AUTODESIGN INTERVIEW | “Chris at The Motoring Journal”

All images credited to Chris at The Motoring Journal

Over the past few months, a very unique vehicle has caught our attention at AD: The “Frankfurt Flyer”  — a dream come true for its creator, Chris Runge (or as he is more informally known, “Chris at The Motoring Journal”).  Recently, Chris took some time to tell us about himself, his homemade car, and the rich history that inspired it.

AUTODESIGN:  Tell us a bit about yourself.  What is your background and how did you become interested in cars of this kind?

CHRIS:  Well, I was raised on a hobby farm in Minnesota. Our barns were typically used for vehicle storage. One particular day when I was around 7 years old a little yellow 914 came up the drive. It was the neatest car I had ever seen. I had this silver 911 1/43 replica I played with all the time. When I realized the yellow car was also a Porsche it really did something special to me. I had been obsessed with anything that had wheels from birth and the appeal of the Porsche cars shape and style registered deeply with me. That yellow 914 stayed in our barn for several years. It was the owners responsibility to continue care of the cars but the 914 was basically abandoned. I would sneak out and lift up the cover, pop the door handle (I still remember the sound, that Porsche “ping”), climb in and pretend I was a race driver. It was surreal as a kid, reaching for the pedals, shifting the gears, I was in heaven….

When I was 13 I bought a 1951 GMC pick up. It was all original in pretty good shape with expected patina and slight surface rust. I drove it around the backroads near our farm and had so much fun with it. I decided to try to restore it and lost interest. It’s so unfortunate because the truck basically “went away” in pieces. Over my teen years I was always collecting vintage books on cars. One book showed pictures of homebuilt (sometimes called H-Mod) specials. This absolutely fascinated me from first sight. I was on a mission then to find a Porsche. After owning several cars, at the age of 17 I finally landed my first Porsche, a 1978 911SC. Since then I have never owned an American car. I have had several Porsche cars including a 1987 M505 Slantnose, several 912’s and many more. They all hold a special place for me. Great driving memories, friends, road trips…

For some reason every time I bought a Porsche it was just a few years older than the previous. I always dreamed of getting an alloy bodied special. I do believe some to be hidden away around the US but typically the “powerful” collectors get their hands on these and the price is out of reach for most of us mere mortals! Through my 20’s I really studied closely through books and videos the ways of metalworkers, buck built bodies and coach builders. This art is pretty well lost in today’s world. Peoples expectations for body and panel work are so over the top that the true beauty in hand made craft is lost to machines and body filler.

Jump to the summer of 2010 when I answered an ad for a 1967 Porsche 912 online. It was in South Dakota, about 5 hours from my house in Minnesota. I was the first to call on the car and it sounded really, really rough. I always ask if they seller has any other goods for sale and this time they did. The widow on the other end of the line explained her husband raced Formula Vee in the late 50’s, built his own alloy car and had barns full of “junk”. She wanted it all gone!

I was in the truck with a 24′ trailer behind me as fast as I could leave. Filled with excitement I arrived to a town of about 80 people in rural SD. I saw a big old dairy barn with extra pole barn sections added on. Her husband had turned part of the barn into a machine shop, another part into his study/library (loaded with vintage books), another was his car building area, the rear 100’x60′ was all storage, FILLED with vintage parts of all sorts… Cars, motorcycles, aviation, tractors, you name it. There was some really killer stuff laying around. Some still in the original boxes. I ended up loading up that trailer end to end with the said Porsche, mills, lathes, an English Wheel, Planishing Hammer, Sheet Metal Break and more. I called my wife on the way home and said I think I have the tools to finally do it, build my own car!

AD:  Tell us about the Frankfurt Flyer project.  Where did you draw your inspiration from?

C:  The car was heavily inspired by the Glockler Specials built after WWII. I named this specific car the Frankfurt Flyer due to Walter Glocklers cars coming out of Frankfurt Germany. I guess an official name would be a Glockler/VW “Special” dubbed the “Frankfurt Flyer”.

AD:  Obviously, you’ve done extensive research on these cars.  Were you able to study actual physical representations of the cars, or did you rely mainly on photographic reference?

C:  I had no body specs of the Glocklers. I believe I read in “Excellence Was Expected” a number reference in regard to wheelbase. I relied nearly 100% on pictures for reference of the overall shape and size of the car.

AD: Looking at the photos on Facebook, one might think that the basic framework of the car is a wooden whalebone system. How was the original car was constructed?

C: The wooden framing you see in the pictures is a buck. This is how coachwork was done in Europe for low production bodies. You basically build a skeleton out of wood called a buck. The buck is used only for the fitment of the panels. Once the panels match the shape of the buck you’re good. When the body is completed the buck is removed and used on another chassis. Wooden bucks were used by Ferrari, Porsche, Jaguar, Aston Martin and the coach builders that built the bodies for those manufacturers.

AD: How much of this car is made from new, raw materials as opposed to re-purposed classic parts?

C: The Chassis is a vintage Formula Vee chassis. It was a champion car prior to me buying it. I did some minor modifications to the chassis to make it accept the full Alloy body. I used an early 60’s VW Speedo and 356 Tach. It also has a vintage racing steering wheel from the 50’s. I fabricated the windscreen and everything else you see.

AD: I see that you primed and painted the car silver for the final finish. Were you tempted to leave the body bare?

C: The brushed metal has a great look too. I loved the way the raw alloy looked. To be honest, I didn’t even know how to weld when I started this project. Once the body was finished it was very nice, but still had some spots where my welds had warped ever so slightly. This required a lot of dolly work and caused some inconsistencies in the flow of the metal. I actually cut the entire front clip off the car two times and redid it! I was told to leave the car raw aluminum by just about everyone who saw it but I really wanted it silver. I finally made the difficult decision to paint it. I am really happy with the outcome. My next one will remain raw aluminum however and I now have a better knowledge of how to avoid the problems I was faced with using a MIG welder.

AD: What kind of performance figures do you expect for this car?

C:  It weighs in at about 950LB and currently has the FV spec motor showing 69HP. It’s got LOADS of torque. I am still giving it a good shakedown but man does it go.

AD: Do you have any plans to race it?

C: I do plan to track it. I’ve always believed that cars possess a soul of some sort and this thing honestly seems like it wants to scream.

AD: You’ve been keeping a kind of photo journal on Facebook showing your progress. What has been the reaction of the online community to this project?

C: When I started the project I had planned to keep it completely private. I was only going to let my wife and close family know. I didn’t build the car for any show purpose. I wanted a car that was alloy bodied. I’ve heard about the sensations associated with driving a full alloy bodied racer and I just had to experience it. After I built my buck my parents came out to my barn and were absolutely amazed. No plans, no drawings…. They said I really need to continue an online journal of the build. Prior to this I had tried working my design onto a mid 50’s VW chassis and it just wouldn’t look right… So, I ended up posting a few pictures and my FB friends gave a really encouraging reaction to it. A lot of the guys just “got it”. They understood the history and how things were done back then. Other people who didn’t “get it” wanted to learn. They wanted to learn the old school techniques, hammerforming, wheeling, manipulating metal over your knee…. It’s really been awesome to share with everyone. I realized it’s sort of reviving a part of automotive history that was never extremely popular but allows people with little means to build a racer. However, they’re going to need about 2,000 hours of time!

AD: What’s next for you? Another car project or something entirely different?

C: I’ll do another car. I have the buck from the Frankfurt Flyer so I could always do another one. I would like to do something front engined. The sketches I have would work with maybe an Alfa Romeo chassis and the design has an Italian flair to it.

*All images are reproduced here with the kind permission of Chris at The Motoring Journal.

**For more information on the Frankfurt Flyer, visit The Motoring Journal or Chris at The Motoring Journal on Facebook

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