WENDOVER, Utah - GM Performance Division's Ecotec Lakester creates a sensation whether it's parked in the pits or streaking across the Bonneville Salt Flats. This stunning vehicle, the result of collaboration between GM Performance Division, GM Design and the So-Cal Speed Shop, is a record-setting reincarnation of the famous So-Cal Speed Shop Lakester driven by So-Cal Speed Shop founder Alex Xydias more than 50 years ago.

In October 2004, GM Performance Division Bonneville program manager Mark Dickens piloted the Ecotec Lakester to a 179.381-mph speed record in the G/Blown Gas Lakester class. Now with a more powerful Ecotec engine and a refined aerodynamic package, journalist Don Sherman will attempt to raise the bar even higher.

The Ecotec Lakester is the heir to a long hot rodding tradition. Pioneer speed racers recognized the aerodynamic advantages of the teardrop-shaped auxiliary fuel tanks installed on World War II fighter planes. These war surplus tanks were available at bargain prices, and thus was born the belly tank lakester - one of the most innovative designs in American motorsports. With an engine and driver stuffed inside the tight confines of a salvaged fuel tank, the original belly tank lakester resembled a rolling bomb. This radical concept fueled a frenzy of record setting as hot rodders harnessed all of the horsepower that the burgeoning high-performance industry could create.

GM Performance Division is returning to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2005 with a second-generation Ecotec Lakester that is more purposeful and more potent than its predecessors. Affectionately termed simply "the Tank" by its creators, this thoroughly original design blends Bonneville tradition with 21st-century technology. A 312-horsepower supercharged engine based on an Ecotec crate motor from the GM Performance Parts catalog powers the reborn belly tank.

"Last year the Ecotec Lakester's crate engine was straight out of the catalog," said GM Performance Division engineer Jim Minneker. "This year's engine is the next step. We're demonstrating the performance of the Ecotec with some simple performance enhancements. We're using the Ecotec Lakester as a testbed for new parts that we intend to offer to our customers through GM Performance Parts."

The first version of the Ecotec Lakester that was unveiled in 2003 had a transverse-mounted Ecotec engine that mimicked the orientation in GM's front-wheel drive sport compacts. Now as the Ecotec engine is introduced in other GM platforms, the options are expanding.

"The Ecotec engine now powers the new rear-wheel drive Pontiac Solstice roadster," said GM Performance Division Executive Director Mark Reuss. "The Solstice has a longitudinal engine, and that's the design we adopted for the second-generation Ecotec Lakester. We're demonstrating the versatility of the Ecotec engine in both front-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive applications."

Along with the change in engine orientation came a change in philosophy.

"As the Tank has evolved, it has gone from a show car to a race car," said So-Cal Speed Shop president Pete Chapouris. "In the first design, the engine was mounted transversely as it is in a front-wheel drive chassis. That approach served its purpose and people could see that the Tank had a production Ecotec engine. It wasn't the most efficient aerodynamic design, however. When we decided to get serious, we put the motor in a longitudinal position and improved the aerodynamics significantly."

Frank Saucedo, director of design for the GM Advanced Studio in North Hollywood, Calif., echoed Chapouris' sentiments: "The first Tank was more of a concept car than a race car," he said. "In this version, design is a little less important than performance. We minimized anything that would disturb the air. The Tank still has that distinctive aero shape, but with less flash and more substance."

Aerodynamic enhancements could help the Ecotec Lakester break through the 200-mph barrier this time.

"We're trying to stay true to the belly tank tradition even though this body has the disadvantage of a larger frontal area than other cars," Dickens noted. "The question was, how could we optimize this traditional shape to produce the least aerodynamic drag and the most stable platform? We undertook a scale model wind tunnel test program to learn the answer.

"Since the Ecotec Lakester has open wheels and low ground clearance, we needed to do our testing in a wind tunnel with a moving ground plane to really understand the airflow underneath the car and through the rear diffuser," he explained. "Working with GM Racing aerodynamicist Dwight Woodbridge, we evaluated different diffuser designs, ride heights and rake in a wind tunnel in Indianapolis. We downsized the diameter of the tires and wheels, and changed the shape of the control arms. In the end, we had an aero package that reduced drag and improved high-speed stability."

The Tank's running gear complements this take-no-prisoners approach. A road racing transaxle transfers the Ecotec's torque to the rear wheels. The front and rear suspensions are derived from a Formula Continental open-wheel race car, with disc brakes at all four corners. A radiator, engine coolant tank and fuel cell are tightly packed beneath its fiberglass skin.

The chassis is constructed from 1.75-inch diameter steel tubing with a 0120-inch wall thickness. The two-piece chassis can be split behind the cockpit to allow the engine, transmission and rear axle to be serviced as a single unit. The engine can also be removed by sliding it forward in the chassis without disturbing the gearbox and suspension.

"It's like building a ship inside a bottle," said Chapouris.

While the lakester design is a Bonneville tradition, the GM Advanced Studio employed high-tech tools, processes and materials to update this classic shape.

"We had a mathematical model of the previous design, and we were able to apply that to the new car," Saucedo said. "The chassis was designed in Detroit, the body was designed in California, and the car was constructed at So-Cal Speed Shop. We could all work together in real time because of the math-based engineering process. This dramatically shortened the development time."

Saucedo was gratified by the acclaim given the Ecotec Lakester from veteran Bonneville racers.

"People become part of the Bonneville culture for life," he said. "The racers appreciated what we were trying to accomplish, and the automotive design community got it as well. The project is a true collaboration between GM Performance Division, GM Design and So-Cal Speed Shop. I think each group learns from its involvement, and the mixture of cultures produces a really neat product."

If there is such a thing as reincarnation, the soul of the original So-Cal belly tank has surely been reborn in GM Performance Division's record-setting Ecotec Lakester.

General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), the world's largest automaker, has been the global industry sales leader since 1931. Founded in 1908, GM today employs about 317,000 people around the world. It has manufacturing operations in 32 countries and its vehicles are sold in 200 countries. In 2004, GM sold nearly 9 million cars and trucks globally, up 4 percent and the second-highest total in the company's history. GM's global headquarters are at the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit. More information on GM can be found at

Ecotec Lakester Specifications

Body/chassis structure:

tube structure

Body material:

carbon fiber/fiberglass

Chassis material:

DOM steel


independent front and rear


SLA pushrod


SLA pushrod


steel, 15 x 5 inches

Tire size



28 x 4.5 x 15 inches


28 x 4.5 x 15 inches

Tire brand:

Goodyear Racing Land Speed


disc with single piston




modified Ecotec 2.0L I-4 supercharged crate motor, PN 12499466

Engine displacement (cu. in / cc):

122 / 1998

Horsepower maximum (hp / kw):

312 / 233

Torque maximum (lb-ft / Nm)

300 / 415


4-speed manual



Height (in / mm):

40.25 / 1022.5 (excluding fin)

Length (in / mm):

164.0 / 4167

Width (in / mm):

34.0 / 863.6

Wheelbase (in / mm):

118.4 / 3007.7



Front/rear (in / mm):

61.9 / 1572.3 front; 60.0 / 1524 rear

Weight (lbs / kg):

1500 / 680