Bell & Ross channels the heyday of American Land Speed Record racing.
Looking for a retro-style timepiece with a killer backstory? Look no further than the Bell & Ross Vintage Bellytanker collection, inspired by early Land Speed Record racecars, which invaded dry lake beds and salt flats during the 1940s and ’50s. Like hot rods, bellytankers were highly customized in nature and home-brew in spirit. Unlike hot rods, they weren’t recognizable as Mercurys or Chevrolets; Land Speed Record car bodies were streamlined fabrications, often utilizing World War II fighter plane emergency drop tanks—“belly tanks,” in military parlance.
Bill Burke, a former Coast Guardsman, is widely credited with building the first bellytanker, repurposing a P-51 Mustang spare that he purchased for $35. The resulting creation, once equipped with a hopped-up V8 engine, was capable of reaching 130 mph. (For reference, most family sedans of the era struggled to hit 70 mph.) But Burke soon realized the 165-gallon tank couldn’t accommodate a full-size driver seat. So he welded in a bicycle seat.
Repeat: These guys went 130 mph, inside a scrapped fuel tank, sitting on a bicycle seat.
Wherever there’s history, airplanes, and lunatic speeds, Bell & Ross is sure to be nearby. The company honors Burke and his breed of hot-rodder with Bellytanker editions of two pieces from the Vintage collection, the time-and-date BR V1-92 and the BR V1-94 chronograph. The former offers a simpler, plain-bezel look and smaller 38.5 mm size, while the latter measures 41 mm and features a fixed-position tachymeter.
Both employ an automatic mechanical movement, boast a satin-steel-polished case and gorgeous gilt metallic copper dial, offer 100m water resistance, and feature a too-cool custom casebook design. Unsurprisingly, these Bellytanker watches are a limited-run proposition. Only 1000 will be made in total—500 of the BR V1-92 and 500 of the BR V1-94.
Bell & Ross BR V1-92 Bellytanker ($2,300) and BR V2-94 Bellytanker ($4,400 – $4,700); bellross.com