After almost 60 years, amazing new photos of the Indian-powered "Belly Tanker" surface at Wheels Through Time.
About two weeks ago, I got a call from a man named Robert Ruzella from Ventura, California. Robert was the builder of the "Belly Tanker" and recently saw the episode of American Pickers where Mike and Frank sold the machine to Wheels Through Time, whereupon he decided to give us a ring and share a little bit of history.
Robert is now in his 80s, and had a wealth of information about the early days of Hot Rodding in Southern California. He was able to share most of the machines story, including his memories of winning the first hot rod show it ever entered in 1953. He even mentioned that he had the original trophy he won from that event. In total, we must have spent 30 or 45 minutes chatting about not only the belly tanker, but cars and bikes general. It was more than a pleasure to talk with him, and I learned quite a bit from our conversation.
About a week later, UPS walked in the front door with a surprise package from Ventura. Upon tearing into the box, I found an envelope with several photos and a letter from Mr. Ruzella himself, expressing how surprised he was to learn the old "Belly Tanker" is still running and being well cared for.
Mr. Ruzella had some interesting commentary about the car, including a sentiment assuredly felt by anyone who has driven it….. "By now you know that you don’t just get into the car and drive it….You wear it!" This couldn’t be any closer to the truth. The car is so perfectly shaped, it feels like you’re actually a part of it (or its a part of you!) when you drive it down the road.
Upon digging a little deeper into the package, I was astounded at what I found. Not only did he share these amazing photos, he sent the very trophy he won in 1953 as a donation!
The trophy, which stands approximately 18-inches tall, reads: 1953 Hot Rod & Motorsports Show. Special Class — 1st Place. Motor World Magazine." It sits in amazing condition…its only flaw are that the characters arms were broken during a Souther California earthquake in the 1980s.
Thank you Mr. Ruzella. We are so much more than honored by your donation. Now, The history of the Belly Tanker is more complete than ever, and will be shared with our visitors for years to come!
Notice that the trophy can be seen in each of Mr. Ruzella’s photos.
We also did our best to recreate the photo sent to us by Mr. Ruzella. (except with Dale in the driver seat!)