As gearheads, we’re always looking for ways to make power. So, if we tell you that you can get a 50 horsepower increase on a basic build, that’s not too bad, right? But if we tell you that a 14 year old kid had spent two years rebuilding his mother’s engine and got a 65 horsepower bump, that might pique your curiosity. Now, what if we told you that kid did it in the mid-1950s, and his mother’s car was a 1931 Model A, would that make you want to know a little bit more about this wonder kid?
This is the flathead that Gale Banks hopped up as a teenager, more than doubling the power.
Teenagers were certainly racing cars in the 1950s, and they were searching for more power any way they could get it, but this young kid found a whopping 65 additional ponies, bringing the total power to 105 – more than doubling the original power. He must be a magician, right? Well, that wonder ‘kid’ was none other than Gale Banks, president and founder of Banks Power.
That was only the beginning, and two years later in 1958, at just 16 years old, Banks was in the engine business with C.P. Auto & Marine Parts, raising money to pay for school at Cal Poly (the C.P. in the business name) in Pomona, California.
That led to Gale Banks Racing Engines, and eventually the primary business of three companies he owns today: Banks Power. These days, Gale Banks is a bit older and much wiser, but still doing the same thing he’s always loved – nearly 60 years later – and he’s been making and breaking records ever since.
The Studebaker that Gale Banks drove to 159.1 mph when he was just 18 years old.
Creating A Following
Even as a teenager, Gale Banks was all about speed, and before he would exit his teen years he would set his first speed record at the age of 18. He ran a modified 1953 Studebaker at El Mirage dry lake in 1960 with a speed of 159.01 mph. Then he returned to El Mirage four years later and picked up an additional 25 mph by changing from Rochester to Hilborn injectors and adding a hood scoop – for a top speed of 184.52 mph.
While most people know Gale Banks as the mastermind behind the twin-turbo system, which he premiered in the early 1970s on a small-block Chevy, he’s been putting performance into engines of all sorts for these nearly 60 years. His marine engines have not only powered winning race teams to national and world championships, but were also chosen to power select U.S. Navy boats. However, that’s not Banks’ only foray into providing power for our military.
Banks Technologies a sister company to Banks Power and which is Banks’ own engine production company, just won the largest Military engine contract of the Modern Era as the engine supplier to the Oshkosh Defense JLTV (Joint Light Tactical Vehicle). This contract means Banks Technologies is putting reliable and enduring horsepower into some of the most badass military vehicles on the planet with its D866T, a 6.6 liter Banks turbo diesel engine based on the Duramax.
This is all just a part of what Banks Power is all about, because the list of vehicles that have been powered by a Banks engine includes: salt flat cars, off-road trucks, diesel engines, military vehicles, and even motorhomes. Yes, motorhomes. Gale Banks actually has, or has held, the record for the World’s Fastest Motorhome, World’s Fastest Passenger Car, World’s Fastest Pickup, World’s Fastest Duramax-powered Dragster, and the World’s Fastest Diesel Drag Racing Truck.
I wish my Dad was alive to see what I have done with the Military engine business! He pretended not to like my hot rods, but he served in the Pacific in WWII and I think the old soldier would have loved this! -Gale Banks, Banks Power
Banks said, “I wish my Dad, LAPD Badge #6502, was alive to see what I have done with the Military engine business! He pretended not to like my hot rods, but he served in the Pacific in WWII and I think the old soldier would have loved this!”
The Oshkosh JLTV was the world’s first armored military vehicle to complete the SCORE Baja 1000 off-road race in November 2010, and it did so with a turbocharged Duramax diesel specifically prepared by Banks Technologies.
If you’re a gearhead and you haven’t heard of Gale Banks, you simply haven’t been paying attention. You couldn’t miss the name on the side of that red, Dodge Dakota pickup truck in 2002 that pulled a trailer out to Bonneville and set a record that year.
The trailer behind the Sidewinder Dakota carried the wheels and tires that would be swapped onto the truck, as well as a workbench and tools. Then that same truck hit the salt flats at Bonneville and set the record for the World’s Fastest Pickup with a two-way average of 217 mph, with a one-way top speed of 222 mph.
The Sidewinder (center) is a 5.9 liter turbocharged Cummins diesel built to not only be reliable, but powerful. It puts out 735 horsepower and 1300 lb-ft of torque, and was good for a two-way average of 217 mph at Bonneville. How do you top that? Change the tires/wheels, hook up your trailer, and drive that same truck back home on the freeway to California.
After setting the FIA record, the tires were swapped out again, the trailer was packed and hooked up to the 735 horsepower, 5.9 liter Cummins-powered pickup truck, and it was driven back home to California.
That's the same truck that achieved 217 mph at Bonneville, pulling a trailer to and from the event, and was so streetable that it was often used to make lunch runs.
A Visit To Banks Power
We recently visited Banks Power’s campus in Azusa, California, which consists of four buildings (plus two other buildings at a different location we didn’t visit). The first thing that was evident was that the people who work there are happy, and content.
Please, don’t call me Mr. Banks, I’m just Gale. -Gale Banks
Our tour was with Gale himself, and when we first sat down, it was difficult not to address Gale Banks as ‘Mister’, but he was quick to respond. “Please, don’t call me Mr. Banks, I’m just Gale,” he said, assuring us that he’s just another car guy who loves horsepower.
The four buildings we visited were like a maze of horsepower and turbocharging. There are about 102 employees and Banks Power consists of 10 acres of land and roughly 110,000 square feet of building space. They’ve been in that location for the past 34 years.
That's a lot of horsepower, and a lot of turbos. Banks said that his single turbo systems are primarily diesel, and his twin turbo systems, which most gearheads are familiar with, are his gas engine systems.
One building, the warehouse, is dedicated to the shipping and receiving processes, and in another building there was the display you see above with more turbocharged eye candy than you can handle – because you want to take one of each home and what doesn’t get installed in a vehicle will have to take place of the coffee table in the living room, with the wife’s approval, of course.
Testing equipment and engines that make big power. You can't walk through the facility without finding a representative of that ideology around every corner.
Inside the offices, we find a team dedicated to the design of the many components used in a Banks turbocharged system. From the Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering departments to CAD design straight to 3D printing, and on to full production with CNC Mills, Tube Benders that can handle up to five-inch diameter tubing and welding, in this case headers – the four-building campus is full of horsepower at just about every turn.
Banks Power is a busy company that does take time out for its employees, though, as we were invited to join in on the lunch-time festivities, where employees were given a few words of thanks and encouragement from Banks.
Using CAD programs and 3D printing saves a lot of time and helps develop products, bringing them to market much quicker than ever before.
We went across the parking lot and visited the building where Banks Technology does its work on the Duramax based diesel engines for the Oshkosh Truck contract mentioned above. As we approached, we were greeted with a few dozen paletized Banks’ spec’d Duramax engines from GM that were destined to become Banks powerhouses in the coming weeks.
Dozens of GM Duramax engine blocks waiting to leave GM and head off to Banks Technologies.
Banks Technologies was off-limits to photography, but what we can say is that it’s a fully functional, sister company to Banks Power that handles production, assembly and testing of the Banks Military, Marine and Motorsports Powerplants which includes a specific Banks AutoMind, ECU and Exhaust Brake.
In another building, we came across a mix of vehicles that you normally wouldn’t find together at a performance shop: a Camaro, a Mustang, a couple of Jeeps, a couple of trucks, and an up-armored Humvee complete with a turret on top. Each was getting a performance attitude adjustment from Banks Power.
We did come across one engine that we wanted to know more about, and that was a twin turbo SBC with Banks’ new CenterLine turbo system, where the turbo outlets line up with the center line of the turbo housing. Seeing some of the additional sensors on this engine brought up some interesting conversation about wastegate sensors and measuring flow. We asked Banks to explain to us what the sensors are about.
Banks said, “Most builders refer to wastegates by valve diameter, not by lift vs flow, as you would an exhaust port on a flow bench. Wastegates don’t flow the same for a given valve size, this is the same for exhaust ports. So, I prefer to flow wastegates on my flow bench and establish flow vs lift. Then I measure lift on the dyno to know if I’ve sized the wastegate properly.”
He also told us a little about boost, and we joked about a previous article we published with Gale stating that “Boost is Dead to Me.” The point he made was that boost cannot be compared at different altitudes or temperatures, and making power is more about controlling your power. In other words, Gale Banks uses BAD – Boost Air Density – to help him make more power increases. Unlike boost, BAD can be compared anywhere on the planet at any altitude. We also asked about water methanol kits, because he is pretty adamant about using water meth for boosted engines.
He said, “On gasoline two things drive me towards water meth, octane and manifold air density. The water suppresses detonation allowing more power at a given octane. The methanol absorbs heat as it vaporizes chilling the air, improving BAD (Boost Air Density) and it also improves octane.”
There was a lot happening on this engine, which is much like our tour: a lot was happening, but that didn’t stop Mr. Banks – Gale – from taking time out of his busy day to show us around, share stories from decades ago, and allow us into his world of turbochargers and horsepower.
Banks Power is also in the business of controlling the fuel and turbo systems with products it has developed, with tuners and programmers, gauges, and more than we can cover here. We saw some new products in development, and we got to see some very cool projects under way, and the best way to describe our visit is that it was like Disneyland for gearheads – without the long lines or the wait.
One project was the iDash, a small gauge with up to five readings that can be daisy-chained with up to three total gauges. It datalogs, can control tuning, water meth, boost, and it can read and clear codes.
Top: New products under development being tested at Banks Power. This small gauge, called the iDash, displays more information than a full set of gauges. Bottom: If you're ever in Pomona and decide to stop by the NHRA museum, you'll be able to check out the hardware and memorabilia from Banks Power.
Check out the Banks Power website and give them a thought when you’re looking to make some power, it’s a name you know and trust, and there are close to 90,000 turbo systems out there with the Banks name, that’s 59 years worth of performance. We’ve added a gallery from our visit below, check it out.