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History The Markley Bros BELLY TANK: A Pictorial History

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by HEMI32, Aug 1, 2009.

  1. My first visit to Bonneville was in August of 1970 during the 22nd Annual Bonneville National Speed Trials ... my family spent just a day on the salt (we were on our way home from our summer vacation in the Midwest).

    Growing up in a Hot Rodding family (and living just a few miles away from the Fremont Drag Strip), I pretty much took most of the Bonneville race cars (Roadsters, Coupes, Digger-style Lakesters, Mustangs, Camaros, etc.) for granted ... but the Streamliners ... they were from another planet ... I had never seen anything like them!

    I was just 9 years old at the time, but I distinctly remember thinking how COOL (& a bit scary) it would be to be strapped into the cockpit (and enclosed under the canopy) of a Bonneville Streamliner ... I imagined myself behind the wheel of the Tommy Thompson #990 Golden Rod or the Larsen & Cummins #115 Cal Custom streamliner racing towards "Floating Mountain" :D

    The following year, my entire summer vacation was spent at my grandparent's farm in Minnesota ... my father couldn't get that much time off from work ... so he stayed back home in California ... but somehow managed a 4-5 day trip to the 23rd Annual Speed Week event ... and he sent us this:


    For several years, this Post Card hung on the bulletin board in my bedroom ... I used to stare at it for hours ... and imagine myself behind the wheel of the Chrome Yellow, HEMI-powered, "Open-wheeled Streamliner."

    I guess the postcard really was the beginning of my "obsession" with the Markley Brother's #360 Belly Tank ... 'cuz ever since the Summer of '71, I've been gathering info about ... and collecting photographs of the famous B'ville Lakester.

    I'm really hoping that this H.A.M.B. "picture thread" will become the definitive photo archive of my all-time favorite Belly Tank Lakester ... I'll start by sharing some of the images that I have collected over the years ... and I encourage others to contribute their pics too!

    NOTE: I also have many pics of the Markley's #360 T-33 Tip Tank Lakester (record setter in the late '60s & early '70s), their #360 Fuel Roadster (record setter in the '80s), and the Hoffman/Markley #362 Streamliner (record setter in the '90s) ... but would rather that we try to keep this thread focused on the Markley's P-38 Belly Tank Lakester.

    So ... without further ado, I bring you "The Markley Bros BELLY TANK: A Pictorial History" ...
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2017
    Dog_Patch likes this.
  2. The Markley's yellow #360 C P-38 Belly Tank Lakester (with supercharged Dodge HEMI) debuted at the 1960 Bonneville National Speed Trials:

    Bonneville-TFPOE pg94.jpg
    image by Ron Christensen

    Markley Bros #360 Lakester in 1960 (Fred Larsen Collection).jpg
    image from the Fred & Mary Lou Larsen Collection
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2020
    Dog_Patch and Gabe Fernando like this.
  3. 1962:

    image from the George Callaway Collection

    "Diagonal Charlie"

    Charlie Markley & Tim Rochlitzer

    The Markley's Belly Tank appeared on the cover of the December '62 issue of HOT ROD Magazine:


    ... and the issue included this pic on page 52:

    ABOVE: Robert Markley's D lakester has 260-inch GMC-blown Chevy engine,
    ran 239 mph. Its driver is enclosed, sees strip through car's Plexiglas nose.

    NOTE: Chevy was a typo! (see below)
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2017
    Gabe Fernando likes this.
  4. 1963:

    Bob "Bones" Markley's "letter to the editor" appeared in the February '63 issue of HOT ROD Magazine:


    This pic of Charlie & the tank is from the November '63 issue of HOT ROD Magazine:


    The December '63 issue of HOT ROD Magazine included a feature article entitled "THE IMPOSSIBLE TANK - They say a tank can't go 300, but don't tell the Markley Brothers, They almost have!" (by LeRoi Smith) ... here's the pics from that article:


    Settled comfortably (?) in the spacious driving compartment, Charles Markley demonstrates handling position. Double roll
    hoops are 2 ½ - inch diameter. Just to Charlie's left shoulder is a fuel shut-off valve and an electric water pump switch.

    The cockpit can hardly be described as sumptuous, since it contains only the necessities for hair-raising rides just
    inches off the salt. An aircraft steering wheel has the mag kill button mounted on the right side, the brakes
    are actuated by the hand lever at right. Driver looks at course through roll bar hoop and top of steering wheel.

    A small hinged door allows entry to the cockpit, driver’s head pops through
    like a real tank handler when the machine is being wheeled into position.

    At speed, the only indication that there is a human at the controls of this missile is a knee barely visible in the
    side window. The special scoop shown in this picture was engineered for the car and used exclusively during the
    fast tours of Bonneville. Skimming along just 2 ½ inches above ground, the car turned over 280 mph.

    It takes lots of people to keep a racing car going, the crew for this one consisting of, from left to right,
    Bob Markley, Doug Smith, Al DeArmond, Charlie Markley, Bob Smith and Al Robie.
    Another member, Stu Davenport, was out surveying the salt or something when pic was taken.

    The entire running gear is fitted with roller bearings to reduce friction, Halibrand rear wheels equipped
    with 6.50 x 18 Firestone tires. The box at bottom rear of body is for quick-change clearance.

    The top part of the P38 belly gas tank separates in two pieces which are held to the bottom by Dzus fasteners. The
    wheelbase is exactly 100 inches, the rear thread is narrow 48 inches which Markley brothers feel helps in speed control.

    All plumbing in the car is braided stainless steel, fuel is carried in tank at right,
    routed through aircraft filter just behind rear end. Note quick-change mount.

    The 3-inch diameter tubing frame was bent to conform with the tank shape. Home made swing axle
    is made up of stock components, a Halibrand quick-change, and is controlled by Kurtis torsion bars.

    The close-up photo of the front end assembly below shows home made friction shocks in
    main frame rail ends, steering box with the direction reversed by turning shaft around.

    This is the impossible engine that has everyone mumbling, a '55 Plymouth destroked
    to 253.7 inches with Dodge heads. Much of the equipment was built by Charles
    and Bob Markley, such as blower manifold and bottom end bearing support.

    ... all five pages of the article:

    HRM Dec 63 pg32.jpg HRM Dec 63 pg33.jpg
    HRM Dec 63 pg34.jpg HRM Dec 63 pg35.jpg HRM Dec 63 pg96.jpg
    click thumbnails to enlarge

    ... and a (circa '63) pic culled from the Internet:

    Last edited: Jul 25, 2017
    402BOSSMAN and Gabe Fernando like this.

  5. 1964:

    image from page 45 of the November '64 issue of HOT ROD Magazine
    NOTE: Yet another
    HRM typo! (the Lakester ran in the "D" class ... not "B")


    In the Pits


    In line behind Mickey Thompson's Challenger I

    Pushing off
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2017
  6. A color photograph my father took @ Bonneville in 1971:

    1971 - #543 (by Bruce Olson).jpg
    Ernie Pereira of San Jose, CA now owned the Markley's belly tank ... sans the (D-class) Baby HEMI.

    Pereira had modified the tank to run as the #543 X-class Lakester ... and using a 292ci Jimmy 6 for motivation, Ernie set a new X/L record with a two-way average of 188.102 mph!

    NOTE: That's Bones Markley (standing on the left), Bob Smith (kneeling), Lee Riddle & Dick Collier (standing on the right).
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2017
  7. Here's the belly tank (now Pereira's #543 X/L) pushing off in 1969:

    1969 - #543 (by Gary Hartsock).jpg
    photo by Gary Hartsock

    ... and circa 1974:

    1974 - #543 in the pits (by Richard McFarland).jpg
    photo by Richard McFarland (@cheap-n-dirty)

    1974 - Ernie Pereira #543 X Lakester.jpg
    photographer unknown

    In 1977, the Markley's old belly tank ... running an Unblown, Nitro burning 302ci GMC Inline-6 (X/FL) ... got Ernie into the 2-Club:

    1977 - #543.jpg

    NOTE: This above image was "borrowed" from the Spring 2008 issue of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk "Beach News" newsletter:

    Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Employee Spotlight.jpg
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2017
  8. While at Speed Week 1990, I took these photographs of an amazingly accurate scale model of the Markley Bros belly tank:

    Model at 1990 Speed Week (1).jpg

    Model at 1990 Speed Week (2).jpg

    I later discovered that the model was built by Steve Catron ... and that it took home "Best of Show" honors at the 1990 GSL International Model Car Championship:

    1990 GSL Intl Model Car Champ Best of Show by Steve Catron.jpg
    Up to this point, top award contenders at GSL labored in well-known venues; from street rods to customs to replica
    stock, those topics were instantly recognized. Steve's entry was the first top GSL model to be a replica of a specific
    vehicle, and a famous one at that! Recognizing that there was no kit to base his entry upon, Steve's entry was the first
    mostly scratch built model to win Best of Show. Using a piece of desert wood for his base, Steve created an accurately-
    shaped buck and then vacuum-formed the body from styrene, and then fitted a flush clear canopy. Matched with
    an incredible array of authentic scratch built parts –all created to replicate the full scale pieces Steve's near fanatical
    attention to detail (from the firewall mounted water pump to the replicated Halibrand wheels) distinguish this
    model. In addition to the world-class precision of this outstanding model, its real contribution to the hobby may be
    the liberating effect it had on future contenders for the top GSL award: it proved that all subjects were fair game.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2017
  9. 1990 was also the year that Dennis Varni acquired the Markley's old belly tank.

    Already a member of the 2-Club*, Dennis had his sights set on breaking the 300 mph barrier ... so he teamed up with fellow B'ville racer Bud Barnett to prepare the famous Lakester to set just such a record.

    The Markley's old Belly Tank was completely "upgraded" to meet current safety standards (frame, larger side windows, fire bottles, chute, etc.) ... and modified to accommodate a ~650 horse GM V8 Indy race engine (prepared by Bud's brother, Cub Barnett).

    The Varni~Barnett #909 C Gas Lakester (C/GL):


    * NOTE: Dennis set a 1987 AA/GR record @ 222.783 mph in the Varni~Walsh~Walsh~Cusack #333 Deuce Roadster.
    Last edited: May 18, 2020
  10. Here are a couple of photos I shot @ the 1994 Goodguy’s West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton, CA:

    Aug 1994 @ GG WC Nats - 1.jpg

    Aug 1994 @ GG WC Nats - 2.jpg
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2017
  11. In 1995 (September 20-23), I attended the Utah Salt Flat Racing Association (USFRA) 9th Annual World of Speed (WoS) ... and crewed on the Salmen Racing #734 "$um Fun" AA/GR.

    Also entered in the '95 USFRA WoS event was the #909 C/GL ... with Bud Barnett getting some seat time in the Lakester ... and of course, I found some time (in between Frank Salmen's runs in the #734 roadster) to snap a few photographs of my favorite Belly Tank:

    Towed to the starting line

    Bud Barnett suiting up.

    Bud all strapped in ... NOTE: That's Bud's brother (and engine builder extraordinaire) Cub
    Barnett standing on the left side of the belly tank (in the white sweatshirt and white ball cap).

    At the starting line

    Unfortunately, the Lakester got airborne at over 200 mph, rolled, righted, spun and bounced for several hundred yards across the salt. ... Luckily, Bud escaped serious injury ... but the car was demolished:






    Within a year, the belly tank had been completely rebuilt ... and eventually made its return to the salt.
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2020
  12. Varni & Barnett continued to strive for that elusive 300 mph mark @ Bonneville ... Here are some (more recent) pics of the #909 belly tank ...

    ... 2003:

    Bonneville Speed Week 2003 (by Ky Michaelson).jpg
    image from the Ky Michaelson archives

    Varni Barnett 909 Oct 2003.jpg

    ... 2004:

    #909 Pits - 2004.jpg Dave Schaub & #909 in line -2004.jpg
    Dave Schaub in #909 cockpit - SW 2004.jpg
    photos from Dave Schaub (@Butcher Boy)

    ... 2006:

    #909 - 2006 (by John Nimphius) .jpg
    #909 - 2006.jpg
    #909 In Line - 2006.jpg
    #909 in Varni's Speed Nymph Garage - 2006.jpg

    ... "Hello Kitty" in the 2007 Speed Nymph Pits:

    rockey marino DSCN1841.jpg
    rockey marino DSCN1842.jpg
    rockey marino DSCN1843.jpg
    rockey marino DSCN1844.jpg
    photos by Rockey Marino (@Rusty Junk Ranch)

    ... and from 2008:

    #909 in Varni’s Speed Nymph Garage - Aug 2008 (by Dave Molloy).jpg
    photo by Dave Molloy (@A32Flathead)
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2018
  13. Here's some artwork of the Markley's Belly Tank ...

    ... a Gary Campesi (@GaryC.) illustration:

    Markley Bros Lakester (by Gary Campesi).jpg

    ... and a drawing by Cory Vaughn (@customcory):

    Markley Bros Tank (by Cory Vaughn).jpg

    Markley Bros Tank - Zoom (by Cory Vaughn).jpg
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2017
  14. I have a print of the art work cover for the '64 Bonneville program. The Markley tank is on it along with the Immerso streamliner, Karol Miller's Falcon,the Tero Corvette and a streamlined Thunderbird,"Hell's Angel".
  15. RichFox
    Joined: Dec 3, 2006
    Posts: 10,020

    Member Emeritus

    I am relooking at your dads picture from '71 and it seems clear that the air scoop has been moved over th acomadate the GMC six instead of centered as with the Dodge. Also the front axle has been moved fowared which I believe was done by Ernie. So I guess that means it must be the Markley crew watching over the old tank, now Ernies.
    HEMI32 likes this.
  16. coolstuff
    Joined: Oct 14, 2006
    Posts: 3,686

    from Bettendorf

    very cool thread - anyone else out there currently trying to get a belly tanker on the salt for 09? or '10?
  17. kriscad
    Joined: Jul 18, 2009
    Posts: 12

    from Nashville

    very cool post! thanks!
  18. Rem
    Joined: Mar 6, 2006
    Posts: 1,256


    Great thread, cool car. It looks like they had already moved the front axle forward (and swiched to a straight tube) in the November '64 HRM photo?
  19. Dynoroom
    Joined: Feb 26, 2008
    Posts: 539


    Here's the car in Jan. 2007 at Kirkham Motorsports in Provo Ut. They (the Kirkhams) build Replica Cobras in aluminum. (Do a google search to find out more on them) Dennis took the car to them to have the make duplicates. I'm not sure who wanted to do it (Varni or the Kirkhams) but they sure can get it done.






    In this last shot you can see some of the Cobra bodies in the background.


    Here's a little more of the Kirkhams handi-work...




    402BOSSMAN and HEMI32 like this.
  20. 1955hemi
    Joined: Apr 16, 2006
    Posts: 21


    Thanks for sharing the awesome photos of the Markley's and their tank. Great historical Bonneville documentation!
  21. The Markley's Belly Tank has always been one of my favorite bonneville racers. the performance of that baby hemi is just so impressive. Thanks for sharing.
    volvobrynk likes this.
  22. I was there. I saw the car run 280, and I still can't believe it went that fast! Maybe not the most awesome car to ever run on the salt, but certainly in the top 10. Thanks for posting you photo collection.
    volvobrynk likes this.
  23. Muttley
    Joined: Nov 30, 2003
    Posts: 18,465


    It looks like the car attempted suicide after being "upgraded".
  24. RichFox
    Joined: Dec 3, 2006
    Posts: 10,020

    Member Emeritus

    It may have been the Chevy small block.
  25. Rusty Junk Ranch
    Joined: Dec 13, 2006
    Posts: 777

    Rusty Junk Ranch

    Rumor has it ,that it is officially retired now! :cool:
  26. Michael LeFevers (@Dynoroom) - Thanks for posting those pics of #909 @ Kirkham Motorsports.

    @RichFox - I agree ... when you look at the 1971 & 1977 pics side by side, it's quite obvious that they are the same (rectangular opening) air scoops:

    air scoop 71 & 77.jpg

    I have updated post #6 accordingly.

    Thanks again for your help with the research for this thread.
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2017
    volvobrynk likes this.
  27. vntodd
    Joined: Jan 1, 2009
    Posts: 58



    I was just reading that article in the December '63 of Hot Rod yesterday. I even posted another article from the same issue just this morning in the Jim and Allison Lee dragster thread.
  28. This Speed Week 2005 pic appeared in the January '06 issue of Popular Mechanics:

    #909 Belly Tank at Speed Week '05 (from Popular Mechanix Jan '06).jpg
    C/GL (unblown gas lakester) Traveling in style in an '82 Cadillac funeral limo, Dennis
    Varni, from
    Monte Sereno, Ca, tows his racer across the Bonneville Salt Flats. The lakester's
    top speed in '05: 245 mph (the record, 272). "It's a rush," Varni says. "5 miles of just hummin'
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2017
  29. 296ardun
    Joined: Feb 11, 2009
    Posts: 4,460


    Thanks for taking the time to post this. I never saw the Markley tank run, but its engineering was incredible. I read somewhere that the Markley brothers were influenced in their craftsmanship by another Portola Valley resident, the late Bob Herda. Herda was an aircraft engineer who built a beautifully engineered streamliner with a blown Chrysler, which I did see at Bonneville in '59. Sadly he later lost his life in the car.
  30. Here's a circa 2005 pic of Dennis Varni & Dennis Dobbeck with the #909 belly tank:

    Dennis Varni & Dennis Dobbeck with #909 Lakester (2005).jpg
    image from the Ky Michaelson archives
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2017

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