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Gayle Anderson explores the never-before-seen “War Surplus on Wheels: World War II’s Influence on Hot Rodding” exhibit. This exclusive and irreplaceable collection includes nine exemplary pre and post WWII speed racing automobiles affectionately known as “Belly Tank Lakesters” within the automotive racing world. This historical collection of “Belly Tank Lakesters,” along with other period vehicles, compliment the visiting WWII Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter plane currently on display. This unforgettable exhibit runs July 1 – September 5, 2022 at Lyon Air Museum, located on the west side of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. 


Rarely does a car command such excitement among Hot-Rodders as does the “Belly Tank Lakester,” also referred to as the “Belly Tank Racer.” These race cars were built using WWII surplus fighter aircraft “external fuel drop tanks,” also called “belly tanks” and frequently the same tanks used on the P-38 Lightning. Large enough to hold a driver and engine, these war surplus tanks provided an inexpensive opportunity for racers to acquire a workable and exceptionally streamlined “race car body,” rather than going through the effort and expense of fabricating one.   


Equally as impressive, the WWII P-38 Lightning is one of the most celebrated fighter aircraft of all time. This remarkable aircraft, temporarily on display at Lyon Air Museum, is one of approximately 6 airworthy “twin-engine, twin-boom fighters” remaining. The P-38 was flown by the top United States Army Air Force aces of WWII: Major Richard “Dick” Bong with 40 victories, and Major Thomas McGuire, Jr. with 38 victories. Both fighter pilots are Medal of Honor recipients.


Post WWII, both motorsports and land speed racing, which had all but ceased during the conflict, came roaring back. The return was led by thrill-seeking and mechanically gifted “Greatest Generation” veterans who often sourced their race car-building materials from surplus stores stocked with leftover military aircraft components. Seats from fighters and bombers were used in souped-up Model Ts and Model As. Oxygen tanks were repurposed as fuel tanks, control yokes became compact steering wheels, military aircraft seatbelts and instruments were used within automotive cockpits, and most notably, belly tanks were converted into streamlined race car bodies.     


Among the record-setting race cars on display at Lyon Air Museum is the “Burke and Francisco” belly tanker, also known as “Burple.” In 1949, this racer became the “World’s Fastest Hot Rod” when it achieved a speed over 164 miles per hour, earning it the coveted cover of Hot Rod Magazine’s August 1949 edition. 



War Surplus on Wheels : World War Two’s Influence on Hot Rodding

Lyon Air Museum

19300 Ike Road

Santa Ana, CA 92707

714 210 4585