Hot Rods You Should Know: Tom Beatty’s 1951 Belly Tank Lakester


Over the past year or so, we’ve taken you on a journey through time and history, looking at famous hot rods that we think should be on your radar. You’ve probably heard of most of them, and even learned a little bit about the ones you thought you knew. Maybe you’ve discovered a new favorite, or further solidified your choice for “the best hot rod” this industry has seen. Now as we are in the beginning of another year, we vow to keep bringing you the best, coolest, most unique, earliest, and most famous Hot Rods You Should Know!

In our last installment of our Hot Rods You Should Know Series, we took a look at Bill Burke’s P-51 Belly Tanker, the classic racecar widely accepted as the first belly tanker-inspired racecar ever built. As you know, Burke’s car was not the only belly tanker that made its way into automotive history, and it certainly wasn’t the fastest. That’s why for this month, we’re continuing with the belly tanker theme, and taking a look at the famed Tom Beatty Belly Tank Lakester – a car known for its innovation, high horsepower, and impressive land-speed marks.


Photo from “How to Build a Belly Tanker” by Tom Beatty via Forgotten Belly Tanks & Streamliners

The story of Tom Beatty’s Lakester starts a number of years before the car even took shape. You see, Beatty was a dedicated dry lake racer before World War II, racing a channeled 1929 Ford roadster dubbed the “Rust Bucket.” It was covered in the first issue of Hop Up Magazine while on the dry lake beds of the Western United States.

The Rust Bucket

Without paint and fitted with a rusty hood (thus the name), Beatty’s roadster went on to throw down an impressive 154.63 mph run in 1951. It was fitted with a 1941 Ford Flathead V8 boasting a GMC 3-71 supercharger, four Stromberg 48 carburetors, Navarro heads, and a Navarro intake manifold. The Navarro products were from Barney Navarro himself, who Beatty began working with officially in 1950.

Wanting to kick his racing game up a notch, Beatty set out to build an even better race car in late 1951. Following Bill Burke’s lead, Beatty turned to military surplus to find a belly tank from a fighter plane to use as the body of his new car.

To make the car even more competitive, Beatty built a “truss-type” chassis using chromoly steel tubing, giving the belly tank car a lightweight but strong foundation. Beatty then fitted his new car with an independent rear suspension system featuring swing axles fabricated from old Ford components. He added a modified Ford gearbox for better acceleration, and a inverted Model A axle with a transverse leaf spring to give the car a shorter stature for better aerodynamics.

Powering the Beatty belly tank car during its first incarnation was a 296ci Mercury Flathead V8 fitted with the GMC 3-71 blower setup that was taken from Beatty’s ’29 roadster. It was with this setup that Hop Up Magazine declared Beatty’s belly tank racer the first original tank-bodied car since Burke’s.

1951 Bonneville Nationals

Running on alcohol, the Lakester made its debut at the 1951 Bonneville Nationals, laying down an impressive 188.284 mph run. This not only gave the car bragging rights as the fastest open-wheeled car at Bonneville, but also solidified the freshly-built belly tank car as the fastest Lakester ever built at the time.

After his impressive run in late 1951, Beatty had Belond Exhaust come on as a sponsor, fitting the car with a new exhaust system. The car was also dubbed the Belond Equa-Flow Special, and recieved a fresh red and white paint scheme. It also received a new aluminum fairing fabricated by racecar builder Frank Kurtis of Kurtis-Kraft company fame.

Wanting to increase the car’s success rate for 1952, Beatty improved the supercharger system by installing eight V-belts, boxing the connecting rods, and upped the boost pressure. These modifications allowed the Lakester to rocket to a 203.61 mph run at the 1952 Bonneville Nationals, once again securing the car’s position as the fastest open-wheeled car at the event. In 1952, the car was also named Hot Rod of the Month by Hot Rod Magazine. Beatty continued his successful winning streak at the SCTA’s Top Speed of the Season event from 1951 through 1955.


Photo from “How to Build a Belly Tanker” by Tom Beatty via Forgotten Belly Tanks & Streamliners

By 1955, the Beatty Lakester was throwing down even more impressive runs. With a two-way average of 211.267 mph at Bonneville, Beatty was inducted as the sixteenth member of the Bonneville 200 mph Club. Running in the C Lakester Class, Beatty continued his amazing win streak with the Lakester in 1956 and 1957, putting up 211.888 mph and 209.180 mph runs to set class records that – to this day, have yet to be topped.

Changes For 1958

In 1958, with his own shop established, Beatty switched the powerhouse of the Lakester to a 303 ci Oldsmobile V8. The engine was destroked to 260 ci, and fitted a modified GMC 6-71 supercharger with a custom, cast blower manifold and drive. It was topped with six Stromberg 48 carburators, and the combination made a reported 400 horsepower.

Now painted two-shades of blue with Beatty’s company name “Tom Beatty Automotive Engineering” emblazoned on the side, the Lakester set a Bonneville D Lakester Class record of 232.98 mph. In 1959, Beatty set another new Bonneville D Lakester Class record by running 239.38 mph, as well as a new SCTA dry lake record of 212.26 mph on a shortened course.

Beatty was still at it in 1962 and 1963, having once again modified his car. This time around, it was a transmission swap that included a 1956 Oldsmobile four-speed Hydra-Matic, and an upgrade to a Halibrand quick-change rearend. With this setup, Beatty remarkably set yet another new record at Bonneville in 1962, with an average speed of 243.438 mph. In 1963, Beatty recorded a 252 mph one-way run at Bonneville but couldn’t establish a new record on the return run for the two-way average.

Retirement And Afterlife

In 1966, the Lakester was officially retired, with Beatty switching his interest to dune buggies. The car sat for awhile and was then sold to Tom Gerardi, who pulled the engine and disassembled the car. The car was then passed on to historian Mark Dees sometime in the following years. In 1997 when Dees died, the lakester was bought by Dave Simard, a renowned builder and hot rod restorer.

Simard took it upon himself to track down and acquire the Lakester’s once-run blown Olds V8 and reassemble the car as it last competed. He took the finished car to the 50th anniversary event at Bonneville in 1998.

The car was sold in 2007 by Gooding & Company for $440,000, and then again in 2009, at the height of the country’s economic recession, by RM Auctions for $209,000.

About the author

Lindsey Fisher

Lindsey is a freelance writer and lover of anything with a rumble. Hot rods, muscle cars, motorcycles - she's owned and driven it all. When she's not busy writing about them, she's out in her garage wrenching away. Who doesn't love a tech-savy gal that knows her way around a garage?
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