• Jason Chandler

Bill Burke and hot rod history

Bill Burke was synonymous with land speed racing, Bonneville, the formation of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), and even HOT ROD Magazine. He innovated a variety of race cars including configuring surplus WWII aircraft auxiliary fuel drop tanks as land speed racing bodies—better known as belly tanks. He helped create the Western Timing Association, then aided in the formation of the SCTA when it was reinstated after WWII, and he ran some type of innovative race car in SCTA racing every year for the next 50 years. He and HOT ROD contributor Don Francisco landed on the August 1949 cover of HOT ROD with their belly tank, which was billed as “The World’s Fastest Hot Rod” in that issue.

Burke was originally and famously known as the father of the ‘Belly Tank’ lakester setting many records both at The Bonneville Salt Flats and at the El Mirage dry lakes in California.

Burke’s “Pumpkin Seed” fiberglass race car landed him in the 200-MPH Club in 1961. While working for HOT ROD in 1962 he built a 1963 Studebaker Avanti, and with help from the Granatelli brothers added Paxton supercharger bits to set at least 15 records through the years including a long-standing 239.208 mph in C/CBFALT set in 1979. He is also remembered for the beautiful Burke Cagle aluminum Streamliner, which set a number of records with a crankshaft-spun-blower Hemi. This one landed on the June 1965 cover of HOT ROD. His son Steve has continued the land speed tradition helping Bill over the years, and then building his own cars including his latest streamline Mazda.

On the business side he was one of HOT ROD’s early ad managers, and also managed ads for sister pub Motor Trend, and Street Rodder magazine in the late-1970s and early 1980s.

He was also a huge animal lover. He admitted once to pinstriper Dennis Jones that he spent all of his monthly Social Security check—which was $650, on dog and cat food. He estimated he was feeding more than 35 dogs and an assortment of tame and feral cats that hung out at his shop in Whittier, California.

Bill Burke - Hot Rod Legend RIP - 12.26.15

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