While I enjoyed Frederick A. Johnsen’s survey of the relics of the last World War that still populate our landscape (May/June), I was sorry that the best example of the utilization of the fuel tanks of fighter aircraft he could come up with was as silly advertising gimmicks. In fact, they played a crucial role in the development of postwar land-speed-racing technology. During the thirties teenage boys from Southern California pioneered the sport of hot-rodding when they took their stripped-down V-8 Fords out to the dry lakebeds of the Mojave Desert. The Southern California Timing Association was established to institute some organization for this activity, and for the backyard mechanic such spots as Muroc, El Mirage, and Rosemond became synonymous with speed. The war transformed these boys into men, but they returned with their desire for speed unabated. By the late forties and early fifties, some of them had discovered that their favorite racing motor, the good old flathead V-8 Ford, could be shoehorned into one of these surplus belly tanks. The drop tank from a P-38 proved to have one of the best combinations of size and aerodynamic design. A low-budget, but very efficient, streamlined lakebed racer was the result.
Unfortunately, most of these historic vehicles ended up as scrap, but a few have been saved and lovingly restored, much to the appreciation of those who find this era of automotive history so exciting.