Originating in the 1940s and 1950s, the term ‘Bellytank’ initially referred to the emergency droptank fitted under fighter planes. However, ‘Bellytanker’ today is a reference to the high-speed racing cars manufactured directly from these spare tanks. Their history dates back to the end of the Second World War when 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 war and had grown to love the elegance of these fighter plane droptanks, 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 cheaply and he bought a droptank that had been used on the P-51 Mustang for US$35. He used it to build a bright yellow mini hotrod. He fitted the tank that formed the bodywork, on a chassis, powering it with a powerful V8 engine. 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 1940s and 1950s. 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. Burke also took his prototype to the Bonneville Salt Lake where there is an annual event in which machines of all types attempt to set new speed records. He went on to develop vehicles based on tanks from a lighter plane, the Lockheed P-38.
Speed has always been a key source of inspiration for Bell & Ross, the French watch company. Since it was founded in 1992, the company 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. So it’s not unusual for Bell & Ross to take an interest in extreme machines like the Bellytanker and also draw inspiration from them for its watches.
The company has designed its own vehicle, taking 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’. Incidentally, this colour is used on certain stealth fighters to avoid reflections.
From the unique car has come two timepieces which make up the new Bellytanker collection. These are designed to evoke the legendary era of record-breaking races in the North America of the 1950s It is aimed at contemporary and enthusiastic drivers, with a love for vintage.