34 ENGINES

I just went out in the shop and counted for myself.

Thirty-four.

There are thirty four engines presently taking up just about every spare square foot of the race car shop floor here at Banks.  The crew has been pulling them out of storage for a couple of days now in preparation for a new museum exhibit that opens in Pomona on December 3rd.

I guess that I should have said, “Our exhibit,” because the show at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum is actually entitled:  “Banks Power, The First 50 Years.”

Now you know the reason for all the engines.  Going back at least forty of Gale Banks’ 50 in the business, they are the living lexicon of Banks Power.

From the latest 1200+ horsepower twin-turbo diesel dragster engines to an early marine engine which was so good that it got itself legislated out of competition,  they’re all here, each representing the Banks heritage and that well documented corporate credo to do it better every time.

a race shop full of enignes

There’s the engine that put the Banks Dodge  Dakota in the FIA world record book as the fastest-ever diesel pickup through the traps in a two-way average.  There’s a tiny Buick V-6 engine that, with Banks turbocharging, started a whole line of production super cars and racecar derivatives and that even powered Indy Cars.  There are a couple of early attempts on diesel design that, in the day, were considered radical departures from the norm.

All will be cleaned up, checked over, and shipped across town Monday to take their places of honor on the floor at the museum.

New entries in the engine field include Banks’ long-awaited and much anticipated return to the waterways with its Duramax-based Marine engine. Looking every bit the part, the powerful twin-turbo diesel V-8 “wet workhorse” is almost as stylish as it is powerful.  Back now from “touring” major boat shows around the country the prototype is all set to turn the heads of fans in whole new setting.

And then there are the oddities, an early GM diesel V-8 with tall foot and a half intake runners that must have made a whole lot of power way down low in the rev band, and the half dummy/half real engine built for display on the hyper-exotic, one-off Arex rear engine sportscar.  Its block and heads are real but the space-age looking water-to-air intercooler that dominates the complete top of the engine is all styrofoam and dynoc.

There are 454’s, 390’s, Fords, Chevys, Dodge/Cummins and other engine brands on.  The eldest among them painted a bright blue and the later ones painted “Banks Red”.  Here’s an insiders’ tip:  anything painted blue was built before the turn of the century (2000)  and the “red engines” have all come to life thereafter.

For the historians, Banks did, very early-on, paint many customer engines a bright yellow.   However, all of those examples were repainted during the Banks “blue period” and appear that way today.

The most interesting thing about having almost 40 years of Banks Engineering on the hoof and under one roof has been the reaction of the employees.  Break and lunch hours have been strolls through a time tunnel that extends back in many cases to before some of the young engineers, designers, and technicians were born.  There’s been many a curious look and even more questions for some of the longer-serving employees.  The development and evolution that still goes on today can be seen in these historically significant reminders of the company’s longevity.

When something really needs some historic perspective out in the shop the go-to guy is Bob Robe, who last year celebrated 30 years with Banks.  Robe has had a hand in every engine designed and produced by Banks since 1977.   He also has a multi-megabyte storage unit safely ensconced in his head where he has faithfully filed and cataloged every bit of information about each of these mills.

Bob, who is generally a very popular guy, anyway is now even more revered by the staff.   “Yeah, we were trying for (this).  But we found out more about (that) … and then we applied it to (something different),”  he explains.

Robe understands the relationship pure research, running for records (he’s been in on many of them), and outstanding everyday product effectiveness, and overall quality.  He wears a few hats (chief designer, fabricator, occasional crew member) and wears them all quite well.

All of this “Banks’ Biggest Hits” collection (and more!) will be on view at one time at the museum during the multi-month exhibition.  Some of the engines will be on leave from “active-duty” (examples of the latest Banks engine mods for trucks and motorhomes) and will be rotated out for trade shows.  The good news is that they’ll be replaced by other examples of Banks Power, so multiple trips to the NHRA museum should yield different looks at this fascinating motor-lineage.

Of course, there’ll also be complete Banks racing machines (record-setters all including three red Banks Sidewinder pickups built for three distinctly different  purposes: Drag Strip, Salt Flats, and Road Racing).

There’ll be an “illustrated” time line tracing the company history back its first 50 years, and memorabilia ranging from trophies to intake manifolds, and from turbochargers to wooden bucks for parts casting.  Hundreds of other “trick” parts and pieces that have been part of the long high performance road that Banks’ has been on will be on view as well.

This will be the first time that Banks has ever been so honored by a museum.  In Banks’ own words:  “We’ve been on hundreds of magazine covers over the years.  (Visitors will see a number of blown-up copies at the museum.)  But the real thrill is having the NHRA Museum ask us to be on exhibit celebrating our ‘first’ 50 years in the business,”  said Banks.  I hope that everyone who can, will get by the museum while our show is there,  it’s truly one of the best motorsports museums in the country and we just could not be more proud of our participation there.”

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