Mechanic, physician, auto restorer, Porsche and BMW race car driver, bicycle road racer, collector and builder. Most of us would be pleased to have just have one of these achievements on our life’s’ resume. However, one man can lay claim to all of the above.
Bill Hartong, a KCRPCA club member has, in his unassuming manner, been there and done that. Today, at the seasoned age of 75, Bill spends most of his waking hours restoring 356 Porsches in his tiny shop tucked away in Grandview, MO.
The shop is as interesting as the man himself. It is part body shop, part Porsche photo and poster museum, and part resting place for a collection of touring bicycles. Recently, on a dull grey, need your hat and gloves January morning, I had the opportunity to visit.
After stepping into the closet sized entry room, my eyes soaked up the cluster of Porsche parts nestled on metal racks. Nearby, engines rested in cradles on the floor and racing memorabilia peered down from the walls. From there, a narrow hall drew me into the heart of the restoration shop. Not seeing anyone immediately, I offered up a “hello”, which was answered by a muffled reply. From under the dash of a ‘59 356A, Bill rose out of his “office”, and welcomed me.
In this brightly lit but compact space, my eyes quickly darted from one jewel to another. This is a true car guys garage, or as Bill refers to it, his man cave. As we chatted, I slowly walked about the shop, like one gazing at art at the Nelson, trying to absorb every little thing. Whether items were on walls or tables, or resting on the floor or in a chair, it was all eye candy for a car geek.
Drawings of classic Porsche race cars hurtling along tracks such as Le Mans or Sebring hung on bright white walls and doors. Bill proudly pointed out a poster sized photo that captured him a few years back, standing beside his two grandsons, and a Porsche. Further down the wall was a set of unique blueprints, similar to those used in home construction. These were of a 356, providing critical reassembly clues. Close by a rack of ignition keys and wall hung hubcaps and wheels snagged my interest. Side fact: Did you know that the 356s wheels were stamped with the cars production year and the manufacturer of the wheel?
However, the piece de resistance in the garage was the Meissen Blue 356. Its’ fresh coat of paint shimmered in the light. The 356, still gutted of engine, gauges, windshield and seats, sat before me, squatting like an oversized metal sculpture. Nearby parts, similar to pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, were scattered across a table, waiting to be carefully reunited with the 356. In bags were door handles, hinges, knobs and more, all tagged with the body’s’ serial number so as not to get confused with other ongoing projects. Some components were not tagged, relying on Bills’ memory to find their rightful place back on the Porsche.
Later my attention gravitated to the rows of floor to ceiling bicycles. Most of these were road or racing bicycles, some still ridden by Bill. These are sleek, fragile appearing bikes, looking as if they could support no more than a child’s weight. Bill motioned me over to one bike and explained how two wheeled racing bikes incorporated some of the same tricks the four wheeled kin do. As weight is a curse to speed, this bike had many nonstructural components, such as sprockets and levers, appearing with swiss cheese like holes in them. This process left the bike lighter and looking like the inside of a fine swiss watch.
When I first entered the shop, I had noticed a large faded black and white photo hanging on a corridor wall. This photo captured Bill’s Dad’s service garage in a 1950’s pose. It is here that Bill began absorbing his knowledge of the inner workings of cars and trucks that would benefit him later in life.
After high school Bill was fortunate to continue his formal education at Wichita State and the University of Kansas. From KU, Bill graduated with a medical degree, specializing in gastroenterology. Working in the medical profession and helping his wife raise a family consumed Bills’ days and nights for several years. However, as this page in life turned, Bill began having fun racing BMWs and Porsches.
In 1991, the racing thrill was ebbing and costs were rising. Enter Porsche restorations. At first, there was just the one project, and then another and another. Successful results led to word of mouth news within the 356-restoration community, which often found Bill toiling away in his garage for the next 30 years. Rather than deal with a customer bringing in his or her personally owned 356, Bill prefers to purchase his project car, restore it to his tastes and then sell it.
But recent events have changed Bill’s pace of life. Beginning to tire of the restoration business, Bill pondered retirement. Then came a freak accident at the shop. The 356 pictured with this article slipped free of the rotisserie, a metal device used to hold the entire body of a car in a horizontal position. A corner of the car landed on Bills leg, fracturing it and putting him on R and R. The six month break gave Bill time to reflect and surprisingly he found himself missing time back in the shop.
For now, Bill has returned to his shop, once again crawling in, under and around those tiny, fragile 356s. But how much longer? Well, that’s a good question. Soon, the call of the road, either on a bike or in a Porsche may pull Bill out of the garage forever.