Ron Cherry: Body by Apple – Partie Trois
April 20, 2018
While France is not well known in America for automotive manufacturing, it produces one quarter of the cars driven in Europe.
Although now owned by Volkswagen, the Bugatti was and is manufactured in France. The Bugatti Veyron claims to be the fastest production car in the world and the ultra-rare, exquisite 1927-1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royales are the most expensive cars in the world, with one of the six survivors for sale at a cool $10 million.
So French cars have some, if you'll pardon the expression, street cred. When Gary Apple finished his Alfa Romeo-inspired roadster, France was a good place to look at for his next automotive design vision. He chose a Delahaye, a French car maker that was driven out of business by post-war excessive taxes on luxury cars.
Gary found pictures of a 1946 Delahaye 135 Guilloré Break de Chasse (French for "shooting break," the European term for "woodie station wagon") on the Internet. The car was custom built as a gift for Marcel Mongin, a French race car driver. The one-off body was built by now-gone custom coachbuilder Guilloré.
The only information Gary found was that it was shown at 2001 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and then seemed simply to disappear, leaving nothing but six online pictures, like glass slippers left behind after the ball. "If I could find more on this car, I would gobble it up," he noted. "But it was enough."
In January of this year, the first step to build the car was the design.
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"To really scan and model, to put something together, to create it, takes time," Gary said. "People think it's something you just snap on your smartphone, but it can take weeks."
Using his Alias Design and Inventor Pro from Autodesk CAD (Computer Assisted Design) programs, Gary did his own computer modeling of the car, then used that to create the buck (a pattern used to shape the panels for the body) with his CNC (Computer Numerical Control) plasma cutter.
"I used a 3-meter wheelbase and scaled it from there." he said. "It's the best I can do from the pictures."
Then he set to work with his English wheel, stretcher and shrinker to form the flat sheet metal into the flowing curves of the Delahaye body. As usual, he will build the frame from round tubing as soon as the body is finished, making sure to put body mounts in strategic locations to keep it rigid on the frame.
As with the Alfa Romeo, he will use Heidts independent suspension front and rear, with Wilwood 4-wheel disc brakes, and a 3.90:1 Currie posi-traction rearend as well as a Flaming River power rack and pinion steering. Once again, he chose a 566 HP, supercharged LSA E-ROD GM crate engine because it is built to pass California smog regulations and has a 5-year factory warranty.
However, there is a major change to this car's drive train: an auto trans. It will be a "cruise and connect" trans from GM that will have an ECU (Electronic Control Unit) that is mated to the engine, controlling both electronically for maximum power and mileage.
A key item for a break de chasse, or woodie, is, of course, the woodwork. To do it right, it takes the skill of a cabinetmaker. Flat plywood sheets have slats across them, skillfully bent and joined so the seams are almost invisible.
"I'm not a woodworker," Gary said. "What I'm going to do is laminate blocks of wood and rout out the panels from one piece. I've got the equipment and I'm going to use it."
What he has is a CNC router that will carve wood like a sculptor. In fact, he has made wooden cowboys and Indians for a sculptor in Arizona, using the ones the sculptor originally did as a guide. They look identical and it takes a week instead of six months to carve one.
"The woodie is going to use the same technology," he said. "I'm going to glue blocks of wood together, then create a program and let the machine carve the panels."
Each side will only have four parts and the rear only one, with the "slats" the same wood as the recessed panels. The panels themselves will have a basketweave pattern carved into them. That construction technique will be a first in the woodie world. It will be lightly stained, with the basketweave "panels" slightly darker. The finish will be minimal.
"I've seen woodies with so many layers of urathane that they look like plastic," he said. "That's a problem for me. If I knew the car was going to stay dry, I'd oil the wood."
The metal of the body will be painted black. After spraying the inside with bed liner to reduce noise, the interior will be done in tan leather except for the floor, which will be wood. "I wanted to keep the Alfa roadster simple. This time around, I'm going to use a little more glitz, more shiny stuff," Gary said. "More chrome, inside and out. It's a cruiser, more luxury." That includes a Classic Air climate control system and a quality sound system.
In all this, Gary credits his wife, Gloria, as his partner.
"She helps me when I need a hand," he said. "When a part is too big on the English wheel, you need a second pair of hands and you need to think together, think in unison. We've done it in every business for 45 years."
But it's not just physically, but mentally.
"She has a good eye. She'll remind me a lot of times that something's not right. 'You won't be happy with te way that is,' she'll say. 'Why don't you think about redoing it?' She does it pleasantly, but she's always right. I'm a fortunate guy."
Although Gary hopes to have the Delahaye finished by the Roamin Angels "Cruisin' the Pines" Car Show in September, it will be there, even if trailered in. So will his Alfa Romeo roadster. He will give demonstrations in using the English wheel for anyone who wants to learn to do it, or just see how such amazing cars are made.
What's next for Body by Apple? First, a woodie teardrop trailer to match the Delahaye. Perhaps sell the two cars and trailer at a Barrett-Jackson auction. And then … who knows?
"It's more fun to build them how I want and sell them without worrying about what a customer wants," he noted. "But I'd build them to order. My vision is not building cars like George Barris, where everything is off the wall. I'm a little more conservative."
He prefers the classic look of the 30's and 40's to the custom cars of the 60's to present.
"Bring back the curve," he said with a grin. "It looks good on women and it looks good on cars."
Ron Cherry's books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. His new book, The St. Nicholas Murders, is a Christmas mystery that takes place in a small town in the Sierra Foothills that is remarkably similar to Nevada City and is now out in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. Check out his website at http://www.rlcherry.com.