Imagine driving a 1,100hp, twin-turbo sport truck with 1,400 lb-ft of frame-twisting torque-and not just in a blinding blast through the quarter-mile, but on a cross-country run. This was no feverish dream, but one hell of an adrenaline-pumping ride for two incredible days. It all took place last spring after an invite from Gale Banks Engineering to join Hot Rod magazine's Power Tour 2005. This event has been held once a year since 1995, crisscrossing the United States. Our run started in Milwaukee and ended eight days and 1,500 miles later in Kissimmee, Florida. More than 3,000 hot rods started the tour, but about 4,000 ended up in Kissimmee.
The Banks wild bunch included five extremely cool rides in the tour, starting with three new Sidewinder All-Terrain diesel trucks (one each from Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet), all outfitted with a Banks Big Hoss performance package, among other goodies. Also in the convoy was the world record-breaking, Cummins-powered Dodge Dakota (222 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats). And there was the sleeper of the bunch, the one they called the "Rat Rod," or "Shop Truck." This is the tale of the Rat Rod.
Armed with a twin-turbo small-block, the '90 Chevrolet standard-cab shortbed SS was slammed and primered on the hood and tailgate (Banks would later add glossy paint, custom lettering, red rims, and baby moons). Most of the hot rods on the tour had a lot more flash, with testosterone showing from bumper to bumper, but not the Rat Rod. This one had its hormones hidden under the hood. Every morning, the Banks gang met in the lobby of the hotel for a drivers meeting and asked us which vehicle we would like to drive each day. We must've picked the right straw, because for two days we drove the most awesome sport truck anyone could ever want.
The trip included running on the back roads of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee; through the lush, green, Smoky Mountains; along winding rivers; and skirting the most beautiful valleys one could imagine. Don't tell anybody, but more than a few times the Rat Rod exceeded the century mark. The Banks bomber wasn't all about straight-line speed since it handled the curves of those back roads as if it was on a computerized track. The only thing left is to figure out how to get one of these bad boys for ourselves-which poses a couple of questions: How did Gale Banks create this machine and what would it take to duplicate it?
First things first: Banks started with a bone-stock, 454ci SS. Then, he yanked out the 454 and replaced it with a small-block crate motor from GM's racing division. He then bolted on a brace of turbos and a high-pressure fuel injection system. This infusion of power created a problem for the stock frame, twisting it like a pretzel behind the cab on its first outing. Dealing with that sort of problem is nothing new to Gale Banks, who has made a reputation over the years by turbocharging engines. Back in the '60s and '70s he built turbocharged marine engines, making ungodly amounts of horsepower. At that same time, he was also twin-turbo-charging the new Camaros and Firebirds. His company has been on the cutting edge of the racing scene since the late-'50s.