Pro snowboarder turned bespoke car crafter, Christopher Runge’s lifelong passion for cars has driven him into becoming a household name in the car scene across the globe (and also into Jay Lenos garage).
Runge recalls his childhood and the exposure he was given to cars at an early age to explain his love of all things wheeled. Growing up on a family farm in rural Alexandria, MN, Runge’s father offered up space in their barn for seasonal lake goers to store their vehicles and lake toys within proximity of their lake homes. His father’s kind gesture drove young Runge behind the wheel of a customer’s Porsche, and he never looked back.
Feeding this fire, Runge spent his time taking apart whatever mechanical vessel he could get his hands on. Lawnmowers were dissected and analyzed and bicycles were stripped down and modified. He even started designing and sketching his own models. His drawings of “futuristic” cars were inspired by the 1950s and 60s Glöckler racing Porsches from the WWII era, which were coincidentally also made by hand. Although Runge has propelled himself into the luxury car industry, it wasn’t always his goal to handcraft these works of art. He has gathered a great deal of life experience and has worn many hats (or should we say, boots?)
He started competitively snowboarding at the age of 13, catching the eyes of The USA Snowboarding Association on Andes Tower Hills in Kensington, MN. Runge competed on the regional level, worked up to the national level and finally made his way to the international level, where he competed in the Jr. World Championships in Japan. He made the Jr National US Snowboard Team at 15, kept on his successful trajectory to become a professional at 16 years old, and finally made riding his profession at 18. During this time, he found himself being an influential part in the re-designing of snowboarding gear, like boots and straps, to better the performance in this sport.
Fast-forwarding to age 26, Runge’s final contract with professional snowboarding was due to be renewed, and in light of this, he found himself faced with an opportunity to pursue a new business venture: petroleum. There was a system being developed in Minnesota for cleaning above and below ground fuel tanks. Runge and his father purchased the system and so started a new business adventure for the two. But, since this system was manufactured and tested here in the lakes area, the system proved unsuccessful elsewhere. The unforeseen conditions where this system was to be implemented were very different, containing more debris and sludge on site. Undefeated, they decided to scrap that system and start from scratch. Runge engineered, developed and introduced a new design, after only 14 months of experience in the business, that worked flawlessly and is still in use today.
Another opportunity presented itself to Runge in 2011 when he found a 1967 Porsche 912 for sale, the first love of his life. The seller also had a barn full of parts, including a key tool that would change Runge’s life forever- an English Wheel, a traditional metal shaping tool used to shape cars fenders and body parts. Runge set up shop in the same barn where his father had stored cars and began “coachbuilding” his first car. Coachbuilding is a term used for someone who “handmakes” custom cars per customers specifications. Harkening back to his youthful designs, his build-out emulated those early Porsche racecars into a one-of-a-kind piece. Still working a fulltime job in the petroleum industry, he dedicated his free time to working on his build. He utilized his self-taught skills and learnings through trials and errors over the process of the build, which all in all took about 2 years.
Hobby-designing and building his unique vehicle to escape into the world of driving didn’t go unnoticed. During his first build, Runge brought his car to a show in Shakopee, where someone took notice and requested him to build them their own. Knowing this request would take a lot of time and effort, Runge weighed his options, sold his business in the petroleum industry to give him the cushion he needed and set up shop fulltime to start this idea of coachbuilding cars for others.
Every Runge build is bespoke to the customer, each car being presold with detailed specifications set by its betrothed; chassis design, wheelbase, breaking styles, etc. The commissioners are familiar and well-versed in what they are wanting and know what goes into this type of buildout. With the styling and technology of these commissions being so specific, Runge ensures that not only is the car designed just for you, it is designed to provide you with a different driving experience than what your average commuter car delivers.
Commissioned builds have Runge scouting the globe for period components, like classic drum brakes or carbureted engines, which is an expected part of the package. This element, along with the attention to detail Runge possesses, is why his builds take as long as they do (24-28 months) and people are more than willing to wait for their incomparable masterpieces. Some cars are even definitive to what they are being driven for, be it a designated track car or an escape-experience for the driver. Depending on which parts are available, Runge finds himself working on 2 to 4 cars at a time.
Having built 13 cars so far, Runge’s work has made its way across the country. His work can be found in California, Texas, Florida, New York, Vermont, Germany, Chicago, Boston and more (and Minnesota of course). He is still working, building, and designing cars, so be on the lookout for his latest creation to leave the showroom (well, barnwood) floor.
Runge’s story is one for the history books. Being inspired by historical timepieces and crafting his own piece to being commissioned for his exceptionally unique builds and making a living doing what he loves, entrepreneurs take note: following your heart is sometimes a long a winding road (and if you’re lucky, it’ll take you right back to where you started).