Chris Runge is a multi-talented craftsman with a love of automobiles – especially Porsches. When I first saw photos of his Frankfurt Flyer – and before he painted it – I thought it was a barn find. In this detailed interview we get the story behind this creation.
– chris runge
Read the entire interview with Chris Runge after the jump below…
Can you tell me about yourself and this project?
I am a 32 year old lifetime Auto Obsessionist. I’ve had a thing for Porsche cars since I was around 6 years old. For some reasons, automobiles that had the streamline look, almost as though they could drive backwards just as fast as forwards, have always intrigued me. As a teenager I saved my money from summer construction jobs and winning snowboarding contests and coaching camps in the winter until I could afford a 911. I bought a 78, 911SC. I’ve almost always had some type of Porsche ever since. The trend seems to be that after getting a couple newer Porsche cars, I started working my way backward and the cars I owned were older and older.
What is it about Porsches that you find alluring?
Initially it was the look of the car. Being a fan of precise craftsmanship impressed me once I was able to be close to the cars and drive a 911 for myself. The more I learned about Porsche and their history the more I fell in love. The German approach to design and engineering is something that’s in my blood.
What skill sets did you bring to the table for this project?
I really have no formal training in metal working or fabrication although I’ve studied books and have been fascinated with design since childhood. I did apprentice with a master aircraft mechanic/inventor/fabricator/overall genius part time for 2 years. He really taught me some valuable techniques and concepts on approaching fabrication and design. I’ve always been building something. Ever since I was a kid whether it was a treehouse, go kart, bike… I always had something going.
Your stated goal is, “…driving an Alloy bodied, VW 36 Horsepowered Streamliner on the Bonneville Salt Flats…” When did you first come up with this goal?
After selling my 1969, 912 in 2009 I had this unsettled void in my gut that I needed something unobtanium. Something no one has ever owned and most never heard of. After visiting a certain Porsche 550 Spyder “Kit Car” forum I knew I wasn’t the type for Fiberglass. I’ve dreamed of an Alloy bodied racer since I was a kid. The idea of being Monoposto in a wingless airplane fascinated me. It was my idea of freedom, solitude freedom.
As I was researching the cars over the past few years I found out about a guy named Tom Bruch from Iowa. Tom has been racing 36HP VW Powered cars on the Salt since the 60’s. He only lives about 6 hours from me and so I dropped him an email and we set up a time for me to drop by and look at what he was doing. I found some of his techniques are just what the fellas back in the late 40’s were going for. Some of what he is using are even some period parts in making his engines move. The Salt guys know where it’s at with making this period of VW Engine move. Again, it fascinated me.
You’ve said that you want to reach 100mph or more for Bonneville. Are you going for a record?
I would say I’m more focused on seeing my creation on the salt and the general experience of what it would feel like to go for it. Of course the competitor in me would probably like to see a record but I’ve been so busy focusing on making the alloy body I haven’t honed in on this yet.
Your inspiration ending up being a Mercedes W196R Streamliner and a Glockler Porsche 51. What was it about the Steamliner and Glocker that you found interesting?
The W196R has a beautiful shape. Something about lines on cars like this suck me in. Some people may look at a car and say “Wow that’s gorgeous” and walk away. I literally couldn’t step away from the W196R the first time I saw it. I see the body lines in a grid and look for any clue of how the craftsmen assembled the car, where their welds and seems would be and why they chose to form the panels certain ways. I dissect the entire shape as if I were going to lay up a buck and start shaping. My mind can hardly see a car any other way. I was looking at a G55 Mercedes the other day and caught myself forming certain sections of it in my head. Even a boxy vehicle like that…
The Glockler was the main inspiration for the project. I had no intention of replicating the original. My thought was perhaps my finished car could have been one of the series of cars produced by C.H. Weidenhausen for Glockler. Maybe the 1 missing car that turned up in a barn in Minnesota!
Are there any other cars that you took clues from?
Yes, there is a Rometsch Racer, the only one known in existence which was on display at Prototyp Museum in Hamburg. Thankfully the museum allows many photos to be taken and this revealed the build techniques of the car. This was how I identified the structural platform in which I used ideas from for my racer.
Who helped you with the building of the FF?
I did 99% of the car with my own 2 hands however a few times I needed an extra set. My father helped me planish some of the rivets where I was inside with the bucking bar and he was outside with the hammer drive. My uncle stepped in to help me do the final paint and finish. I honestly started to run out of steam toward the end of the project. My uncles home/shop is a few miles down the road and we built a paint booth around his 4 post lift and did the paint in there. He coached me through every step of the way and only stepped in a couple times to show me some tricks and things he has learned along the way. He would hover like a vulture over the car with a magic marker every morning at about 6am, writing notes down all over the body “Smooth here, planish here, sand here”. He’d then leave for work and I would come in and read the notes and work the body out. He would come back for lunch break and check in on me and start writing more notes…This went on for 2 weeks in his shop and we finally decided it was ready to spray. He is not a professional painter, only a hobbyist… but the paint looks so wonderful. It fits the car perfect. We hardly even had to wet sand the clear for the final buffing, that’s how nice the paint and clear was layed down. I’m pretty proud of my uncle and I think he feels the same way. We had a lot of fun with it.
How many hours do you think you’ve put into the Flyer?
From starting the actual work on the project to finish I calculated over 1,800 hours. That doesn’t count sitting at the table at 2am, unable to sleep and writing down ideas. I have a photographic memory. I built the car dozens of times in my head before ever making my first cut for the buck. I had a plan all laid out in my head and applied that throughout the process. The plan was designed around everything I’ve learned in my obsession over these cars for over 2 decades…
I saw that you did some sketches for the Flyer. Any thought of using a computer program to do some of the creative lifting?
Yeah my drawing abilities are really horrible. I can see things in my mind but translating them onto paper is serious wishful thinking for me. It’s easier for me to translate the shape into a buck. Now that I have the first car built I have a couple friends who plan to render it digitally with the 2 seat configuration, period headlights and some other optional air ducting for brake cooling, etc…
Am I getting this right – you metal shaped over a log? How did that end working out?
There are basically 2 ways to move metal, by shrinking it or stretching it. Both can only go so far. You stretch too far and it cracks, you shrink too far and it is almost like it bunches up and crinkles on you. You can anneal the metal which is heating it to a certain temp where you give the metal another lease on life for a short period of time. You can only anneal it so many times before its spent in that manner too.
So in my research of shapers from the 40’s and 50’s (who are truly a dying breed) I found that certain shapers were “Stretchers” and other guys were “Shrinkers”. If you walked into a shop In Italy that focused primarily on stretching (which most did because they did not have the English Wheel until later on) you would see mostly Hammers being used. Stanguillini shop used hammer forming. He used logs that had cups about 4-6″ around dished out of the top. The flat piece of metal is layed over the dish and a hammer is blown into the metal pushing it into the cup underneath. You might thnk this would stretch the metal but it actually folds it, Similar to fabric being pleated this “Bunches or Tucks” the metal up. Unlike fabric, the metal can actually be pushed into itself with a series of blows from the hammer making it essentially disappear!
Now if you walked into a shop where an English shaper like Jack Sutton was working you would find the shop might be very quiet with the craftsman working at the English Wheel. Jack Sutton was known for achieving his incredible shapes without hammering, just by stretching the metal. The wheeling machine will squeeze the metal between two wheels pushing it out to the sides and forming a compound curve or “bubble” in the metal after many passes back and forth.
I had no idea these techniques differentiated so much when I started my project. Throughout the process I’ve had so many guys contact me and share their knowledge. It’s amazing. Guy’s that visited a shop in the 50’s in England call me up and tell me every detail they remember. I can’t even put into words how much this has helped me. I learned real quickly my shaping techniques leaned toward Jack Sutton as I almost always go to my English Wheel and start with a slightly thicker metal thinning it down as a wheel it into shape. Now I’ve started doing more hammerforming over stumps because a guy showed up at my shop a few Saturday’s back and really enlightened me. He’s a retired Dentist who shared his 40 years of shaping as a hobbyist with me.
What was the biggest challenge in creating the Frankfurt Flyer?
People. You really have to discern who to listen to. It’s unfortunate there are people in this world who take an interest in killing others dreams and ambitions. Sometimes people you really thought would be your comrade…
The 2nd challenge was the suspension. I cannot even begin to explain how much I’ve learned through the process. The FV suspension was specifically set up for the weight of that car. I did everything I knew to calibrate and measure the weights, new dimensions, etc of the new body in relation to the suspension set up. Still, when I finally took the car off the jig to roll it out of the barn it sunk. The shocks weren’t right, the spring packs in the torsion tubes had to be dealt with… It was a big challenge.
You took inspiration from aircraft designs. What aircraft details did you translate over to the FF?
Primarily in the bulkhead supports, which I did extensive research on to find the correlation between aircraft design and what would be safe and sturdy in this car. I also love rivets. I used rivets which can be drilled out if necessary, on much of the seams of the body. This allows a person to remove the whole upper shell from the pans, if they had to… I hope they wouldn’t ever have to because it would still be a chore. I tried to design the entire car in a way where a pitcrew could access the essential components, even change the engine in a jiffy, if they had to.
Now that you’re the end of this project, what surprised you most about this project? Anything you’d do differently?
The biggest surprise had to be that suspension. It haunted me for quite some time. As far as doing things differently, man I learned ten times more than I knew going into it. Overall the consistency in workmanship is great and I’m pleased beyond expectations. In saying that, I’m a perfectionist and also a realist. As I was building the car I reflected on what it must have felt like back in 1949, knowing you had a race right around the corner and needed to get the project done, but wanted it to be perfect. So there is a balance. Nothing was done hastily, but hammer marks are present because I had to planish the entire rear shell alone. I built a post with a planishing dolly for the shell to sit on so I could planish the rivets. It is inevitable that there will be hammer marks when doing it this way. It’s not sloppy, it actually add’s character. Some people don’t get it. The people who matter do get it. They know. Typically those people are over 60 years old and have tried something that took guts before… So there are things I can do better. The area where I rolled the fenders are one and the rear louvers are another. I used the same tool on both of these. It was all I had and I did the best I could with it but I can do it better. But, I have to go back also and look at the pictures of the originals. They weren’t perfect. My fit and finish, in many places is far better than the originals.
I read that you got the car up to 65mph. What was that like?
I’ve actually had it up to 90mph now… It’s incredible. The engine sound, the light but connected feeling. You know I’ve spent several hours in the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport as well. I would choose my car over it. Setting monetary value aside and actual looking at the honest to God driving experience and fun factor. A mid engine center cockpit car with zero frills whatsoever is true “driving.” It defines driving for me. It’s raw and it takes courage to drive. It’s a pure form of courage because you know that there’s a good chance you’re dead if something goes wrong. After I’ve pushed the car to 90mph through a long turn out in the country I have this unstoppable feeling of satisfaction and adrenaline. Something tells me to go and put it away for a couple more weeks… Similar to some of the vintage motorcycles I’ve owned…. Then you bring them back to the shop and just look at them. To me it’s a rewarding relationship between man and machine.
What are the final touches you still need to do?
I am going to completely rebuild and upgrade the front suspension. I am working with a guy who has built FV cars for decades. He and I are designing a shock and suspension combo for this little car that will really work well… I’ve got my suspension dialed in and have a great time driving but I’m always looking for the best possible way to do something.
When do you think you’ll get the Frankfurt Flyer out to Bonneville?
I think I may bring 2 cars out for 2013. I don’t know for sure that they will compete but I’ve had several inquiries to show the cars and have them available for photo shoots at Bonneville.
Will you build more or other cars?
I am in the process of building 2 more commissioned cars for individuals to own themselves. I have 1 pending sale. My idea was to build 1 car for my collection and offer 2 more for others to have a chance at owning. In similar fashion to the coachbuilders of the 30’s-50’s I prefer to commission the build so the car can be tailored to their desired specs, from brakes to engine to certain body design features. This idea seems to have struck a cord with several collectors around the world who have contacted me for work.
Do you do this for a living?
I previously owned a service company in the Petroleum Industry. I am in the process of selling that. This type of coachwork is what I plan to do for the rest of my life. It’s something in me I cannot shake. I almost feel like it would be a shame to not keep on designing and making the cars I have in my head. I’d feel like I wasted something. In the process I hope to learn every aspect of the best workmanship I can and hand it down to a worthy soul. Part of the reason I was so intrigued in this Coachwork is that the art needs to be preserved so that the cars can be preserved. That’s kind of my mission statement. If I can learn as much as possible and pass on the best of what I know, and have some fun in the process, I will have achieved my purpose here.
+ Source: Frankfurt Flyer :: Chris Runge