A couple weeks ago, you may recall that I drove a really lovely hand-built mid-engined aluminum roadster, all made with Chris Runge’s two hands, some hammers, and a big-ass English wheel. The very act of how the metal gets shaped to the body is fascinating, so we thought you might actually like to see how that works.
As you probably know, aluminum doesn’t come in neat little pre-made shapes that would fit this car. It starts off as a flat sheet, which is then cut, pounded, rolled, shaped, fought with, apologized to, struggled with, and then eventually becomes a complex, compound curve.
I’ve worked with metal before, but mostly in gas welding contexts that involved heating the metal. Here, everything is done cold, with just physical force used to move the metal.
It’s surprisingly like working with fabric, it’s just that the level of force it takes to re-shape it is so much greater. Actually, it may be more like working with sheets of Play-Doh: you stretch it and it gets thin, you pound wrinkles back into the surface and smooth them away: for something as solid as we normally think about metal, it’s odd to realize it can be worked almost like a sheet of clay.
Under Chris’ considerable guidance, we pounded, wheeled, hammered, and shaped a flat sheet of aluminum into a rounded lower fender for one of his Frankfurt Flyers.
Hard work, but really satisfying. Oh, and to whoever bought that car from Chris, if that panel fails, it’s probably because of something I did.