“How to Build a Belly Tanker” by Tom Beatty (1952)

In This Picture, You Can See the Framework, Fuel Tank, and Independent Rear Suspension That Beatty Built For His Tank in 1951.

Hi gang…

Finding an article from 1952 about “How to Build a Belly Tanker” was quite exciting.  It was first passed to me by good friend Harold Pace, and when you start reading the article, the following words grab your attention:

“Next to the out-of-this-world-priced streamliners with covered wheels, the belly tanker is the fastest thing on the lakes and has outrun every other type of uncovered wheel job made.”

Quite a first impression, and captivating to the reader, if they were thinking about building something that ran flat out hard on the dry lakes.  And this article showed how one of the best in the early 1950’s, built his tank.

How to Build Hot Rods, Fawcett Book, #156, 1952

This book was published in 1952, and captured one of the best known tanks at the time built by Tom Beatty.  The story was written by him too, which makes the “telling” of it even more important to you belly tank enthusiasts out there.  In fact, Beatty mentions that his tank was the current record holder for the Class D Lakester class, and it was the fastest time ever turned with uncovered wheels, with a top speed of 188 mph at Bonneville in 1951.

I Love The Backgrounds of Vintage Pictures Like This. Here Barney Navarro and Tom Beatty Lower the Top Section of the Belly Tanker Onto the Bottom Portion - and Then Bolt It Together.

Whew!  Very fast for the times…

Here are some of the gems found in this article:

  • Quote from the article: “An aircraft belly tank could be bought for between $30 and $40…. And this is a lot less than you’d have to spend for a roadster or special body which might run $100 to $1000” (author’s note: evidently prices were a bit cheaper back then).
  • Beatty ran with a GMC supercharger, which caused some space issues, as you would imagine, in the design.
  • He also noted that while most belly tankers were built without any spring suspension in the rear, he designed his with independent rear suspension.  Very impressive approach, and no doubt helped him achieve the record he set back in 1951.


The full article appears below, with close-up scans of the inset pictures.  The Beatty tank has survived and was recently acquired by the Henry Ford Museum, in Michigan for display.  Click here to read a bit more about the new exhibit that they have created, and the Beatty tank as well.

Hope you enjoy the story, and until next time gang….

Shake, Rattle, and Go!


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Posted in 1951, 1952 Tagged , , , , permalink

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

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