When it comes to upgrading your car’s fuel system or setting up a new system for your latest project we often give very little thought to our fuel tank. We may add the latest pumps, braided lines, fittings and filters throughout our fuel system but the tank is often forgotten and neglected.
Whether you’re stepping up horsepower, converting to fuel injection, have specific custom chassis or other design needs or just need to get away from a rusty old tank, a new tank is probably the best solution for your project.
While fuel cells make sense for race cars, tanks have come a long way in their versatility, design and available custom features, making them ideal for most applications both custom and street.
We got together with the folks at Rick’s Hot Rods to check out how they build their custom stainless tanks as part of the Rick’s Stainless Tanks product line. This Texas-based family owned company has been building stainless steel fuel tanks here in the USA since 2001.
Rick’s offers more than just one type of tank with an ever growing line of line of production tanks they may already have a product that’s right for your particular needs.
All of Rick’s tanks are:
- 100% Stainless steel, built in the USA with USA sourced materials.
- Unique baffling system to minimize fuel slosh.
- Baffling runs front to rear and side to side.
- Tank centers are carved out using CNC machine and are application specific (only company in the industry to do this).
- CNC Machine Formed and TIG Welded
- Unique fuel chamber keeps fuel at the pump and minimizing starvation, lean conditions and stalling.
- Brushed finish to allow for easy upkeep and lasting appearance.
- Stainless steel mounting straps included.
- Customizing available to meet customer needs for horsepower, fitment, capacity and more.
- Five year warranty on workmanship.
Typically in about 90 days, Rick’s can have something ready for market from start to finish.
When demand is great enough for a certain product, Rick’s will create a prototype for a new direct fit tank for that application. “We start with a prototype, then we build a tank, get a vehicle in and test fit and see where the challenges begin, and then we figure out how to outfit the tank,” Says Hector Guerrero of Rick’s Hot Rods. These tanks are designed, built and test fitted on an actual car.
This type of research and development ensures their customers are not getting a cheaply constructed “made in (insert third world sweatshop country here)” tank from stamped steel but a product that’s of extremely high quality and engineered to fit the car exactly. While some R&D programs can take years to develop a new product with their extensive experience in tank design and building Hector tells us “Typically, in about 90 days, we can have something ready for market.”
Current production tank shells however are already tack welded and waiting on the shelf. Once a certain number of orders for a specific production tank is reached a builder will assemble four to five of these tanks step by step and side by side simultaneously. This process streamlines assembly and reduces labor hours keeping costs to a minimum while keeping quality high.
A Rick’s tank is assembled and checked by hand; The same builder is assembling the tank from the time the shell hits the build bench until its pressure tested, outfitted with fuel system components and boxed for shipment.
If your application requires more than what the basic production tank is designed for Rick’s can help you there as well. Production tanks can be customized to allow for higher output fuel pumps, different fitting or bung sizes and even more capacity. “A very common request we get is for additional capacity,” says Gurrero. This is another way that keeping everything in house allows Rick’s to meet their customer’s needs directly.
As the trend towards engine swaps, extreme customization and custom built chassis as well as racing applications continues to evolve, so do the needs of enthusiasts. Potential hurdles during a build can run from the need for increased capacity or better exhaust clearance, to fitting the most capacity in between custom frame rails, while still supporting high horsepower output.
In the past you might have been tempted to build your own tank or even hack up an existing one. This type of trial and error process can be time consuming, expensive, stressful and frustrating (and most often, unsafe). The truth is if you’re trying to do this on your own in your garage you’re going to spend weeks on something that may or may not work when installed, and even if it fits you’ll spend more time worrying about how safe is it and will it work properly for the life of the car.
Custom Design Process
Utilizing CAD technology while working closely with their customers Rick’s can build a custom tank for virtually any application. The process begins with a phone call to their shop. Hector told us “The first questions we usually ask is; how much horsepower is the car going to make?” This will determine a lot of things about the engine’s needs as far as fuel system.
The next question is typically; what’s the most room you can allow? Regarding this part of the build process Gurrero said “A very common scenario is people want a very shallow tank and they still want a pump installed in it, and that’s not impossible. You’ve got a height of 7 inches minimum that’s required for installing a pump.” The question and answer process can go back and forth over the course of several phone calls or emails as the staff at Rick’s helps to determine what best fits a customer’s specific application and needs.
Customers are then asked to submit a drawing of what the tank should look like (similar to the one above which will show unusual dimensions, curves, etc.) From here there are more conversations that occur between the customer and the staff at Rick’s.
Discussions will range from adjusting the shape and dimensions of the tank as needed, to what fuel system components are necessary. This is a process where the staff at Rick’s is working to not only satisfy the customer but to make sure they meet their needs precisely “We do our best to not only sell you our product but to provide you what’s going to be best for you,” Gurrero said.
Once they’re beyond the drawing a customer will give a deposit and the staff at Rick’s will go to work on creating a CAD rendering of the tank which will be the guide to building it. The customer is then asked to review the CAD rendering and give it final approval before any stainless steel is ever cut or welded for their application. Depending on the needs of the customer it will typically take at least four weeks to complete a custom order.
We do our best not to just sell a product but to provide the customer what’s going to work best for their specific application.
Constructing the tank begins by creating a tank body based on the specifications outlined during the build process. Custom tanks are then assembled in a manner similar to a typical production tank.
Although a custom tank is exactly that, it’s custom. Where a typical production tank that you might order through a mail order catalog or Rick’s authorized retailer might have six to eight hours total build time in it, a custom order can easily have twelve hours or more involved in just the build process.
Whether the customer is building a trailer queen that might never see more power than is needed to cruise around a car show parking lot or a 2,500 hp track beast blazing the quarter mile–and everything in between–Rick’s works directly with the customer from start to finish. Choosing the best fuel system components to suit their needs in terms of pumps, fitting or bung sizes on their tanks and sending units, etc. Gurrero Says, “If a car is just doing car shows, there’s no point in spending the money on an exotic fuel system, because it’s never going to be used. The flip side is you don’t want to over fuel an anemic engine because that does no one any good.”
Fuel pump options can range from simple sumps in the tank for use with external pumps to in-tank systems that use high end racing pumps like the Aeromotive A1000. Base fuel-injected production tanks use an AC Delco pump good for about 450 horsepower, however as Guerro told us they found in the case of LS swaps that once owners start adding more horsepower the standard pump could no longer keep up with demand.
If an Aeromotive pump is overkill and the standard AC Delco is not enough a Walboro 255 might be the perfect answer. That’s why dealing with professionals who know their craft, inside and out truly makes all the difference in the world.
Rick’s recently began working with ISPRO out of Portland, to acquire custom built fuel sending units. After years of dealing with other products that weren’t always up to the task or offered less than ideal results in terms of accuracy and reliability. ISPRO can build a sending unit to the company’s specifications for almost any application. According to Guerro, one of the biggest initial customer issues with custom tanks in the past had been the sending units. “We tried different brands and they yield the same results” those same results were inconsistent or unreliable readings for the customers due to the complexity of the tanks in both custom and production forms. Using the ISPRO tubular style sending unit has virtually eliminated sending unit problems across the board.
As many of us have learned along the way when working on or customizing something to fit our specific need. When adapting parts for a build there is very little that is often truly bolt-on. That’s why Rick’s is here to help; working closely with the customer to design and build a tank to their exact specifications and by utilizing their extensive experience in tank design and building, if a problem should arise they can solve it quickly. This dedication to customer service is something Gurrero assured us the staff at Rick’s takes very seriously. “If we run into a glitch of any sort we’re immediately back on the phone with the customer talking to them about what presented a challenge and what we’re proposing to do to fix it and get things up and running.”
The Modern Era
Over a decade ago General Motors and Ford both began utilizing returnless fuel systems. This at first baffled some in the aftermarket. Many enthusiasts and builders to this day switch to a return style system when horsepower levels begin climbing.
Returnless systems also complicated performing the traditional donor swaps that have been popular for years. These types of systems are a bit more complex and required, in many cases, the builder to find a way to utilize the fuel tank from the donor car. Fitting a tank from a Corvette into an early Camaro may not be feasible, just as the tank from a later model Mustang might not fit an early model. Rick’s was able to come up with a solution for this problem as well.
During 2010 the staff at Rick’s got together with Vaporworks to develop their Vaporworks tank. This system is 100% compatible with late model returnless style fuel systems utilizing the OE fuel pickup and pump modules. This allows those running high output cars with returnless fuel systems to continue doing so even as horsepower levels climb. Rick’s can build a Vaporworks tank for a customer to fit their car, utilize the factory connections, mounting points and fuel lines and eliminate the need for adding additional regulators and return lines.
These tanks are street and race proven and feature the same type of baffle systems and quality construction that the company is known for. Keeping the stock style fuel system instead of going to a return style also eliminates the additional weight of more fuel lines and hardware and improves safety by retaining the single line system, greatly reducing the risk of leaks.
Types of Tanks And Their Uses
- Muscle Car and Carbureted: Ideal for restorations or cars running mechanical fuel pumps or external electric pumps.
- Fuel Injected: For engine swaps and fuel injection upgrades, uses AC Delco Pump part#: EP381, available from all GM dealers and many parts houses, good for 450 HP, more fuel system options available for higher output applications.
- Sumped Tanks: For old school or racing type fuel systems utilizing an external pump that pushes fuel rather than siphons it. Sump dimensions are 10Lx7Wx3D.
- VaporWorks: Designed to work with OE or OE type returnless fuel systems. Retains the single line design of a returnless system. Available for direct fit OE type replacement or custom applications.
- Full Custom: Built through a customer involved design process to the same high standards as a production tank. Custom fuel system is built to fit the tank and the customer’s needs.