The Rocket

My grandfather was an engineer, at first on ships and later at David Browns . My father trained as an engineer at David Browns before moving on to Holset (Cummins) turbochargers. My brother was also a Holsets trained engineer. My son got a first in Motorsport Engineering and now works in electric powered transport systems.

I always admired people who could disappear into a shed and reappear hours (days or months later) with some amazing gadget or another. Men in sheds were the foundation of Britain’s Formula One manufacturers. Sadly the engineering gene missed me out so I can only watch the magic happen.

I recently saw some Belly Tank race cars at Bridlington’s race the waves event. These are perhaps the ultimate home built race cars. Popular in the 1940’s and 50’s Belly Tank racers were built from supplementary WW2 fighter plane fuel tanks.

When a fighter plane needed a longer range they would carry a separate fuel tank which they would ditch before combat. After the war many of these tanks ended up in army surplus stores and were purchased by thrill seekers to build race cars. Racing took place on salt flaps and dried lake beds earning the pilots the title of Lakesters. This was not for the faint hearted, the home made rockets could reach up to 200mph.

Whilst Belly Tank racing was predominantly an American sport, you will see them at Hot Rod events in the UK. One such vehicle is The Rocket, owned by Mark Elsigood. This is a distinctly British version as the body is an RAF Tornado drop tank, shortened by two metres. This is attached to a tubular chassis and the pilot is held in place by an ex RAF Schroth 4 point harness. Steering is with a Russian Antonov AN-2 control yoke.

The engine is a 4.2 litre, six cylinder from a Daimler limousine. The rear axle comes from a MK2 Jaguar and at the front an E83W (Ford) axle and leaf spring suspension. Front wheels are Ford and the rear wheels from a Range Rover.

A custom built alloy radiator finishes the mechanicals whilst a cockpit canopy has been modified from a French fighter jet.

Brilliant engineers and brave men who raced what they built. Long may the men (and women) in sheds continue to create great things.

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