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Start thinking about high performance and the name Gale Banks usually isn’t far behind. While he may be known for powering drag trucks – his diesel-powered Sidewinder Chevy S-10 recently clocked 7.72 seconds at 179.21 mph at the Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, California this Spring – Banks was providing go-fast parts for off-roaders and dune buggy fanatics back in the late Sixties.

Anybody who’s crept over rocks, skimmed washboard roads, powered through slime or shale on a steep trail or towed their rigs up and over mountain passes understands that high speed is just one element of a high-performance engine. Sure, high performance can scream, but it also purrs at maximum efficiency. Gale Banks Engineering has mastered both the scream and the purr.

The Banks saga started in Lynwood, part of south central Los Angeles, back in the Fifties. A then 12-year old Gale began souping up his first car, his Mom’s 1931 Model A. The fact that he was too young for a driver’s license wasn’t much of a deterrent – hot wiring worked as effectively as a key.

Whether speed was in his genes or in the air – the neighborhood was home to a short list of performance pioneers like the Barris Brothers, Gene Winfield and Vic Hickey who was building heads for war surplus Jeeps – matters not. More important were results, something that still holds true today. The Model A begat a ’41 Chevy with the first Banks-crafted intake; the Chevy begat a ’36 Buick that he raced so effectively he set up a shop in his family garage and started doing machine work and valve jobs.

Banks was a perfect balance of gearhead and science geek. While working on the science, as an engineer student at Cal Poly, his gear-head side catered to the powerboat scene with his CP Auto and Marine and selling speed parts out of the trunk of his car. By the time he graduated, his life already looked like the basis for a movie and it only got more interesting.

Gale Banks Racing Engines opened in San Gabriel in 1967. He was hanging out with Nobel Prize winners (aka rocket scientists) and building hydrogen cars with Richard Feynman, a Nobelist for his work in quantum electrodynamics. (Space doesn’t allow us to delve deeper into Banks’ colorful background, but if you’re curious, check out the “Power Guru” article on the website.)

In the Seventies, with long lines of gas-hungry cars snaking around city blocks and prices doubling, speed lost its priority among serious gearheads, supplanted by efficiency. Banks designed performance packages that boosted mileage by 40 percent on what could be described as a dare from automotive magazines.

Those packages became the Banks PowerPack system, still popular for workhorse gas and diesel trucks and RVs. Banks had long applied Newton’s “every action creates an equal reaction” concept. Rather than design single components that boost performance and engine efficiency in one area, but create a need for additional upgrades to handle the corresponding demands, Banks developed integrated systems.

For instance, in addition to boosting horsepower as much as 100 hp and torque by 193 lb/ft at the rear wheels, the PowerPack allows for on-the-fly power adjustments, lower exhaust gas temperatures (EGT) with no backpressure and tops off with increased fuel economy with the OttoMind 6 Diesel Tuner. (Historical note: the OttoMind’s namesake was Nicholas Otto, the inventor of the four-stroke engine.)

Components of the system include the PowerPDA command center that controls OttoMind 6 functions, times performance runs and scans and clears codes as well as being a conventional PDA; the Ram-Air intake system with 57 percent more flow than stock or competitive systems; a Techni-Cooler intercooler system with 34 percent more flow volume; the four-inch constant-diameter Monster exhaust with flows 176 percent over stock and Monster muffler.

By the 1980s, Banks was in Azusa and the company had evolved into Gale Banks Engineering. He was honing his reputation for performance at Bonneville and producing more specialized systems and upgrades for gas and diesel engines, including exhausts, headers, air intake and tuners for Jeeps equipped with an inline six.

With components similar to the PowerPack, the Stinger System is designed to maximize intake, exhaust flow and fuel tuning for work and tow applications, both gas and diesel, offering rear-wheel gains up to 75 more horsepower and 145 additional lb/ft of torque.

Banks’ systems for diesel sport and race trucks – the Big Hoss and Six-Gun Bundles – deliver high performance with staying power engineered for specific applications. The heart of both systems is the Six-Gun Diesel Tuner and the PowerPDA. The tuner provides six levels of performance: Level 1 is stock; Level 2 has been programmed for maximum fuel mileage; the Final Four are incremental power increases, all on-the-fly.

The Six-Gun can nearly double horsepower and torque-up to 155 horses and 385 lb/ft at the rear wheels – and features built-in engine and transmission safeguards. Both systems enhance free-breathing intake and exhaust flow, improve efficiency, increase durability and transform today’s diesels into road rockets.

If all that horsepower seems daunting and you’re envisioning a pickup gone wild, the Banks Brake uses exhaust flow and backpressure to slow the engine for safe stops. What separates Banks’ exhaust brake from the competition is the inclusion of computerized brake control and SmartLock. The former senses throttle position, controls brake engagement and cuts out brake noise; the latter locks the torque converter and raises line pressure to smoothly reduce vehicle speed and protects the transmission.

In sum, Banks Power has given high performance greater meaning for generations of automotive enthusiasts. It’s not only the kind of launch and speed that flattens you against your bucket seat, but also a degree of efficiency, durability and engineering. It coaxes the best out of your engine, whether you’re driving an off-road rig or the truck that tows it.