Bell & Ross Vintage Bellytanker

06 Nov 2017 | Bell & Ross Bellytanker

Speed has always been a key source of inspiration for Bell & Ross. Since it was founded, the watch brand has also demonstrated a passion for the very latest technology. These factors constantly push the brand to excel, and to develop highly complex mechanisms for its watches. By extension, Bell & Ross is interested in all extreme machines.


This year, Bell & Ross has returned to its passion for engineering, creating its retro-influenced Bellytanker racecar, with missile-like aerodynamics. It is built using a fuel tank from a fighter plane. Fitted with an engine and four wheels, this tank is transformed into a streamlined racer. The Bellytanker is best known for taking part in speed trials on the huge salt lake flats of the North American West.  These gigantic open stretches of desert, where most of the water has evaporated, are particularly well suited to motor racing competitions. The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah are the most famous example.


Originating in the forties and fifties, the term «Bellytank» initially referred to the emergency drop tank fitted in the belly of fighter planes. «Bellytanker» is now mainly used for the high-speed race cars manufactured directly from these spare tanks.

Their history dates back to the end of the war. Bill Burke, an American speed freak, wanted to build an ultra-fast car to take part in the races being held on the salt flats. He had fought in the South Pacific, and had grown to love the elegance of these fighter plane drop tanks, with their aerodynamic lines as if sculpted by the wind.

To his eyes, they looked like the perfect foundations on which to build his speed machine. He was not wrong: their droplet shape ensured exceptional performance. At the end of the war many military components were sold off cheap. In 1946, he bought a drop tank from a North American P-51 Mustang for $35. He used it to build a bright yellow mini hot-rod.

He fitted the tank that formed the bodywork, on a chassis, powering it with a powerful V8 engine. He took his prototype to the Bonneville salt lake races to test it. Without realizing it, he had created the world’s first Bellytanker. The shape and design of this aerodynamic vehicle have ensured its place in the great aeronautical history of North America in the forties and fifties. It is also enshrined in the annals of motor racing with the Hot Rod and the Streamliner. In the automotive world, it also rapidly acquired iconic status.


Bill Burke went on to develop vehicles based on tanks from a lighter plane, the Lockheed P-38 fighter. Bell & Ross has designed its own vehicle, taking these later versions of the Bellytanker as its inspiration. Being part of a plane on wheels, this new vehicle is perfectly aligned with the spirit of the watch brand, which has aviation and the military in its DNA.

This retro-futuristic racer is the latest in a line of extreme machines developed by the firm. It combines both aeronautical influences and numerous nods to the watchmaking world. So, the metal of its bodywork is like the case of a watch. The glass covering its cockpit echoes an ultra-curved crystal. The copper-cultured trim evokes the dials of timepieces from this era. Its tail fin, designed to stabilize the vehicle, is a reference to the aviation codes, as is the matte black of its “nose”. This color is used on certain stealth fighters to avoid reflections.

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