Follow by Email

Saturday, 30 July 2011

2010: Lake Gairdner Speedweek...

Ok, this is the wrap.

We left Sunshine at about 10am on Friday the 5th, the Rev and Colonel arriving together before PJQ and Frank who were in the Land Cruiser( the "Troopy") which tows the tank in Pete's(PJQ) trailer, Pete had had a little drama in peak hour traffic with fuel system and had had to bleed it on the side of the road. I'd trailered the car the night before and finally finished the sorting and packing of spares and tools ....but as always there were things that I wish I'd done as well.

It's a left turn at the end of my street and then 450miles before we leave the Western Highway at Murray Bridge. The Troopy pulls fifty to fifty-five so the two station wagons went ahead. The train spotters will be interested to hear that my 3.8V6 with an older style fogger LPG system and a canvas top trailer got exactly the same fuel economy as the Colonel's 5.7V8 with an injected LPG system pulling a slightly bigger slope front trailer.... and I mean exactly the same, er, except when it used might be down to driving style rolleyes...

So we turn off at Murray Bridge and head toward the Barossa Valley one of Australia's premier wine districts where we were going to stay with our mate Dirty Dave , plumber and bike nut. Dave and Christine turn on a feed with the best t-bone steak I have had in a very long time....also there for the night was Brett de Stoop with his 1000cc waterbottle in tow and his mate and early DLRA member Nigel Begg who was one of the founders of Deus ex Machina the Sydney custom bike business .

We head off the next morning after an early night , we miss the highly recommended organic farmers market and stop in Nooriootpa for fuel and the Reverend asks" where is the aeroplane museum?"'s a few miles out of town. We find the place and get out of the cars for our first meeting with WH700 the Canberra bomber that our "bellytank" came from...the plane has two tanks on and we are still unsure as to why the one we have was separated from her but the build plate indicates it was one of the originals manufactured for the plane.We take some "family snaps" and get back out on the road for the four hours to Port Augusta.

In the "Gutta" we shop for food and buy a few things we've forgotten, then we go to the bottle shop shocked From the Gutta to the Lake is 130 miles, the first thirty five are sealed then it's onto the dirt....Saturday afternoon is generally busy and so it was , after passing a bunch of buses and slower moving tows we settle in behind Gnome Racing's Torana being towed behind a turbo diesel and they were hammering ,we made it to the Lake in under two hours and the road was generally good, dust was severe but the corrugations weren't as bad as they have been.

I drive straight out onto the Lake to claim a pit , laying out a tarp and dropping most of the tools and stuff off , a very very strong southerly wind is blowing. I head back up to the lakeside camp and we set up the "Casa del Canvas". Pete and Frank arrive with the Troopy and we send them down to the Lake to drop the trailer, Pete looked real tired , we owe him the world for towing our car these last two years, Pete decides to camp down the end of the campground with a view of the lake while we for some reason are in the boonies, our site at least was flat. We've barely eaten but after the massive meal we'd had the night before it wasn't surprising...we fixed a couple of gin and tonics, it started to spit.

It was a cold , blowey, and yes ....wet night....estimates of between a half and an inch of rain ....exactly what had happened last year, the sun rose with doom and gloom on the UHF, the Lake, was closed. At least this year we had the car in the pits. We walked down to the Lake and out to the pits which thankfully were a good mile and a half closer to the shore than usual, the stream which runs around the southern shoreline was flowing fairly quickly to the east but there was between one and two inches of depth and it was at least a quarter mile wide. When we got out to the pits we found there was a quarter of an inch covering the whole area, visibly flowing south east toward the shore and the stream, it was miserable. We opened up the trailer and got the car out and started getting organised.........the wind was blowing , the air was warm and the sun was starting to peak out, this was going to get better, the salt was rock hard, it might have had a covering of water but it was like concrete. There were already quite a few spectators walking out to the pits and taking photos and asking questions....we need to build a little box with a button and speaker because my jaw got sore telling people about the car, I reckon i told fifty separate people what we'd done to the motor in about an hour, always ending with " I'd better get on with it". We buttoned the car up , made everything weather tight and headed to the canteen.....we were in the middle of nowhere, out of contact with a bit of time on our hands and there on the hill was a little shack that sold food and was time to let our hair down a bit...truth is we were stuffed, I think we hit the wall at about 10pm and bedded down.

Monday morning was a better deal again, the air was dry, the clouds were gone .....we walked out to the pits and the surface layer of water was gone, the stream was only half as wide, this was going to happen. We set up the shade and the annex on the trailer and did all the fit up in the cart, the seat, computer and harness, did the "wheel alignment" mentioned above , polished the screen and got the car ready for scrutineering....there were mixed message about when this would happen so the last thing we did before walking off the lake was to push the tank into the line for tech, we were number four.

I got up at 6am and went for a shower, they are cold , and it was....I yipped as the water hit me...there was an old bloke laughing in one of the cans.." you're a braver man than me Gunga Din" I got on the push-bike and rode down to the pits, yep they were gonna start scrut'. I got the suit , helmet and log-book and unbuttoned the necessaries on the car. The Rev arrived just as Gaz finished . He picked us on a few things. We don't have a master kill on the extinguisher system to take out the hot side of the battery, he wanted more drainage holes in the bodywork, he picked a few bits of wiring that could be better protected , they will all be rectified for next year.

I left the tank sitting near tech until Rod Hadfield came over and asked me" how long are you gonna leave that there for James?"......I was pretty keen on being right on the spot when they opened marshalling.....we pushed her back to the pit about a quarter of a mile away and then hung around trying to work out how to swing it. The drivers' meeting was confirmed for 3pm, to be followed by the track drive....before the drivers meeting we rolled the car back near tech, the moment it finished we pushed to the marshalling point, we were fourth in line.....we went on the track drive with Simon Davidson photographer from Street Machine , he's a great bloke even if he is from Sydney and drives a Ford.

We get back from the track drive and it's all systems go. Its four o'clock as I drive straight into the crunchies from marshalling and everyone else drives around me...just like last year..this is the first proper drive I've had with the new motor...we elected to steer clear off the test track as it looked even rougher than last year, and I couldn't see then so we skipped it. The graded areas were rougher than last year we think because the salt was so much harder, another factor was that rather than using the club's old Dodge truck much of the work was done by tractors and some believe that the towing speed may have been too high giving a less satisfactory result.

So, here I am at the start line area for the second year. Last year the car ran 160 odd and felt like it was on hotmix and required almost zero steering input, we had a new motor ...I was itching to go. There was a succession of minor hitches with the clocks, then the first guy off the line was an altered 125, who stated he would be running a record, well, he ran the long track and they couldn't find him.......Speedweek 2010 was on.

I sat suited and belted in the car for nearly an hour, I'd had a small bowl of cereal and nowhere near enough to drink since dawn....I was feeling turned out we were to run eighth.

With a rolling push from a few guys I took off and the car felt strong, but I hadn't got my posi right ...the change to the seat base meant I was sitting lower....I shifted into third and was getting hammered while struggling to get a good view AND keep my helmet off the cage. The track felt rough and the cross wind was strong.

The start line had been moved because of the wet to where it was only about 1 and a quarter mile to the quarter trap. The two mile mark was coming at me when I checked the GPS, this was a 175mph license and 'chute pass , I was pulling that moment I hit a patch of track that threw the car and caused me to back off momentarily, I got back into it and was immediately hit by a gust that pushed me from close to the right side of the track to hard on the left, once again I backed off , when I stepped on it the rear end broke loose causing me to back I hit the first clock I glance down to see I was doing 155, I left the quarter at 165 and pulled the 'chute. It hit hard and as a consequence I clutched and hit the throttle at the same time giving her an over rev. I pulled off at the four mile worried that I hadn't made the cut.....I stopped about a mile off the track and waited for the Troopy.....the return roads were rough and the cones were scarce making it difficult to drive back unaccompanied and also for the first time there was a second track and I didn't want to risk the possibility of getting lost near the end of it. I followed the Troopy back going over the run in  my head....while I was driving I kept hearing what I thought was a clatter from the motor, and then I began to notice that she was feeling unresponsive, nothing  at part throttle and then blast off, it made it a real handful. We took it straight back to marshalling, I rolled the last few hundred yards, the Colonel was there...." how did it go?"...."there's something wrong" I said, "it doesn't feel right, i may have hurt it"......we fire her up and it's running on five, there is a clatter, after about ten seconds the Colonel kills it with a wry grin on his face and points at the left rocker cover and says "yep, there's something wrong, there, I can see a push-rod hitting the cover"............They announce that marshalling in closing so our number is taken and we roll back to the pit. On the way the Colonel says to me...." so, you've got that spare rocker gear with you?"....truth was when I elected not to bring the spare bottom end  and a spare head the parts that I had with them were left behind too.

We waited with baited breath as the first cover came off. There was the rocker sitting there , a tiny bit of swarf but nothing else...the bolt had simply backed out.  Seems the Colonel had undertorqued them. We checked the push-rod for true and did it all up again, then the other side. What a relief that was.

We hit the canteen , when people asked I confessed that I was disappointed, that I had been in a bad frame of mind, that I was impatient and that I had a bit of brain fade for the first fifteen seconds of my run. We had a great feed of roast chicken( no JN ,much better than it used to be) knocked over a few beers and had another early night, a camp near us kicked on til really late but we were in race mode.

As we were going to sleep the Rev said ....." fourth gear is forward right?", .."yeah, fourth is forward".........Come Wednesday morning we were up at sparrows and down to the lake .In the pit we checked the basics and rolled her up to marshalling. As usual the Rev was everywhere but hanging around the car , I got him belted in, with the general adjustment of the harness better than  we'd had it the day before with the catch centered better for the slightly lower seating posi. I stressed to him that he needed to "get into it early"....I didn't listen as he left the line, I raced back to take the Troopy......due to a change of arrangement at the last minute there was no way to avoid driving through the pits on the way to the return road...When we got down there the Colonel was waiting , " I think he broke it, he only pulled a hundred" ....we found him at the end of the GPS track, lost on the crunchies....he was very dull..." i put it in fourth, by the time I realised what I'd done it was too late so I got out of it and rolled through" he was shattered , I felt his pain.....we'd both driven three shades of shithouse and our pretty little car with it's new motor wasn't looking so great....... We went straight back to marshalling

As I sat at the start-line area I thought hard about what had gone wrong on my first run and what I had to do to. I had just scraped in on my 175 license so at least I could use the long track now....The seat felt better and I moved my head around trying to find a sweet spot off the roll bar padding and the head rest, most importantly I decided that I had to concentrate on staying in it, that I had to steer out of any wind effect and NOT back off, the peakier motor and no suspension mean that squirting the throttle means wheelspin and an unsettled ride.

I left the line and was on it from the get go, the car pulled very strongly  and I made the gear changes cleanly.....this time I was over 170 when I left the quarter and the car was pulling well with the speed increasing evenly. I passed the five mile and the GPS read 193, then 195 then 193 then 189...I had my foot in it still so I took this as a sign to get out........... I made it a mile or so off the track before missing a cone and going crunchy...I stopped and got out....the GPS read "top speed 195mph"...I was soup...exhilarated and exhausted ,I felt like yelling......but why did the motor go away , there was no noise, no oil light just a rather quick loss of power.

We thought about it. If it was windage and excess crank-case pressure we would have seen a rev-limit effect rather than the loss of power. We feel that the standard valve train is the cause as the hydraulic lifters will only handle 6250rpm for so long and then pump up holding the valves open. Other than that the ride was a little more "interesting" than it had been last year. Last year the track was really smooth and the car ran like it was on rails. This ride had a bit of wind in it and the track was much harsher. I fought the whole way down constantly steering back to the right in what felt like long carves with my foot on the floor……..

We whipped the cowl off and gave it all a look over when we got back to marshalling, it was AOK, it sounded good……we were fifteenth in line when they closed for the day.

The next morning the Rev told me he thought it would be better if I made another run for 200 rather than he repeating his ‘chute run , then he would go and if there was time have a crack at 200 himself. Anyone who shares a car will know that this was a fairly noble thing to do.

At the line for the third time I reasoned that I had to get going even quicker than I had the day before, to keep the ET down and see if the difference would get me over 200 before the lifters let us down…… I sat at the start and really concentrated, I paced a bit with my right hand going through the gear change routine……the night before the battery had given up, a motorcycle Odyssey type it was three years old, and dead….no-one had one with anywhere near the CCA we needed so the Colonel put an antenna base on the outside of the car as a hot contact so we could jump start her on the line without removing the cowl…… It all seemed to happen in a real hurry….one minute we were tooling about, next thing I jump in, we do the harness and then Cled waves us to the line, and signals me to go……. I nail it and aim for the right hand side of the track , the motor is wailing as I go into third at about 4 and a half, I change to fourth at about 5 grand and try to settle. The wind is strong and I feel like I’m crabbing….just as I hit the quarter trap my visor goes funny, like it was badly scratched, I think it may have been a bit of salt water from somewhere in the cab dripping into the air coming through the nose vent, whatever it was it meant I couldn’t see the GPS, or read the tacho…but I could see the track markers …..this was a pretty wild ride, I just kept my foot in it and steered her in long arcs fighting my way back to the right, in a straight line I had the steering quartered…I just figured I’d stay in it til the seven mile and so I did, I didn’t feel the power go down like I did before but to be honest I had a bit on my plate and some of the subtleties were lost amongst the noise , vibration and hairiness (NVH)………..Somewhere between the seven and eight I hit a rough bit of track and I think I got airborne, braked momentarily and got a little out of shape and then when I couldn’t see any cones I took the decision to pull off, then I saw the eight mile exit road, I lost track of that very soon after …the motor roll started once and then wouldn’t so I stopped…………I got out of the car and took my helmet off, the GPS read “top speed 195mph”….exactly the same as the day before, the clocks gave me an extra mile per hour, I reckon because I’d topped out a little earlier …..the Rescue crew took about a minute to reach me, they won’t tow or push so one of them helped me roll the car…I think he was a rugby player because he was as strong as an ox, we pushed the car about 400yards at which point I said “mate ,I’m going to die in a second”, then he ran back to the rescue vehicle and they called clear track….. I sat on the car , my adrenaline ebbing I realized we’d found the limit of the motor for this year…….it took about six minutes for the Troopy to catch up after various directions as to where to find me……….this time towing home I sat on top of the car with the canopy open….we had managed to keep the cab completely salt free but riding it like this meant the wind blew the flick up into the cab…but at least it was sort of bearable
…..being towed over some of the return roads the day before had been excruciating……….. As I rode back sitting like a rodeo rider it occurred to me that I drove a shorter distance to work each morning.

As we pulled into marshalling again I noticed a drip of oil under the car and a smear of it coming from the front of the cowl, action stations…… 
We took of the cowl to find the front of the motor wet and the source seeming to be the front seal, where the oil pump is. The Colonel said ….” It’s all over, pack her up”

I felt awful for the Rev who’d handed me another drive at his expense and now we were packing up and he’d had one unsatisfactory run……

We’d put 32 mph on our best speed from last year, we hadn’t hurt the motor( or so we thought) and we had plans for next year. It would have great to get to 200 but it was only our second year and lots of cars that had been knocking on the door got their 200 this year so it seems right that we wait…We met hundreds and hundreds of people, lots of them were fans of the car and had been following these build diaries, it is very touching some of the things people come up and say, we appreciate every bit of it .

The Reverend and I  worked our guts out for years building this thing but there are two people particularly that we need to point out have been instrumental. The Colonel makes it all work, keeps our feet on the ground and provides a necessary balance in the team between our personalities . Pete (PJQ) is our immaculate transport, he is there providing support and anticipates everything, we couldn’t do what we did without him and I’m never sure how to thank him.

We left first thing Friday and drove for thirteen hours, for thirteen hundred kilometers to my brothers house, we got home to Melbourne at 11am Saturday……yesterday I had a gig at a community festival ………..bring on 2011


2009 The Spirit's first year at the salt, Lake Gairdner Sth Australia.

OK, as mentioned elsewhere the week started with rain,we got in Sat night and copped it as we tried to erect the tent. A miserable night with on and off rain and blustery winds. Sunday there was a general feeling of disarray as we all wondered, walked back and forth to the lake to check the situation and chit chat went on on the UHF , the good thing though was that it was blowing a southerly and it wasn't raining. There was grumbling as word went around about a film crew who'd shot a car ad and apparently dumped thousands of litres of water at the entrance ramp to the lake when they washed their gear the day they left.

Come Monday the situation improved again and the word was that we could get onto the lake on Tuesday.We headed out and set up our pit, unloaded the car and got everything organised.There were a couple of hitches. We'd never attached the canopy with the tub on the car and that proved to be a hassle as we weren't in any hurry to hoist the car onto the stands,after we'd done that we went looking for the third fire bottle that Grumm had brought from Melbourne, it was the wrong size. Our fire system supplier had sent us a new one when one failed a test.It was too big and wouldn't fit into the spot where it was supposed to go, technically we could run without it as we weren't going 200 this year, so we removed the mount.In a happy ending another crew had a non-compliant fire system and the bottle we couldn't use got them through.

We were the last car scrutineered on Tuesday,

apart from a few small issues which were noted in the log-book for attention we cruised through. It was a strange feeling as they handed us the sticker and said, "congratulations boys , you can go racing".

Wednesday morning we started early and took the car to the test track.I got in , belted up, fired her up and took off. The test track was very rough and our car has no suspension and less than two inches of clearance . It was immediately apparent that the clearance on the cheek bars in the cage were too tight and the rock hard SFI padding was transferring vibration to the helmet, I couldn't see, anything. It felt as though there were two people using my head as a speed-ball.I got back to where everyone was waiting and flipped the canopy up..." it's f***** , I can't see " was a very low feeling .Apart from that the car seemed great , it wanted to go, sounded good and felt right. We took it back to the pit and pulled out the SFI padding on the cheek bars and put in the softer "you'll go to hell" red stuff and went straight back to the test track. This time I could see , I had to concentrate on trying not to lift my head up and try to see over the tacho, that made for less stepped out nicely as I gunned it back towards the crew.

"Let's put it in line" , it was about 4pm before we were called in our group of ten to the start line. From the marshalling area I drove straight into the crunchies and couldn't see... we are too low to easily see the graded areas and once there is fine vibration the cones are hard to spot, fortunately the guy behind me drove past....I followed him to the start line keeping my distance as he seemed to be able to brake a whole lot better than me.

The vibration issue had me deeply concerned, I had the worst case of pre-gig jitters I've ever had and was at that point convinced I was going to struggle to see well enough to avoid taking out either trackmarkers or timing gear, I decided that I would abort if it was too severe ,my guts were churning.

Next thing I'm on the line, it's really hot and my sunglasses are fogging so I push them to the end of my nose, I'm trying to remember a million things at once...there's banter going on between the starters and Cookey the timer "it's Dr Goggles for his inaugural run....give him a pat on the head for me "......then Cled the chief starter gives me the rolling signal.

The car goes and sounds good I take it to four grand in second ( we start in second gear) and shove the stick forward against the lock out , grab the front stick and it snicks into third I get into it I realise there is no vibration ,the track is as smooth as a baby's bum. I've got the shift light set at 3750 which should be 125 in top gear, it blinks as I change into fourth. It comes on again as I pass the mile marker.

The quarter trap is at the 3 mile, the start is at the one so I've got a mile of this before the lights .I settle in , I listen to the motor as I hover around 3750, make a note that there are fumes and that I may have burned the clutch on the trip to the line. I'm sticking to the right side of the track looking out through the screen to the right of the tacho and watching the little cor-flute markers zing one point there was a bollard that was a little too close for comfort but the car was right at home,it felt like a kiddies ride. 30 degrees of steering castor make for something that just wants to go straight , no shimmies no drift in the was tame.

The 3mile came up , the light went off briefly so I kicked it a bit. I stood on the clutch pedal and rolled for a few seconds before I shifted back to third the car slowed gradually over the mile and I turned out after the four , I got off the return road for a bit into the crunchies , at eighty miles an hour it's pretty severe, found the road again and headed back to the pits where I rolled up to the end of the staging line. Grumm lifted the canopy ...."nice one , you did 114". A huge weight had been lifted, the car that we built in the back yard , went, it did what it was supposed to do, it had no bad habits, it wasn't broken and the vision aspect wasn't an issue on the properly prepared track.

Next it was the Reverends turn to do his 125 pass , he was to run in Fuel class which has never been contested at Gairdner.Just as we were called to the start line the battery refused to start the car , we towed him there and did a battery change at the start line area, there is no "idiot light" so the alternator wasn't charging under 2000rpm We wound the shift light up to 4000....I'd left the gearing charts at home and the 3750 figure was from memory. Due to the number of entrants it was 24 hours after my 125 pass before he got to behaving like a dad at junior sports day the Rev at his Zen like best...wandering around seemingly unconcerned about anything...." get in the bloody car Dik".

Off he went. It was an indescribable feeling to see the car speeding away from me and although it’s a V6 that’s still very stock it sounded sweet. He too ran 114 which as a matter of course was a record, when he got to the pits it was straight onto the end of the line . We were number 22 when the course was closed for the day.

My 150 license pass had a little sweetener . No-one has run an E class Gas Lakester since 1998 and the record was set at 145mph. Within the stipulations I could run to 165 for my license which is what I intended to do. I left the line and the car felt great ,  I got into it a little harder than I had and was pulling 138 after the first mile and the motor was singing with the speed climbing steadily. I got to the three mile at 160 , the GPS was showing 162 163 when the car began missing ……momentarily I thought “Dodge, don’t let me down now” when I remembered that I hadn’t flicked the fuel pump over-ride and the pump was cutting out at 5200 rpm.

This is a video from inside the cab...

I got to the pits and again Grumm opened the canopy and said “congratulations you did 161”, once again the car was a pussycat , straight as a die.

It was Friday and there were thirty cars ahead of us, word went around that if the competitors stayed to help dismantle the track equipment that everybody in the line would get a run.

The Rev was suited up , the signage on the car changed to E/FL and off he went on his 150 pass
, you can see him leaving here.....

, a bit of an over rev on 3 to 4 but the car sounded sweet. We set off in the chase car as the radio announced he’d run 152 , a quick check over the pits as we passed to make sure he hadn’t beaten us there as we headed out the return road… not there, about two miles out we saw the “Taxi” headed toward us …he’d run after the Rev…..we turned around..”he must be in the pits” just then Grumm came along on a scooter” where is he?” …”we couldn’t see him in the pits”….OK “ “I’ll go back and check again , you go on and call Northern rescue”…..we called the rescue guys” Support crew for the red and white Lakester , we cannot find the car”, they came screaming toward us with lights flashing and as they got closer they pointed out towards one of the islands….There he was , a mile off into the crunchies.

As we got to the car I hung out the window with a thumbs up “Heeeeyyyyyyy”……but he wasn’t in it, he was nowhere to be seen , and there were no footprints. Standing there with puzzled looks on our faces we made jokes about him being abducted by aliens…..then another support vehicle turned up , he got out with a huge grin on his face, he’d missed the five mile turn off, got the sixth but promptly lost sight of the road and after being belted around inside the car his knee broke the back off our kill switch and the car wouldn’t start.

That was the end of the week , we’d achieved everything that was possible in the time we had , the car held up we were all still friends and we’d had one hell of a time.

I’m very happy.

Mangalore: The first test drive......

Early start yesterday morning, the car had been put on the trailer the night before and all that remained was to load up the tools , fuel ,water and other sundry bit and bobs and hit the road.Mangalore is about 60 miles north of Melbourne and it's freeway all the way , I picked up the Colonel and we were on the way...some of you will be pleased to note that we played Dwight Yoakam's "Guitars , Cadillacs" most of the way there....

On a trailer for the first time

We had a few friends and family who rolled up to watch , mostly I think they were there to confirm their own suspicions's abounded , my 80 year old mum was there telling all who'd listen stories about me as a kid and monitoring the "coarse talk". The Reverend's name is "Dik" , my mother steadfastly refuses to call him that , she calls him Richard.. wink

There were about eight other cars there when we arrived as well as three bikes , the factory blown Vincent from Adelaide owned by the Penn's and Greg Watters with an R1 he just picked up still with grind marks on the tailpipe and lights from being flipped , Greg did a couple of runs around 250km/h(~158mph) .Spook had his Trumper there but wasn't entirely happy with the tune he had going and didn't get to wring it's neck but gee it looked a treat.Rod and Carol Hadfield were there with his new HAMBster 

,Brian Nicholson and the Moe boys, David Partridge with his indescribably violent sounding RX7 which I have renamed ( unofficially) as "Swearing Around Children" because no-one wants to hear it.

Max Ellery was there with his Commodore he got in some runs around 120mph and was happy with what he's done with the car, there was a new streamliner sans bodywork with a Toyota twin cam 1600 that got a lot of attention owned by a Graeme who's surname I missed and a couple of cars with number plates on 'em.Graeme's streamliner was a little "wanting" in the electrical department , our Colonel , who's a Graham himself felt a kinship bond and got it sorted out , he's a genius. Sadly Norm Bradshaw who organised the booking of the airport and has run an early Mustang with a 499 that's gone about 210 til recently couldn't get his new car there due to engine management issues and a near disastrous fire the night before .Norm's new car is a late model Falcon dressed up as a taxi with a big block Ford and a turbo "big enough to put your head in " , still Norm had a good day and his booking didn't go to waste and I think the hat that got passed around covered him.

We got the tank off the trailer pretty quickly

and put some juice in it , made a few checks and fired it up sounded a bit rough and then started shutting down, fuel?? I changed the fuel filter as the tank is new and it had had a crumby one in it previously...turns out the MAP sensor wasn't properly plugged in...try again ,still a bit rough, oops , two leads were mixed up!!!!!

, try again ...r,r,r,r,r...poop, is the battery flat? huh? we pull up PJQ's car next to it and get the jumpers out...this is embarrassing. The alternator is either dead or we've got a wiring takes the Colonel about three minutes to work out that there's a broken's it starts , now it sounds good....we pushed it back to the start of the taxi-way that we're parked on

( on the way it runs over my foot and wrenches my noticed. embarassed) and I jump in and give it a little test , it REALLY goes!!!!!....

roll it back and another little test. Right! , it's on. I get the suit on and we get ready , Greg Watters goes down and checks with the guys at the end of the taxi-way , we're on.  I get it down there and start struggling with the gear shift , if you bend your wrist inwards and hold it up near the right side of your chest where it feels like it has no strength then it is where our gear stick is.....grind , screech , grind , clunk... my leg is already tired.......a hand signal and I turn left out onto the runway .Rod Hadfield had said " just take your time and have a few looks at it all and find the rough bits before you get into it"....I'm in third and I can't tell where I am on the track ...I can't see the line , I can't even tell the grass from the rougher tarmac at the edge ...F#%&* it I think and give it some throttle takes off ...ahh ,there's the line over there , man it's rough but the car is great , it wants to go straight , and fast .I see some cones and get on the brakes , well at least that's what they're called...I manage to get it back into second and get off the clutch and put all my strength into the brake pedal slows enough to be able to swing around the cones ...I'm ah kind of excited at this point and have a little trouble getting my s#%* together again this time I get it into fourth as I go past the end of the taxiway though I'm probably around 2000rpm , it's just chugging , apparently the radar trap that has been set up registers 119km/h( about 70) I turn at the other end and two things hit me ...I can barely breathe as the fumes are so strong in the cab and my legs are nearly shot from being tense and trying to work the pedals........I overshoot the turn off and pull up and pop the canopy.

Back at the pit we work out the fume problem and cut a little "smile" vent in the nose to pressurize the cab ,further work will need to be done to seal the body against the frame.The gear shift will need to be sweeter and there will need to be changes to the geometry and hydraulic ratios of the brakes and clutch.....but apart from that IT'S FANTASTIC....... grin grin grin

The Rev suits up.

After noticing that the cable mount of the gearshift looks fatigued( turns out I tacked it in position when I was setting it up and never ever went back, oops)we decide to get him to run in third only.......he does six passes and returns completely buzzed . I got back in and gave it a bit of curry , I'm too far over for the speed trap to register but I'm in fourth and well over three grand the runway has several really sharp bumps that are jarring ... I overshoot at the end despite turning it off and getting both feet on the brake pedal, when I finally do swing it around I flick the switch and it blasts off again , I might get to like this .when I get back in the temp gauge reads 200 , when we take the cowl off we realize she's thrown the belt.....we deal with that and send the Reverend out for another run, he canes it and comes back with a grin from ear to ear ....we were both thrilled.

Apart from a water leak from a dodgily installed sender( me) a gearbox oil leak ( a breather will help) and the fume problem it went astoundingly well.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Genius of Jack Dolan....landspeed linguisticisms

This is a collection of posts from Jack Dolan ( Jack D) from . Jack has been involved in many significant landspeed contenders , has set many records but most of all had a way of putting it into words that not necessarily everyone agreed with, but gee they make great reading.....

Jan 24 2006:
A lifetime work is just that and deserves all the time you have
 over what ever length it takes for your satisfaction.
  Don't be consumed by it.
You are not playing to anybodys schedule but your own.
The idea is to get it ready for an event but never call it finished or you will be.

Jan 24 2006:
You guys are going to be vicious spectators that I wouldn't wish on anybody.
 Armed with a camera, a curious eye, and the time to use it.
 As part of your probation we expect a full report.
 Take a lot of pictures, we can turn them over when they get here.
How else are we going to know you were not just having fun while we have to stay home.
You must realize the blender deal is for medical use only, but you do have a Doctor and a Chaplain along.

Jan 31 2006(after what appeared to be  a naked picture of Dr Goggles was posted).......

The pictures were very inspirational and touched many hearts.
 Just this afternoon we have raised over $12k American and after I deduct my
usual fees we have enough left to get both of you in new clothing.
 Not any of that second hand stuff.
 We are going to put it with one of your regularly scheduled air drops every 3 months.
 We just missed the big Christmas deal but the first 1/4 will really go fast.
We hope that will help, actually we are really counting on it.
Jack wink

OBTW: BBB was a little concerned that it looks like you don't eat too good.
 Maybe if you don't spit out all the flies.

same day
 our politicians start out in a suit and end up naked.
The big difference is they are all much bigger in the end and the belly button is quite a distance from the backbone.
It looks like you are spending all your lunch money on the car again.

and again

Actually maybe not enough or the choice is wrong.
Be particularly careful when dating out of your species, sometimes they want a long term commitment.

Then when we couldn't get the tank ready in time I decided to build a sidecar for the Colonels Vespa...

Jack named it the "Marriage Mobile" and wrote this....

That Marriage Mobile sounds like you have given it a lot of thought.
 I see your business really booming.
 The only thing I might suggest is a small trailer suitable for vending.
 You don't want to let the crowd go away wanting. wink
 June 10 2006
Now is the time to stop feeding your driver because they tend to grow over time.

In hindsight Jack was right , after weighing in at 73kgs for 25 years I hit 40 and promptly put on 13kgs....

June 27 2006

If something works but it is not pretty, that is my favorite.
 If asked, I won't hint that it works but suggest it is just a temporary short cut until the pretty one gets back from polishing.
I have spent more time polishing off questions than polishing parts.
One of the most efficient aero packages I have ever seen is from a really unthought of source.
The true lines are confused to the on looker with a mish mash of stickers that trick the eye .
 The viewer will often dismiss it as junk.
Too bad for them.

June 28 2006

An aero package is used that is the result of some extensive and successful testing.
It's use at Bonneville is on another brand that one would not connect with the brand represented by the streamlining.
Dimensions in excess of those found to be successful will fail in less than ideal conditions that are seldom seen over the distances traveled.
"Good theoretical designs produce only theoretical results."
"It is better to watch first and then think instead of doing all the thinking first yourself and then end up just watching."

June 29 2006

"It shows ta go ya the Bellytank has not been perfected yet.
When they are, the Chinese will build them cheaper and everybody will have at least one.
LSR is safe for now.
Not enough people have figured how to make enough money yet and completely ruin it for those that choose to do it another way." wink
Aug 6 2006

The last water tank that Nolan built was measured to fit the frame in the nose just as tight as could be made.
IT was a beautiful job of fitted and welded aluminum.
It was all straight cut pieces with some folded corners and the rest was welded and fit pretty good.
That evening ,I came over to check on the progress and found the tank was all radius in the panels and really fit the space available.
 I had no idea who and how all that extra work happened , but now it was better than ever.
As we were locking up that night he said "I saw you looking at the tank and you never actually asked about it." What happened, was during the day he fired it up and chuffed a head gasket into the water jacket and the squeeze from 1 jug " PILLOW POOFED" the tank to fit.
It was an unintentional result ,but he silently enjoyed the credit for all the extra work.
 If you were brave enough to ask , he was brave enough to share the truth.
That is really the important part for both sides that needs more work.

more later

The high ride , or the low ride......height.

Some decisions about aero....

From "Australian Bellytank" on published Jan 2006

I am writing this reply to you and to whoever else is interested or wish to chuck their two cents in.

Apologies for the usage of the high falutin metric system.

For those who missed it Rex pointed to a page in Goro Tamai's "The Leading Edge" discussing the manner by which drag quickly increases below a certain ride height and cited some figures which seem to threaten our design's efficiency.

I must admit that this area has had both the good Doctor Goggles and myself ponderous as to the correct direction to take so I went out and found a copy of the book. Below is a history as to how the bottom is as it is at present.

Our main Aerodynamics text to date has been  "Race Car Aerodynamics" by Joseph Katz, Ph.D which I can recommend for its readability and information.

The difference between the two texts is that Katz's book focuses on methods of maximising downforce due to aero effects whilst minimising drag whereas Tamai's focus is about eliminating downforce altogether.

Tomai's book is written primarily for  solar cars where energy conservation is a priority and traction issues marginal. As the title suggests Katz's focusses on racecars which have different criteria (eg cornering and acceleration issues).

Upon reading Katz and understanding the traction difficulties on salt,  we found ourselves considering all sorts of thoughts of ground effect devices but for a number of reasons were reticent to embrace them.

Firstly we did not wish to destroy the traditional style of the belly tank so we were reticent to go too far with a diffuser etc.

Secondly, we are building against the clock so we wish to keep it simple for its first years out then can tune the shape against a base model.

Finally it is a bit of a black science when you don't possess a wind tunnel and you could do a lot of work that makes the Dodge thing slower.

We were cheered up by the fact that the So-Cal Lakester belly tank wannabe (So-Called belly tank?) turned up sporting a similar method that we considered. Rex mentioned that it hasn't performed well yet but in its defence Bonneville has seemed to be pretty rough of late and not conducive to ground effect technology. Neither is several inches of water  so the jury is out for me on that one.

My understanding of how it works by looking at it is a splitter at the front to stop air creeping under and provide some downforce at the front, then has a difuser at the back to accelerate the air that is underneath so that a low pressure zone is acheived by the Benouli affect pulling it down. It doesn't seem to have skirts so I would imagine that it sucks more in from the side rather than the car down causing drag inducing vortices... correct me if I am wrong. (anyone GM?)

Anyway, for the above reasons we have decided to not have any ground effects for March and have addressed the issue of traction by making it HEAVY. (No replies please Propster).

Our intention was to get the car as low as possible for stability and to acheive the goal of having the axles on the centre line this put the diff in the widest point of the car and meant body panels could sit over each appendage minimising cutouts, oh yeah it looks cool too.

A number of cars at the salt are really low and perform well so we assumed that the drag due to ground proximity was minimal. For example one car we have enjoyed watching develop is John and Paul Brougham's belly tank which has put in multiple 200mph runs over the past couple of years at Gairdner and is very low (see image). Admittedly it is a little TOO low as it bottoms out a bit at the moment but larger Goodyear Eagles are on their way! Both John and Paul have been very helpful in providing us with much info along the way.

The Brougham tank does have a curved base though where we are proposing a flat base. Our favorite tank was the Hooper tank (the flat head killer) (see image) and part of its charm is the low flat base, as is Xydias' original SoCal and we made the decision early to go down this path.

So what height is the best height?

On page 118 of Tomai is a graph outlining the best ground clearance heights for certain shapes to ensure lack of drag due to ground effect.

Rex indicated the row entitled, ?torpedo shape with an oval width / height of 1.25 and length/height of 3.6. has a H/l of  0.3 min. to 0.05 ; that is a minimum ground clearance of 126mm to 210mm for ours (our car being 4.2m metres long.)

Currently we are around 40mm so that looks way under.

But our w/h is 0.88 / 0.81 = 0.92 and l/h is 4.2 / 0.884 =4.75 and extremely tapered. Tomai's calcs are predominantly to be used for a solar car of width of 2metres and 400 to 700mm thick and of fairly uniform shape for the length.

A better zone of the graph therefore to look at is:

?Torpedo with flat bottom with various cambers and width=height? which is worked out as a ratio of height to breadth at a Hmin ratio of 0.15.

For our car that makes 121.5mm (a whole 3.5mm lower!!!!) but at least it confirms that we are at the lower end of the scale.

The fact the whole shape is tapering I assume will lower the impact as well....?

The mention of "Camber" refers to the amount the centreline axis of the shape is above the chord from tip to toe expressed as a percentage. (Bloody ?camber,? couldn?t the nerds have used a term not already in the automotive lexicon???)

The curve of the centerline of our car caused by the extra tank on top and chopped bottom  helps counter the drag caused by proximity to the ground  by increasing the distance traveled over the top of the car and hence similarly accelerating it helping equalize pressure.

The book says the ideal amount is between 3% and 6%. I worked out ours to be 4.7% (yay). Apparently the best shape to have is a slight ?S? shape in this camber. Ours is that slight S shape so that seems helpful.

Drag versus downforce?

It would seem to me though if we are running a car with more horses than we are putting to ground through traction issues on salt then ground effects are the way to go. The racecar book says that the downforce via diffusers et al is a cheap payoff, and we can overcome the extra drag by the extra efficiency of getting power to ground.

If we find that we are only just pulling top gear (or heaven forbid worse!!!) then reducing drag to the utmost becomes paramount and then up she goes!

This will be one of the many possible learning things in March should all go well.

Sorry for the lengthy post Rex (trying to get those points) but I wanted to answer your query with a complete reply and to prompt some discussion on this and maybe even assist someone else...


Thanks for the great reply! I certainly understand the pressures of trying to get something ready for the race, it seems that they will start the race if you are there or not! So you bust Acura to make it happen. As far as ground affects go, I did talk to the young aero engineer that claims responsibility for the new So Cal tank and he claims that the ground affects on that car have no effect on the drag. Well, he was claiming to be an "aerodynamicist" and I am just an old engineer that likes to "diddle" in the aero stuff BUT nothing is free! If you generate any kind of aero lift, up or down, then you have a coefficient of lift which means that you have to supply some kind of HP to make it happen. Yes maybe the So Cal car has a small Cl but it does have one and it does take power to overcome and with HP limited cars that can be the difference between just going fast and going fast enough to have the record. The one think about the "sun cars" discussed in the "Leading Edge" is that they are all very restricted on HPs and so they really do alot to make sure that they have everything low drag and very low lift. It makes a big difference as to the aero detail you need to look at if you have a 2000 HP Hemi in the back.

My favorite tank lakester is Seth Hammonds old car, look at the ground clearance, lots of it! and that car holds more records in more classes with more drivers, than just about any car.

Good luck on making the March meet and let us know how you do!!!!!

Rex Schimmer

Monday, 4 July 2011

Getting underway

My very good friend Ben James has had motorbikes since he was a kid and had spent the previous year restoring a 1978 Ducati Darmah 900 that he’d bought from a guy in the Navy , it was a beautiful bike , the previous owner had spent a lot of money on the motor and Ben went to town on the bodywork with fresh paint and a full strip and rebuild to original specifications . I told Ben about the DLRA and he was kind of interested , “come on Ben , why don’t you take the Darmah? , then the next time you put it in a show you’ll have a time slip to prove that it’s not just a show piece”. Ben got interested and paid his membership in the club and got busy preparing his bike and making sure it would pass scrutineering .Even for a bike that is street registered there is a long list of things to do as well as the huge amount of preparation you need in order to take a vehicle to race in the remote Australian desert for a week .As we left after our first time at the lake and I was in Ben’s Volvo , Ducati on a trailer on the back and Dik in his Chev truck behind us Ben turned to me and said “ you know Stew, I only went because I said that I would , you know ,that I told you that I would, even up to the last day before we left because you know it was bloody hard work getting everything organised and it cost me a fair bit of money” . I wasn’t quite sure what to say because I had hassled him to get involved and I did have an ulterior motive for it , “ so , what do you mean Ben?” …he replied “ well , even if you die Stew , I’m coming back next year ….that was the best fun I’ve had in a long time!” We both burst out laughing , he was right it had been expensive and exhausting but we’d found something that we knew was going to be a big part of our lives. Ben continued chain smoking while he drove and I sat there taking in the scenery, nursing a hangover and turning over the events of the last week .On the rough and corrugated dirt road ahead of us I could see an emu standing stock still staring at us , “emu Ben” , “Yeah Stew” he said but I didn’t feel the car react “ emu Ben” , “yeah Stew” once again I felt no deceleration as I thought of my deaf grandmother who’d say the same thing to me when I was little just so I’d be quiet, I glanced over, Ben had a ciggie in his mouth and seemed a million miles away although he was looking straight ahead to where the rapidly approaching emu was still standing smack bang in the middle of the road , head turned toward us. “ #### emu Ben!” , “shit!” the car crossed up a little but slowed just enough for the emu to trot off the road . Ten or fifteen kilograms of body on legs over a metre tall is not the kind of thing you want to hit at 100 kilometres an hour . Ben hasn’t been allowed to forget the incident which is now well known throughout the club , and will for a long time to come be reminded with “emu Ben”.

Over the next few weeks we searched for pictures of bellytanks and tossed up what we thought were the possibilities to build our tank .Early on several images that Dik had tracked down on the net became favourites one in particular was a shot from Lake Muroc in the fifties showing a P38 style tank in black with white flames down the side , we agreed it was the best looking one we’d seen but we couldn’t find any other shots or details of who owned or built the car .Dik seemed to be able to find anything on the net and eventually he tracked down a guy in Los Angeles who had a photo archive of salt and dry lake material. It turned out the tank we’d been admiring was known as the Brown/Hooper tank built by Mal Hooper with a Hemi motor built and tuned by Mal Brown , eventually this tank would beat the famous So-Cal Speed Shop tank built and raced by Alex Xydias and be one of the first over 200 miles per hour. Both these tanks were without roll hoops over the driver as were nearly all cars of the period , this was going to be one of the major stumbling blocks in our effort to make our car look like a fifties bellytank but that brings me to something else that I later realised about the whole project and regularly relate to people when they ask “ how in the hell did you do this” .I can’t imagine that we would have started this if someone who’d built one of these things had sat us down and explained how much work , how much money and how much of our time the project would consume , we saw what tanks were and they appealed to a deep seated urge to do something different and difficult. Dik and I are the kind of guys who think they can do anything , when the enormity and expense of the task was made apparent to us , we were way too stubborn to give up .For over a year I did little but work shifts , go home to where I was living alone and work on the car then go back to work .If I was talking to somebody it was about the car .I was earning reasonable money , I spent it all on the car and spent more time telling Dik to pay for other things we needed , it became an obsession . A work mate Michael was always hearing me mention “the car” and got used to me saying I couldn’t work Sundays because “ it was the day we work on the car together” .One day I took in some of the color renders that Dik had done on his 3D design program and a couple of photos of the build of the frame .I showed them to Mick who promptly burst out laughing , he was wide eyed and shaking his head “ I thought you were doing up some old Holden or something , that’s , um ,something else altogether isn’t it James…” Yes , something else altogether .

As with so many things the possibilities widened as we learned more about the history and got more in-tune with the intrinsic nature of what a belly tank was .We decided because the shape of the Canberra tank was so beautiful and such a correct aerodynamic shape that we would do all we could to keep it in it’s original dimensions .Most of the tanks built are stretched or sectioned down in height in order to accommodate the running gear or increase the wheelbase. Some cars are built using just the forward section of a tank as the nose . Later when the plans began to firm and we had some printed out “draughts” of the design John Broughan said “ you’ll want to stretch that thing , and do it now before the frame gets too complicated “ he’s right that it would have made it a hell of a lot easier but something inside us , stubbornness was part of it, said no. Finding the tank was an incredible stroke of luck , Haddy said “ I’ve been bombarded by people ringing about that thing since the moment I said it was for sale. We haven’t seen many tanks or indeed any Canberra tanks since, that was one stroke of luck .It seemed early on that serendipitous things happened left right and centre , the part that became the upper cowl of the car came from Wayne Mumford in Yarragon , it was a wing tank from a jet of unknown origin with a diameter of about eighteen inches, Wayne had used the nose of it cut axially to make the cowl of he and Russell Mack’s “Waza Vudu” bellytank. Made from a Voodoo jet tank Wayne and Russell’s car is a beautiful piece that began with a 1920’s ford four cylinder but now sports a twin overhead cam Toyota four with a turbo.

Dik and I were at Wayne’s house and he said “ do you want this …pulling two thirds of the tank which was about ten feet long from the rafters of his shed. I said “ oh , I’m a bit wary about taking things home that are going to steer the project” but when I looked at Dik he was almost standing on his tip toes and said “ yeah , we’ll um, take that , that’d be great” . Dik had already made a 1:5 scale blow moulded replica of our Canberra tank and I’d welded up a frame out of 3mm steel rod to go in it , Dik then turned some wooden wheels ,on top he’d moulded a clay cowl .When we got the piece that Wayne gave us home Dik quickly measured it up and announced that it was “ within’ five per cent of what I’d modelled”…it was perfect ..we just had to cut it down the middle and lay it on top and we had a cowl and a top section of the drivers compartment .At this stage we were intending to use a solid beam axle for the front of the car and seeing how John Broughan and Wayne and Russell had both used Ford Prefect front ends we figured we would do the same , I’d bought a complete but rough one from a wrecker , Wayne gave us some wishbones and stub axles that he had left over as well . It was on the first night that Ben and I spent at Lake Gairdner that I met Wayne. I saw a bellytank on a trailer and recognized it as the Waza-Vudu that I’d seen in a photograph in the club magazine the “Speed Times” .A bunch of blokes were crouched around the front of a four wheel drive where they were trying to attach a wooden bumper bar known as a push bar for push starting a car on the salt . I said “one of you guys would be Wayne Mumford?” , a couple of them looked at the bloke who was trying to knock a large bolt through the plank with a pipe wrench who then said “ yeah , just let me finish this mate” , I said in a whining “smart Alec” voice “that’s not a hammer”, Wayne sort of dropped his shoulders and in a voice like an overconfident eight year old turned to me and said “ Yes it is”…I had to laugh , it’s not often you get to have that sort of an off beat joke with complete strangers .Two years later when I’d built a sidecar for Graeme’s Vespa scooter as a run-about for the lake Wayne arrived at our pit area on the salt with Russell and his son and didn’t say anything but just shook his head and repeated over and over James James James James. When Russell boiled their newfound bus dry while taking it to get tires fitted Wayne’s comment was “and he works for a water company and all!….” At the point of writing the Waza-Vudu has only started once and it pulled off the track at a couple of hundred metres because Russell couldn’t see as the vibration was so bad , I know it is going to be a long , and funny relationship between the cars which when you think about it are half-brothers because they share a tank as cowls.
Before the Canberra tank arrived in Melbourne I’d reasoned after seeing it at the Rod Shop that it would be a whole lot easier to deal with if I had some sort of trolley or tender that it would fit on. Using a frame for a gate made from inch water pipe that “appeared” from a demolition site next to my house , the handles from an old push mower and some pram wheels I welded one up with the old mans old arc welder that had been left at my house by my sister after Dad died. When the courier arrived with the tank I wheeled the tender out onto the street , “ here we go” thought the truckie “ this bloke is nuts” . It paid off because although the tank weighed only 30 kilo’s or so it was 4.6 metres long , had nothing to “grab” onto and as such was impossible to handle on your own .

We sat the tank on the floor of my garage in Thornbury and used a big draughting set square to draw a profile on the floor and measure the tank itself. We measured it in 100mm intervals along it’s length so it’s shape could be loaded into a CAD program of Dik’s .Within a week or so we had our first 3d renders of the tank itself and could start playing around with how we wanted our tank to look. The image of me giving the thumbs up standing next to the low lying green tank with no roll-bar was the very first effort .Dik had asked me to give a thumbs up while he was taking photo’s when we first looked at the tank at the Rod Shop and used it in a composite .We soon realised that one of the dictating factors in how our car was to look would be the fact that it had top have a roll-bar which was something that most of our favourite looking cars from the fifties and sixties didn’t require under the rules of the time. This meant that we would most likely be having a full canopy rather than having the drivers head out in the wind. The rules about what was required for the roll bar and how much clearance it needed from the drivers helmet were the point that a great deal of the design and final styling of the car flowed from . We began taking measurements of each other crouched on the floor in what we thought would approximate the driving position to see how much room we needed , this moved onto the rough 1:1 models we built first out of cardboard tube and then out of 1 inch steel tube with a seat and steering wheel . We had two basic measurements that we needed to be a low as possible one was the height of the driver with a helmet on and the other was the overall length of the drive-train and the drivers compartment .We could make the height of the driver very low by lying the driver down but that would make the length of the compartment longer and we needed all the space we could get in order to fit the drive train in. There are some minimum lengths for wheelbase in the rules relevant to engine class sizes but as we wanted to keep the tank in it’s original length we were running out of volume at the back in order to accommodate the differential housing and the framework required to support it. As it turned out the car exceeds the 110 inch wheelbase requirement for open engine classes . Many early bellytanks and some landspeed cars still have no gearbox , they have a clutch connected directly to a tail-shaft , the cars are pushed to about forty miles per hour and then take off under their own power. We considered this but decided against it for many reasons , mainly that the car would need to be towed everywhere and the fabrication of the set-up needed to support the clutch/tail-shaft arrangement seemed harder than just using a shortened gearbox. Looking back the decision to keep the tank in it’s original length made the job much more difficult but we are certain that it is the way we prefer it as it seemed a more natural result and provided a basic challenge that building a car and making a teardrop shaped body for wouldn’t have had .

Where it all began....

It was my cousin Al who rang up and said “ Dik is getting people to go to this thing called Monster Trucks , do you want to go?”. Dik was someone who I’d met years before when he went out with another cousin of mine Penny, sounds like a big family doesn’t it. Dik was an architect but I knew him better as an animator who made a few films and had had a studio in an old warehouse near the Corner Hotel in Richmond where Al had lived and where he made advertisements like those Shmacko dog treat ads and a children’s series called Plasmo. I’d see him every now and then at the Corner where my band the Warner brothers which later became Overnight Jones played gigs occasionally.

The Monster Trucks extravaganza consisted of a couple of huge four-wheel drive utes driving around in the Rod Laver tennis arena crushing cars, jumping and that sort of stuff while making an incredible amount of noise. Dik had invited along a bunch of friends most of whom weren’t really “car heads” per se but enjoyed the spectacle all the same.

As we left Dik and Al and I were heading to my car with the idea of having a beer somewhere in Fitzroy. “So what have you been up to?” Dik asked me. Amongst other things I told him, as he was into film making, that after hearing about caravan demolition derby races at the Nyora speedway in Gippsland that I had had an idea for a short black and white silent film. Footage of the caravan stuff interspersed with shots of people sitting in their brand new cars in gridlock on the Eastern Freeway at peak-hour with old style hand-painted subtitles with things like “who’s crazy?”…I remember Dik with a sort of curious look on his face, and a sly sort of grin ….”Um, anything else?” “Yeah, I saw this article in a mag last week, apparently they have salt lake racing in Australia”. I will always remember the strange look on his face as the very moment this whole thing started.

We went to the pub and met up with some friends JVG who has his own radio show the JVG Rhythm Method every Sunday on 3RRR a Melbourne community station that I’ve played live on every now and then and Dan Worner a singer and guitarist who I played thousands of gigs with over the years in the Warner Brothers and Overnight Jones. We sat in the beer garden of the Standard Hotel a backstreet pub near Brunswick street and had a few.

The next morning Dik rang me from work. ” Hey, I’ve been looking at stuff on the net , have you seen those bellytank things?”….”yeah , I have , they’re the coolest looking things ever made with four wheels “ I said , there was a bit of a pause , “ do you reckon you could make one of those “ I said yes , simple as that, I said yes.
Bill Burke was a keen racer and builder and after Pearl Harbour found himself in the merchant navy based in the Pacific. As the story goes he was in Hawaii and casting and eye over a load of drop-tanks on a barge when he was struck by an idea . Drop-tanks were made as auxiliary fuel tanks for fighters and fighter bomber aircraft so they could extend their range , they were attached under the wings or under the fuselage , hence “belly-tank” .These tanks could be jettisoned although it is said that the idea was to bring them home if possible because they weren’t cheap . Bill was looking at a load of tanks made for the P38 Lightning fighters and thought to himself “my car’s chassis would fit in one of those!”. When he left the Navy Bill tracked down a bellytank in a scrap-yard in Alameda in Los Angeles and set about turning it into a streamlined body for his model T Ford based racer .Early Fords have a torque tube arrangement rather than what we know now as a tail-shaft which consists of a tube with a driveshaft inside it rather like an axle tube. Burke used a bicycle seat welded to the top of the torque tube and no additional protection for the driver other than the body shell itself , being a front engine arrangement he sat out in the wind and quite far back as opposed to what became the usual arrangement of mid-engine with the driver at the front , putting the driver in front of the engine allows a lower sitting position and a simpler steering set-up. The streamlined body made Burkes car immediately faster and he was soon building cars for others in the mid-engine format. The P38 has remained the most popular tank to use over the years and there are now several companies in the states who manufacture fibreglass replicas which can be ordered in various stretched lengths . The most famous bellytanks came from the early part of the fifties when they were the cutting edge of road car equipment based speed attempts . The So-Cal tank is probably the best known , other well known tanks included the Reed brothers , the Hooper Brown tank , Tom Beatty’s tank and the Pierson Brothers famous for their chopped 36 Ford three window coupe also ran a bellytank .
The tank that Dik and I bought from Rod Hadfield was from a Canberra bomber also known as the B57 Canberra .These tanks were variously known as slipper tanks and were fitted to the end of the wings and were not “drop” tanks as such as their fitment was permanent . The method of connection meant that these tanks are almost symmetrical about their horizontal axis .The classic bellytank made from a P38 tank actually used two tanks usually because the fitment area of the tank wasn’t practical to use so the technique involved using the bottom of two tanks and discarding the tops this left a smooth surface all over allowing the builder to make opening where they chose .There was another unintended benefit of this technique in that making the profile of the shape symmetrical about its horizontal axis minimized the amount of lift generated at speed. In using our Canberra tank we turned it ninety degrees so that the attachment area which was the shape and size of a windsurfer board was facing the ground this meant that the car was left right symmetrical when looking from the front but not so in the top to bottom plane..we cut this piece out which exposed the inner baffles and bulkheads inside the tank as well as increasing the strength of the tank these prevented fuel from “sloshing” around inside , full these slipper tanks held over 600 litres of jet-fuel.

Our tank came from a Canberra of the call sign WH700 which was built in January1953 and initially sent for service in Germany .The squadron that WH700 flew with was entrusted with the job of doing high altitude photographic missions over the Russian Kosmodrome at Kasputin Yar where highly secret testing of equipment for both the military and the emerging space program were being developed .After the Americans agreed not to continue sending spy flights over Soviet territory they asked Winston Churchill to use the RAAF. At the time the Canberra had the highest ceiling or capable flight altitude of any aircraft and so the Soviet fighter jets or Migs as they are known couldn’t reach them , the flights ended when the new Mig 18 was put into service which could easily reach the 45,ooo ft altitude the Canberras were capable of flying at. Due to secrecy restrictions on the release of the documents about the actual flights it is difficult to know whether WH700 was one of the planes which were fitted out with the extremely high tech cameras for taking the spy shots but it is known that the craft was returned to Britain for “extensive” repairs later in 1953 , there was however no record of the craft being damaged during take off or landing so there is some speculation as to whether it may have been the ‘plane that a Soviet pilot claimed to have hit with gunfire in an engagement over Kasputin Yar. WH700 then flew to Australia and was used during the Blue Jay missile test at Woomera ( very near Lake Gairdner) and was also used in the Australian film “ Ground Zero” .It is now owned by a private collector and can be found at Nurioopta north of the Barossa valley in South Australia.

A bit more background is probably due here. I’ve never been able to explain my fascination with cars , I love driving , my dad loved driving which I think got me started and particularly I love driving long distances. There’s something about the rhythm , the gradual change of scenery , the thinking you do along the way and I remember long drives I’ve done like holidays , them being the most important part of why I was driving to wherever I was driving. The Newell highway which heads north through inland New South Wales may to some be featureless and boring but to me it’s a quasi-religious experience. I’ve written songs about cars , named a band I had after a car ( Fourdoorshitbox) named an album. Over the years I’d taught myself to weld , panel-beat and spray-paint and built up several reasonable cars , all Holdens from the sixties or seventies .I’d always been obsessed with taking things apart and had had a Meccano set and of course Lego. Growing up ,dad always had a workshop and although woodworking was more his thing he bought an arc welder when I was twelve which I made it my business to learn how to use , my first welding lessons were from one of dad’s friends a German concreter named Rudi Baer ,” bah , it looks like birdshit!” he’d say about my early attempts at “laying a bead” as it’s called. I built a chopper push bike with ridiculously long forks and stupidly low gearing but more importantly it had mono-shock rear suspension using a Honda “postie” bike shock absorber”, we lost that one jumping it into an irrigation channel. On weekends we’d jump over the back fence of the tip and scrounge for bike parts. Around the same time I got a part time job working in Doug Pike’s sports shop in Tatura while I also had a paper-round .Having a rough bike to do the paper-round was essential , the bike shop and the welder was the beginning of hot-rodding for me. But building a race car from scratch is something altogether different again, but I wasn’t twelve anymore I thought , some would disagree.
Dik studied Architecture and then animation .He’d won a AFI for his short animated film “Dad’s clock” where some marionettes build a wooden clock .The real clock was made by his father after he was diagnosed with cancer , Dik said to me about it “ it always seemed odd to me that someone would build an imprecise device for measuring something that they had very little of”. He’d had a sixties Maserati that he was going to do up until it was stolen , that was no doubt a lucky break saving him a huge amount of money and grief .Anybody who as ever restored a car knows how expensive it can be , anything exotic is a whole different league with an accordingly higher price tag , Holden ? Ford ? not cheap ! Maserati? dream on brother!!

Dik is a great artist , never had I worked with someone to whom I could describe something that they could then draw “ you mean , like this” and he’d draw an outline , which would be just perfect , exactly what I’d been trying to describe. It also became apparent early on that we had very similar ideas on style. Almost like brothers who’d agree wholeheartedly on something and then just as quickly deride one another over very small details the similarities allowed us to get the thing started and the differences made sure we kept each other on our toes , every detail was debated , mulled over and we each fought for little things that we thought were important.

So there we were the back yard panel-beater /musician and the film making exotic car fan planning on building a car, of which we knew nothing about. The magazine article which had first sparked our interest was written by long time hot-rodder and owner of Aussie Desert Cooler a local custom radiator manufacturer Norm Hardinge. Norm’s business was minutes from where I lived at the time and so I thought I’d go and have a chat to him. I arrived and asked a young bloke in the driveway if the boss was around as I was interested in talking to him about his salt car , he looked at me strangely as he pointed me through a door to the main part of the workshop , as it turned out it was Norm’s son Michael who I didn’t recognize but had met through mutual friends over the years. Inside I spoke to Norm who apologised that as he was flat-out he’d have to keep doing the soldering job he was on but was happy to talk while he was at it and then asked “so , are you into hot-rods or racing?” , he’s a big bloke with a huge beard and a gentle voice and face ‘ Oh not really Norm , just sort of the weirdo end of cars” . Hearing that Norm sort of lurched and bellowed “ah haa !, you’ll LOVE this!” He showed me some photo’s and some models and we talked briefly about what we were into, I told him I’d just been through a pretty painful bust up and he told me he’d started again a few times and that you were never finished , every time we meet I have a good laugh with him as we kind of “get” each other.

In Norm’s article which was published in Cruzin’ magazine was a photo of a bellytank and it’s owner and builder John Broughan . I rang telephone Information and asked for a number for Broughan figuring there weren’t going to be many of them and the guy with the bellytank racer couldn’t be that hard to find, “ In Benalla?” asked the operator , “ ah , yes , thanks” .I rang and what sounded like an elderly gent answered .” I’m looking for John , the fella with the salt lake racer ?” , “ah yes , but he doesn’t live here he’s in Melbourne , would you like his number?” Bullseye! So , I rang , what the hell I thought he’ll know how to get started .I spoke to John for a good forty-five minutes during which time he told me that “Haddy” had a tank he might sell. Haddy is Rod Hadfield a long time and successful car builder modifier and manufacturer who for a long time ran a very successful auto business the “Castlemaine Rod Shop” in Newstead just out of Castlemaine in central Victoria .Rod is well known in the car show circuit and his name is synonymous with older modified cars as his business produced parts that allowed the incorporation of different engine, gearbox and or brakes into all kinds of vehicles. For instance he produced kits to allow one to fit a late model V6 to a 1950’s Holden but that is just one of the hundreds of different “adaptor “ parts that his business made. It has been a rare car of mine that hasn’t had some part that came from the “Rod Shop”. I’d tell people to ring Rod about some question I’d been asked because he’d definitely know but before they rang to make sure they had a piece of paper and a pen handy because everything Rod said would be right , and worth writing down .He would quote figures and measurements straight out of his head and it seemed that his business ran from his cordless phone that he always answered in his flat monotone “ Castlemaine Rod Shop ( pause ) Rod HADFIELD speaking”…
“Yes” said Rod he did have a tank that he’d bought in ( from what I seem to remember was near)Ballarat , “ I suppose it’s for sale , I paid three hundred bucks for it and it cost me a little to get it home so how about four?”. We agreed to buy it , this was about a week or less after we decided we wanted to build a car from one .The tank was from a Canberra bomber he said , made from aluminium , it had a few dents but it was pretty good for something that was fifty years old .The next weekend Dik and I jumped in a car a drove the sixty miles to the Rod shop and had a look , took some photo’s and some measurements .I paid up a membership to the Dry Lake Racer’s of Australia club of which Rod was the Secretary and received member number 374 ,some stickers , and a rule book.
After that we ended up buying a book on the history of lake racing from Rod “ The history of the Dry Lakes” by Cox andGenat, this and the Dean Batchelor book “Dry Lakes and Drag Strips” became well thumbed style guides over the next few years as we honed the design of our car. We decided too that we would go to Lake Gairdner in South Australia where the annual salt lake racing event was staged by the DLRA so we could see other cars , meet other people and get a feel for the way it all went .At this point I felt that it would be better if we weren’t just spectators , but were involved with a vehicle that was competing.