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RACER.com Diary 11: Old School Aluminum

The design and engineering of the original Challenger II was a close collaboration between my dad’s crew of hand-picked drag racing guys and Ford’s in house Kar Kraft team. The point man at Kar Kraft was Ed Hull, who you might recognize from some of Ford’s more spectacular projects, including the GT40 Mark IV. The two groups had gigawatts of brainpower, but they also had a lot of practical experience, which lead directly to some of the Challenger II’s more superficially confusing features, including the segmented aluminum skin. 

The credit for that goes to Nye Frank (a hero of mine), who had worked on Craig Breedlove’s Spirit of America, and was constantly frustrated by the need to remove large portions of body work in order to perform simple maintenance or repairs. The subdivided architecture of the Challenger II means that almost all areas can be accessed quickly and independently by popping a few Dzus buttons, an advantage that we’re counting on to make the FIA’s mandated one hour turnaround. To see it in action, have a look at the video underneath this article. 

I’m often asked if the sheet metal work is original, and the answer is an emphatic yes. The body was crafted by Tom Jobe and Nye Frank over forty-five years ago, and is an absolute work of art. The only changes so far have been the relocation of an air intake and a 32 inch extension to the tail section on the recommendation of our aerodynamicist Tim Gibson. Matching the existing work meant finding old school talent, and we were fortunate to locate Terry Hegman, who is one of the world’s last truly gifted aluminum men. As a fellow fabricator, seeing his work each week leaves me green with envy. 

When you look at the flowing lines of the streamliner, it’s impossible not to see it as a thing of beauty. From above, it looks like it’s breaking records standing still. If I were building a new car from scratch, there’s no question that I’d be using carbon fiber instead of aluminum, but I really don’t think I’d get the same overwhelming sense of craftsmanship. When I look at the Challenger II, I’m reminded a little bit of Apollo 11, which launched about a year after the streamliner’s rained out test run. It’s got a real sense of adventure about it, and I like it that way.