Banks Sidewinder: The World's Fastest Pickup!
By: Michael Levine Posted: 02-01-03 00:00
© 2003

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Sidewinders are well known for their unique form of locomotion. These venomous predators travel quickly and efficiently over the loose surfaces of the desert southwest’s flatlands across a range that extends from California to Nevada and down through Arizona into Mexico. But there’s one very special sidewinder that has found a way to thrive in Utah. Its habitat is the salt flats of Bonneville where it’s been clocked moving at speeds in excess of 200 mph! It doesn’t live on kangaroo rats or lizards, it thrives on diesel fuel. There isn’t a serpent on Earth that’s tougher than Banks Engineering’s Project Sidewinder, the fastest pickup truck in the world.

Banks Engineering was started in the late fifties by legendary racer and powertrain engineer Gale Banks. The Azusa, California based company has made it reputation as a premier manufacturer of power-enhancement products for gasoline and diesel trucks by building race proven drivetrain components and record-breaking vehicles.

In 1990 Banks Engineering helped GMC Truck Motorsports set a world land-speed record in the Syclone LSR at 204-mph in the flying mile. Banks was responsible for boring out the Syclone’s naturally aspirated gasoline engine from 4.3 to 5.0-liters, making it capable of producing nearly 550 horsepower and 412 lb-ft of torque. The Syclone SLR even hit 210-mph during one trial but was unable to repeat at the higher number in two back-to-back, opposite direction runs to officially set the record.

For over a decade the Syclone and Bank’s record would stand until Ford Motor Company broke the record with its Rocket Ranger in 2001. The Ranger ran the flying mile at the Bonneville Salt Flats at 205-mph with a nearly 800 horsepower Winston Cup-style powerplant engineered by Roush Industries.

Gale Banks doesn’t like to lose. In response to the capture of the land speed record by Ford and Roush, Banks Engineering spent well over a $1 million dollars in time and money to bring the title back home. The 210-mph mark, which was narrowly missed back in 1990, became Gale Banks’ holy grail in his quest to take a pickup faster than any pickup had gone before. And not only would the truck break the record, Banks would do it in cooperation with Cummins engines using a turbo diesel to dispel the myth that diesel engine are underpowered oil burners not capable of serious performance.

The truck chosen for the attempt was a Dodge Dakota. According to Richard Shahoian, marketing manager at Banks Engineering, “We wanted to use a sport truck and the Dakota offered the aerodynamics we were looking for. We also wanted to work with Cummins to make a statement that diesel engines are the future and this is how we do our R&D.”

The Dakota was extensively modified. Cummins supplied a 2003 5.9-liter turbo diesel I6 originally rated at 393-hp but later dyno tested after the Banks engineering work at 735 hp and more than 1300 ft.-lb. of torque! Shahoian said, “In order to accommodate the straight six the Dakota’s firewall was moved back about 18-inches.” A variable geometry turbocharger (VGT) was used for maximum power during Bonneville speed record runs. The variable geometry of the turbo allows rapid changes in boost pressure virtually eliminating turbo lag and improving power, fuel economy and noise levels. A water tank in the bed cools the turbocharger’s intercooler and helps balance weight at 55% up front and 45% in the rear. New Venture Gear kicked in a 6-speed manual transmission taken from a Dodge Ram and Inland Empire Driveline supplied a 4-inch aluminum, ¼-inch thick custom driveshaft similar to those built for motorhomes to handle all of the torque. Off-the-shelf Speedway tires with special belts are rated at 300-mph.

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