Built and raced by Hot Rodding pioneer Bill Burke of San Gabriel, California, the Harley-Davidson-powered Bonneville Streamliner Super Shaker made its one and only appearance at the Bonneville Speed Trials in August 1959 with Burke at the controls. This was the second time the inventive Burke, long an advocate of “Ford 60” flathead V-8 engines in various states of tune, had made use of a Harley-Davidson V-twin engine for a four-wheeled Bonneville racer. It was an idea many dismissed as futile, but it was not the first time Burke stood convention on its head.
By then already a veteran of the salt flats, Burke had been consumed by Hot Rodding by his mid-teens. He built his first Rod, a modified 1929 Ford, in 1937 at the age of 19. Soon afterward, he became the 45th member of the Southern California Timing Association and built his first racer, a modified Model T roadster with a classic Model B flathead-4. Burke reached his first racing milestone in that car, running 110 MPH the first time out and becoming one of the first five to turn 100 MPH on the dry lakes.
The respected president of the Road Rebels Car Club based out of Los Angeles, the outgoing and amiable Burke joined others of his generation to fight the war, joining the Coast Guard and serving on a PT boat in the South Pacific. While in port in 1943, he spotted a barge carrying a load of auxiliary fuel tanks used on such aircraft as the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and the P-51 Mustang. He leapt aboard and took some measurements, determined that there was enough room to contain a very basic frame and engine, and he decided a belly tank would make “a crazy body for a streamliner.”
Returning home from the war, the Hot Rod fraternity turned up the wick with sleeker, more powerful Hot Rods capable of ever higher speeds fielded by a generation of young men with an urge to innovate honed into instinct by the demands of conflict. Burke immediately began searching the local military surplus yards around Southern California, soon locating a 165-gallon P-51 tank and creating the first in a series of belly tank streamliners, many of which would set records that held for years. The first tanker used a front-mounted 1934 Ford flathead V-8 set into a modified Model T frame with Bill seated behind it on a bicycle seat welded to the torque tube. While this configuration robbed the car of much of its aerodynamic potential, Burke still ran 137 MPH, coming closer to legendary racer Bob Rufi’s prewar 140 MPH record than anyone had in 10 years.
After campaigning that first car in 1946, Burke partnered with Wally Parks and future “Hot Rod” technical editor Don Francisco to build his second belly tanker, which became known as “Sweet 16.” Based on a larger 300-gallon tank for the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, its layout was the reverse of its predecessor, with the driver placed low in the front and the driveline packaged snugly in the rear, reducing frontal area and penetrating the air much more efficiently. Among the most significant of the many records Burke and Francisco set with the second tanker over the next three years was the 151.085 MPH it ran in July of 1949, famously earning “Hot Rod” magazine’s title of “World’s Fastest Hot Rod.” It eventually ran a best of 164 MPH.