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With just a Harley V-twin and some fiberglass, Bill Burke’s Super Shaker was good for 150 MPH

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photos courtesy Mecum Auctions.

To many, land-speed racing is an open-ended license to innovate and push the bounds in the pursuit of speed. Bill Burke took that freedom to heart over a multi-decade land-speed racing career in which he pioneered go-fast methods on a number of cars, including the 150 MPH Super Shaker that will head to auction this spring.

While other racers pursued records with bigger and more powerful engines, Burke took a “do more with less” approach that relied heavily  on streamlining. Perhaps his most well-known innovation, the belly tanker, came from his observation that the long-range fuel tanks used for aircraft during World War II would make for excellent streamliner bodies.

His first post-war racers thus used P-51 and P-38 drop tanks wrapped around traditional hot rod chassis powered by flathead Ford V-8s. They ran well – the larger of the belly tank racers, Sweet 16, ran on the cover of Hot Rod magazine captioned as the “World’s Fastest Hot Rod,” and Burke began a small business building belly tank streamliners for other racers – but Burke felt he could do better.

To begin with, the drop tank bodies didn’t cover the streamliners’ wheels and axles, so in 1952, just a few years after he debuted his belly tankers, he decided to experiment with a relatively new material, fiberglass. He’d build a low-slung lightweight body that covered the entire chassis, wheels and all, and he’d power it with a Harley-Davidson V-twin engine.

Burke’s first fiberglass streamliner went on to set a Class O record at 136 MPH, but perhaps more importantly it provided Burke with the knowledge he later used to splash a fiberglass mold off his boss’s Cisitalia and then go into business selling replicas under the Allied name.

A few years later, Burke decided to splash another fiberglass mold off an exotic car, this one likely taken from the 1956 Cooper Sprint mid-engine monoposto streamliner. Like his earlier Class O streamliner, this one relied on another Harley-Davidson V-twin, a 90-cubic-inch knucklehead built by Harley racer C.B. Clausen, for power and on a handbuilt tube-frame chassis with an 84-inch wheelbase. However, Burke made this second fiberglass streamliner much smaller – about 600 pounds versus its predecessor’s 740 pounds – by using the rear axle from a Harley-Davidson Servicar and the front suspension from a Ford Anglia.

The Super Shaker, as Burke dubbed it, debuted at Bonneville in August 1959. Burke had his sights set on the F Streamliner class record, which then stood at 136.90 MPH, and the Super Shaker seemed set to take that record with a 151.38 MPH run. A scuffed piston reportedly kept him from backing up his run, however, and while the Super Shaker earned plenty of media coverage over the following year, Burke decided not to run it again.

Instead, Burke – who had seen the potential for closed cars after he pushed one of his Allieds to a 167 MPH record- decided to focus his efforts on yet another streamliner, this one fully enclosed and incorporating a few of the Super Shaker’s design elements. Burke dubbed that one the Pumpkin Seed and in 1960 earned his 200 MPH Club membership with a 205 MPH record in Class D.

The Super Shaker hung around Burke’s shop until sometime in the late Sixties, when he sold it to racing safety pioneer Jim Deist. Deist, according to Mecum’s description of the car, wanted to convert the Super Shaker to jet power, so he sent it to Fred Sibley, who held on to it, unconverted, until 2001.

Subsequent owner Jerry Baker of Indianapolis then began a restoration of the Super Shaker in 2004 using the streamliner’s original fiberglass body, the original tube chassis, and the original wheels and tires. Since the completion of the restoration in 2008, the Super Shaker has gone on display at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California.

The Super Shaker will cross the block as part of Mecum’s Phoenix auction, which is scheduled to take place March 14-16. For more information, visit Mecum.com.