Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Teardrops On The Salt

The hot rodders of post war America, young men fresh home from the front line, were able to extract incredible amounts of speed from the discarded surplus of the U.S. Government's war effort. Southern California's dry lakes and later the vast salt flats of Bonneville were the perfect environs for this band of mechanical mavericks to test their homebuilt projectiles. With newly learned skills, acquired whilst serving in the military, they were able to register previously unheard of speeds in their flat out runs across the lake beds. There were no stylistic preconceptions or overbearing sanctioning bodies to hinder them as they wringed every last drop of horsepower out of their recycled missiles. Limited finances and resources only fuelled their imaginations and they adapted whatever was readily available, in their quest to be the fastest. Without access to wind tunnels or an acute understanding of drag coefficients, they recognised a silhouette of speed in the disposable excess of battle.

Their weapon of choice was the long range fuel tank from the Lockheed P-38 fighter plane. Here was an aerodynamic aluminium skin perfectly suited to their intended high speed missions. All manner of military componentry was scavenged from squadrons of obsolete warbirds, providing the necessary elements for an all out assault on the record books. In reality, the designers of these war machines played just as an important role in the burgeoning post war hot rod industry as did the constructors of these screaming teardrops. To an observer at one of these competitions, the image of these ovoid forms hurtling toward the horizon must have resembled a four wheeled invasion from outer space. Personally, the appeal of these bellytanks lies in their utilitarian construction, the paradox being that those abandoned relics of war were also objects of great beauty and ultimately speed.

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