s Belly Tank:

“Well deserving of the title, “World’s Fastest Hot Rod,” the Burke-Francisco belly-tank not only holds the fastest one-way time ever recorded by the SCTA at the dry lakes, but also holds the fastest two-way record time.  This Class C Streamliner was driven through the traps at the amazing speed of 164.83 mph by Bill Phy at the June 11-12 SCTA meet. 

This car has been a consistent record-holder since it was first built in 1947.  The 1947 record was 139.21 mph held until the first meet of the ’48 season, when it established a new record of 144.855 mph.  Again in August, this tank job broke its own record, at 149.4 mph.  This record held until this year’s July meet (1949), when it set the standing record of 151.085 mph.”

Finding Something New

Great information on the accomplishments of Burke and Francisco.  But then the article revealed something I was completely unaware of.  This Burke tank of 1949 fame was not the original tank.  This was a second tank that was built after their first larger tank of 1947 crashed and had to be rebuilt / recreated.  Here’s what the article revealed:

What A Great Drawing by Rex Burnett. The Story of Burnett was Recently Covered in a 2010 of Rodder's Journal, and His Drawings Are Some of My Favorite.

Bill Burke and Don Francisco, co-builders of the car, were the originators of the first wing tanks to make their appearance at the lakes.  Their first tank, built up in ’46, had the engine mounted in front.  In the early part of ’47, they built up another tank, a larger model with the engine mounted in the rear, and which they cracked up.  Another tank was built up from the remaining pieces in only 8 days.  Bill and Don are both family men, Bill being a steel construction worker, while Don is a fireman for the city of Alhambra, California.

Recently I came across some pictures of the accident that is referenced above.  And….an eyewitness to the accident, Ken Crawford, who drove both Burke’s first tank in 1946 and the second tank in 1947 and later.  I’ll cover these issues in a later story here.  But let me address another issue mentioned above.

In researching Burke’s first tank, I talked extensively with Bill Burke and Ken Crawford and discussed how the first tank in 1946 was constructed and who worked on it.  Harold Pace wrote up the full story in a Rodder’s Journal article in 2010, but concerning the build of the first tank, Don Francisco didn’t participate.  They may have been friends at the time, but the majority of the work was completed by Burke himself, with a few finishing points (covered in the Rodder’s Journal 2010 article) completed by Ken Crawford.

Why is the Car Number A Moving Target?

Here You Can See the Forward Half of the Construction Detail - With the Steering Box Laying On Its Side as Discussed in the Article. Not Much Safety Protection Here Gang!

One thing you might notice is the number on the car.  The picture on the cover of the August 1949 Hot Rod Magazine shows the Burke tank with a number “3”.  But isn’t this the “Suite 16” tank with the number “16”? 

The answer….”yes” and “no”.

First, remember the point mentioned above that the tank previously had crashed and was substantially rebuilt.  So, according to the article, much of this tank is brand new for 1949 – maybe back as far as late 1947.  But the real reason for the number on the side changing has to do with the tradition / rules at the time.  Each car wore the number of their “finished position” or “standing” from the end of the season in the previous year.

At the end of the 1946 season, Burke was #16 in standing.  Therefore, in 1947 his tank had the number “16” on its side.  This is when his new larger tank became famous, but it only held this number for a year – 1947.  At the end of the 1948 season, he was #3 in standing, so in 1949, the year of this article, Bill Burke’s tank wore the number “3”.  I’m not sure when this tradition started or how long it continued, but it has helped me in doing research to identify the tanks, and recognize that numbers changed each year – at least in the early years of dry lakes racing.


I’ve copied all of the technical details on the tank from the article to the “Technical Specifications” box below.  And I’ve provided some close up scans of both pictures and text in the gallery of pictures below.  I hope this will help you enjoy the content – and review it a bit more easily too.

Until next time gang….

Shake, Rattle, and Go!


Technical Specifications (From Hot Rod Magazine, August 1949)


  • The body (consisting of two pieces that bolt together) is made from a 300 gallon capacity airplane drop tank.
  • The top half is removed when any work is done on the engine.


  • Bill Burke and Don Francisco

Body Work and Paint

  • Bill Burke and Don Francisco


  • A bucket seat is provided for the driver with a heavy steel bar welded into the frame rails for his protection.


  • Small windscreen with metal posts used.


  • The frame rails of the Burke-Francisco C Streamliner are made from a combination of Model T and Model A, using three cross-members.


  • Front springing consisting of a single transverse spring, tying into the front cross-member.
  • No spring is used in the rear. 
  • The engine is rigidly tied into the axle (a gusset on the end of each frame rail is welded to the top of the axle.

Front Axle

  • Model A

Rear Axle

  • Model A
  • The rear axle has 2.76:1 gears which are straight-tooth and were specially cut.


  • Steering gear is a /32 Ford column turned on its side.


  • Old General Motors double-acting piston-type shock absorbers

Driveshaft: (open/closed driveshaft)

  • Shortened drive shaft


  • The emergency brake lever-type control is control for the clutch, while the handle lying forward is the brake lever for the rear two-wheel hydraulic brakes.

Engine (make/year)

  • 1942 Mercury
  • The stroke is stock, while the bore is 3/8 inch over.
  • The engine is rigidly supported both front and rear.
  • Grant piston rings used.


  • Cooling for the engine is supplied from a large water tank of 26 gallon capacity, mounted forward of the engine.  The thermo-syphon method of cooling is used along with water pumps, but no radiator is used.

Speed Parts (heads, intake, cam, other):

  • The engine is equipped with Edelbrock heads and manifold, a Harman Collins Super H cam, and Potvin ignition.
  • Three short exhaust stacks extend a short ways through the bottom side of the tank on each side.

Transmission (type/year)

  • The engine is coupled to the differential through a clutch and a short drive shaft.  No transmission is used.


  • Two Stromberg 48 carburetors
  • For opening and closing the throttle, a cable linkage is supplied that moves an arm on a cross-shaft behind the engine.  This shaft, in turn, then moves another arm welded to its center, thereby opening the throttle.


  • 272 cubic inch displacement

Fuel System

  • The hand pump to the left of the driver and mounted vertically, is the fuel pressure pump, which was originally used on the car, and which is now used for emergencies.
  • Fuel pressure valve is to right of driver.
  • Methanol fuel is supplied to the Stromberg 48 jugs from a 4 and ½ gallon fuel tank mounted behind the engine.  The tank is pressurized by an air tank, mounted to the right of the engine.  Instead of using the usual hand pressure pump or fuel pump, the pressure tank is pumped to capacity (about 80 psi) as indicated on the dial mounted on the tank, by a tire pump.  The pressure flow from the tank to the carburetors is regulated by a valve to the right of the driver.
  • If more fuel flow is required in going through the traps, it is an easy matter to adjust the valve.  Fuel flow from the tank travels to an equalizer, mounted at the aft left side of the engine and from there it flows through two separate filters to the carburetors.

Horsepower (estimated)

  • unknown

Dashboard / Gauges

  • The two gauges to the left of the driver are the oil pressure and the oil temperature, while the gauge on the right is the water temperature.
  • The two other instruments (not shown) are mounted on the cowl in front of the driver on the upper half of the tank.

Steering Wheel

  • Airplane type steering wheel


  • The wheelbase of this tank job is 106 inches

 Track/Tread (front/rear)
(distance between center line of tires)

  • 56 inches (1931 Ford Model A dimensions for track)

Tire Size

  • All four tires are Indianapolis type, with the front being 6.50 x 16’s and the rear being 7.50 x 16.

Wheels / Rims

  • 16 inch rims all around.

Curb Weight

  • The total dry weight (entire car excluding gas, water, and oil) is 1289 lbs.

Top Speed (0-60)

  • This Class C Streamliner was driven through the traps at the amazing speed of 164.83 mph by Bill Phy at the June 11-12 SCTA meet in 1949.

Special Features

  • A fire extinguisher is mounted on a bracket to the left of the airplane-type steering wheel.
  • All indicating lines are routed along the left side of the car, and are held in place by Adel clips.
  • All control cables travel along the right side of the tank.

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About Geoffrey Hacker

Geoff Hacker is an automotive historian and is researching the history of belly tanks and streamliners from the early postwar era with his good friend Rick D'Louhy. Both are also working on a book called "Forgotten Fiberglass" about the history of early fiberglass sports cars in America (www.forgottenfiberglass.com). Read more about Geoff's background on the "About Us" link of the Forgotten Fiberglass website. He can be reached at geoffrey@bellytanks.com


1949 World’s Fastest Hot Rod: Bill Burke and Don Francisco — 1 Comment

  1. This is a great site! I have built a reproduction of the Burke-Francisco Suite Sixteen!
    If the build interests you please drop me a Email thanks …….Ol Deuce

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