War Surplus On Wheels Show 2022

How The Aftermath Of WWII Influenced The Hot Rod Culture

By Eric Geisert   –   Photography By the Author

It’s a very rare occurrence when such a unique group of hot rods get together like they recently did at the Lyon Air Museum in Santa Ana, California. For hot rodders who understand their history, the name “Santa Ana” should mean something, as the inland Orange County town is where the historic ’50s-era Santa Ana Dragstrip was located—the first organized dragstrip in the country.

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02 Burke built his original groundbreaking vehicle with a solid mount suspension mounted to a modified Model T frame
Overseeing this faithful recreation of the first belly tank was its initial creator, Bill Burke. Burke built his original groundbreaking vehicle with a solid-mount suspension mounted to a modified Model T frame and was able to attain a speed record of 131.96 mph with it in 1946. Burke went on to build more than a dozen other belly tank racers—all of them with a rear engine layout. This racer is currently owned by The Justice Private Automotive Collection.

The land the dragstrip occupied sat on the southern section of Orange County Airport, renamed John Wayne Airport (SNA) in 1979. Currently, on the west side of the facility is the Lyon Air Museum, named for its founder Major General Michael Lyon, and its contents includes a special collection of World War II airplanes and war machinery. So, it is perhaps fitting that a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of war-era dry lakes and Bonneville Salt Flats belly tank racers would be held on the grounds.

Read More: Period Correct Style For An Overlooked Classic Coupe

03 Ed Godshalk now owns the circa 51 Fornaciari Adams lakester
After passing through several hands Ed Godshalk now owns the circa ’51 Fornaciari-Adams lakester, which ran at El Mirage in the early ’50s. The display at the museum shows the top half of the racer removed so folks could see just how much stuff can be crammed into such a tight little space.

This display of historic belly tanks (made from the empty external fuel tanks that would drop away from the World War II bomber’s wings or fuselage they had been attached to) was curated by Old Crow Speed Shop and its 50-year-old owner Bobby Green. Green’s passion for the ’40s and ’50s exemplifies itself in many ways, from his restoration of vintage bars, bowling alleys, and eateries in the Los Angeles area to his eclectic collection of cars, motorcycles, and race cars—some of which are patina’d survivors while others were recently built to look that way. Plus, he’s co-owner of T.R.O.G. (The Race Of Gentlemen) that has produced vintage hot rod racing events on the beaches of New Jersey and California in the past few years. Clearly, he has found his niche.

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04 the top half of the racer removed so folks could see just how much stuff can be crammed into such a tight little space

Green got the idea for the War Surplus on Wheels Show after a phone call from Mark Foster, the president of Lyon Air Museum. Foster presents themed car shows (Cobras, Porsches, and so on) in the summer for the museum and wanted to know if Green would consider doing a hot rod show at the facility. Green thought about it and, considering the museum’s trove of World War II warplanes on display, why not tie in the influence war surplus parts had on hot rodding? Furthermore, what exemplifies that connection better than a belly tank race car display coupled with a one-day celebration of war-era hot rods? The mold set, both got together to plan the event.

05 plenty of power in a small compact space
The Burple (another Bill Burke–built racer) tanker came about after a Bill Burke and Don Francisco collaboration. It became the World’s Fastest Hot Rod in 1949 with Bill Phy driving it to a speed of 164.83 mph, and soon after it was featured on the Aug. ’49 cover of Hot Rod. It is currently owned by Bobby Green of Old Crow Speed Shop.

With many war equipment manufacturers having once been located in Southern California there was an untold amount of post-war surplus material that could be had for pennies on the dollar after the war. Add to that the fact when a handful of servicemen came back to SoCal they used their knowledge and familiarity with certain parts and pieces to develop some of the earliest speed equipment components.

06 The Burple another Bill Burke–built racer tanker came about after a Bill Burke and Don Francisco collaboration
The Burple (another Bill Burke–built racer) tanker came about after a Bill Burke and Don Francisco collaboration. It became the World’s Fastest Hot Rod in 1949 with Bill Phy driving it to a speed of 164.83 mph, and soon after it was featured on the Aug. ’49 cover of Hot Rod. It is currently owned by Bobby Green of Old Crow Speed Shop.

Stuart Hilborn used his experience in the service to develop his mechanical fuel injection for race cars of all sorts. A component inspector at Northrop Aircraft named Phil Remington also enlisted but, after the war, teamed with Carroll Shelby to create a racing and automotive dynasty. Lake’s racer Ray Brown’s use of military seatbelts in his cars led the way for him to create his Impact Auto Saf-Tee Belt—a precursor of today’s automotive seat belts.

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07 It wasnt built just for show though as it received a speed record of 168 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flatsjpg
Speed trial racing is addictive (as Bobby Green found out at the turn of the last millennium) and he collected period-correct parts (including a Grumman drop tank, 18-inch Kelsey Hayes wheels, and a Model B four-cylinder with an overhead cam conversion) and assembled this ode to the golden era of belly tank racing. It wasn’t built just for show though as it received a speed record of 168 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Read More: Why This 1927 Ford Roadster Was Ahead Of Its Time

But the DNA of all belly tanks can be traced back to Bill Burke’s #23 yellow racer. Built in 1946, it was the first belly tank racer built and the only one where Burke used the engine up front in the chassis, necessitating a bicycle seat be welded to the rear axle housing for the driver. The original is gone, but a faithful reproduction (built under Bill Burke’s guidance before he died in 2015) greets patrons when they first walk into the museum.

08 Bronze Star recipient Fred Lobello paid �7 for his smaller Corsair 165 gallon drop tank shell and using an inline four cylinder
Bronze Star recipient Fred Lobello paid $7 for his smaller Corsair 165-gallon drop tank shell and, using an inline four-cylinder, was able to reach 144 mph with his Ladybug in the early ’50s. This tank is currently in the Bill Lattin Collection.

In the late ’40s SO CAL Speed Shop founder Alex Xydias was so inspired by Bill Burke’s success with the tank shape Xydias had Burke build the chassis for what could arguably be the most famous belly tank of all time: the SO CAL Speed Shop lakester, which was featured on the cover of Hot Rod magazine in January 1949. Xydias recently commented the belly tank’s benefit was they were a ready-made body and came with an Air Force design that you couldn’t improve upon. (The restored SO CAL Speed Shop tank is now owned by Bruce Meyer.)

09 the King Hansen Streamliner uses a P 38s drop tank for the body that was outfitted with a 133 inch V8 60 Ford power plant
Sitting unrestored and unmolested since it last raced in 1950, the King & Hansen Streamliner uses a P-38’s drop tank for the body that was outfitted with a 133-inch V8-60 Ford power plant. At El Mirage Dry Lake in Southern California the tank topped out at 118.89 mph with the tiny V8 engine. This streamliner’s home is in the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum.

Read More: Parting Shot: Tribute To Tommy Ivo’s Iconic T-Bucket

Some of the other belly tanks displayed between the warplanes include the 280-mph Markley/Varni/Barnett lakester, another of Burke’s 13 tank builds: the Burple P-38 from the Aug. ’49 cover of Hot Rod, and the King & Hansen streamliner (last raced in 1950 and untouched since), plus others. Augmenting the special exhibition inside the museum organizers set up a one-day car show that allowed participants to drive their traditional-inspired vehicles onto the tarmac of the airport and park amongst the museum’s warbirds. About 120 invited hot rods did just that and, judging by the crowd and the enthusiasm seen on everyone’s faces, this event was an unequivocal success. MR

10 Gus Sommerfield and Robert Baldwin of the Bungholers of Hollywood Car Club ran this P 38 drop tank all through the 50s and early 60s
The B&S Garage (Gus Sommerfield and Robert Baldwin of the Bungholers of Hollywood Car Club) ran this P-38 drop tank all through the ’50s and early ’60s. Originally powered by a Model B four-cylinder (running 146 mph) it would eventually receive a Tempest four-banger in 1964 and reach 214 mph. This historic vehicle is part of the Bill Lattin Collection.
11 The sharp looking Model A was less aerodynamic than the belly tanks but the brothers used a 250 inch Red Ram Hemi Dodge engine
One of the few non-belly tank cars on exhibition in the museum is the Williams Brothers roadster. The sharp-looking Model A was less aerodynamic than the belly tanks, but the brothers used a 250-inch Red Ram Hemi Dodge engine, 13:1 compression, Hilborn injectors, and a Herbert cam to pilot it to a Bonneville B Roadster record 150.90-mph speed, topping out at 159.57 mph.
12 Markley Brothers Lakester was equipped with a supercharged 259 inch Plymouth motor with Dodge Hemi heads
Illustrating the design advancements of only a few years on the tanks of the ’40s, the Markley Brothers Lakester (with its fully enclosed cockpit) was featured on the Dec. ’62 cover of Hot Rod when it was equipped with a supercharged 259-inch Plymouth motor with Dodge Hemi heads. With its 100-inch wheelbase the yellow bullet attained a 280-mph one-way speed in 1963 and was competitively raced well into the ’90s when it was raced/owned by current owner Dennis Varni.
13 Barillaro 555 belly tank is the recent work of speed shop owner Mike Barillaro of Tennessee
A period-inspired tribute to the race cars of old, the Barillaro 555 belly tank is the recent work of speed shop owner Mike Barillaro of Tennessee. Set up “like they usta” with a modified Model T frame, a 221-inch Flathead Ford, a ’35 banjo rear end, and no suspension, Barillaro uses his ride for exhibition runs, including the New Jersey T.R.O.G. throwback events.
14 What better setting is there for vintage hot rods than being parked in front of a vintage warplan
What better setting is there for vintage hot rods than being parked in front of a vintage warplane—in this case a Douglas A-26 Invader? This plane flew in Korea and was rumored to have been piloted by Howard Hughes when it was owned by Hughes Tool Company.
15 Hothead Lou Stands is an obsessed hot rodder and has built a handful of outstanding rides in the past few years
“Hothead” Lou Stands is an obsessed hot rodder and has built a handful of outstanding rides in the past few years. He retooled his most current ride, a ’32 Ford roadster, after buying it in one guise and creating a new street/strip persona with the inclusion of the 4-71 blower atop the small block Chevy (which Stands says is a nod to the inspirational Tom McMullen Deuce roadster).
16 a 31 Ford roadster built with vintage parts including an Auburn dash filled with Stewart Warner gauges
Parked in front of the Mitchell B-25 is show organizer Bobby Green’s driver: a ’31 Ford roadster built with vintage parts, including an Auburn dash filled with Stewart-Warner gauges.

17 classic hot rod roadster at the hot rod show 18 the Lyon air museum is filled with hot rods 19 hot rods influenced by the post WW2 world 20 period correct chopped and channeled classic cars 21 lyon air museum orange county airport 22 lyon air museum orange county airport 23 there was plenty of variety in the hot rod show at the Lyon Air Musuem

24 This roadster pickup was built by one of the unsung pioneering heroes of hot rodding
This roadster pickup was built by one of the unsung pioneering heroes of hot rodding: Tommy Sparks. He bought this ’29 in 1943 and owned it for 68 years, which included attending the first dry lakes meet after World War II at Rosamond Dry Lake in October of 1945. Sparks, along with contemporary Eddie Meeks, was the go-to guy on Flatheads for decades and died in 2012.

25 Roadster with red interior at the hot rod show 26 vintage V8 engine in this classic car 27 side exit headers on this vintage V8 hot rod 28 Ford Flathead V8 engines are plentiful at the hot rod show 29 Ford flathead V8 with a supercharger on top

30 hot rods and war planes are a perfect combo
Inside the Lyon Air Museum the “Fuddy Duddy” Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress easily dwarfs the ’31 Ford Phaeton under one of its wings.
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