By John Roberts
Editor: This article has been posted as a result of the interest in a model conversion by John Roberts shown on Forum 43. It shows the amazing work needed to make a model of the unusual Ruxton car. The text is a record John kept of the build of this model in 2014 and all photographs are from John. We would like to thank Richard Noskar for supplying John’s build record to share with you all, and John’s permission for us to post it to our website.
Ruxton – American rarity
Although front wheel drive began to appear in Europe in the mid 1930s, notably from Citroen, the concept in America was alien. In the early 1920s, former racing mechanic William J Muller joined the Budd Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia. He set about persuading Budd that a front wheel drive layout was a superior way of powering a motor car. In addition the centre of gravity could be lowered and road-holding improved. He proposed building a prototype and Budd advanced $15,000 for the project. Such foresight was not unknown among coachbuilders in those days because if a new idea was taken up the larger manufacturers might conceivably offer a lucrative contract. After two years and another injection of finance the Muller-Budd car was completed. With a 130 inch wheelbase the low-slung car looked like no other. The bodywork was designed by Joseph Ledwinka, a distant cousin of Hans Ledwinka of Tatra fame. The new car used a Studebaker engine with reworked Warner transmission.
Much interest was aroused in this new car, but nobody wanted to invest. At this point, a wheeler-dealer named Archie M Andrews appeared on the scene. Andrews had made a fortune on Wall St. and was involved with both the board at Budd and fellow maker Hupp. He arranged to buy the prototype and took it over to Hupp, much to Budd’s annoyance. Andrews arranged everything with Hupp and just as work was about to start, Hupp pulled out.
Undeterred, Andrews announced he would build the car himself and set up a new company, New Era Motors, in New York city. He took the car to the Dyas-Hollywood Store where he gave rooftop demonstration drives to prospective investors, one of which was New York stockbroker William Ruxton.
Andrews took the sudden decision to name the car Ruxton, hoping that this would persuade the stockbroker to invest. He didn’t, nor was he ever involved in any way. The newly named Ruxton was developed with a Continental engine in place of the Studebaker unit. The most striking aspect of the car was its appearance. Standing just under 64 inches tall it was billed as ‘The car you can look over, but you can’t overlook‘. With 19 inch wheels and a 10 inch ground clearance the car bore a striking resemblance to the chopped and channelled hot-rods that would appear in the 1950s.
To emphasise the car’s low profile, New York stage designer Joseph Urban created bizarre paint schemes consisting of horizontal bands in graduated colours. The theme was continued inside with striped seat and door panels. Only a few showcars sported this look although it was originally intended that all Ruxtons would be like this.
Despite these bold moves problems continued for Andrews and he faced a continual struggle to find a company to build his new car. The saloon used bodies shipped from Britain and made originally for Wolseley by Pressed Steel. These were modified to suit. Other home-based makers produced tourers and roadsters. After a succession of false starts, Kissel agreed to make Ruxtons alongside their own cars in exchange for a promised of $250,000 in new loans. As Kissel was in financial trouble this seemed a good idea. By mid 1930 things were beginning to go wrong. Kissel had only received a fraction of the funds promised and went into receivership, and New Era Motors followed at the end of the same year.
Thus Ruxton enjoyed a short but eventful life, killed off not only by innovation which the American public didn’t fully trust, but also by the Depression which finished off many small automobile makers. Less than 500 examples were built and those remaining are much prized today.
John Roberts on building a model Ruxton sedan
The model is being created using a Robeddie Volvo 704 body and a Brooklin Packard Light 8 chassis and wheels. I found that the Packard wheelbase is identical to the Ruxton which was a bonus as I’d originally thought of using the Packard for its wheels only. I’ve modified the chassis by severely reworking the front wings and lowering the ride height. The Volvo has donated its body which is a close match to the original Wolseley body that was used by Ruxton. Just like the real one, I’ve had to modify it by recutting the rear wheel arches, chopping the roof down and cutting the body in half to widen it. I’ve also reprofiled the sides to give the tumble-home on the doors. Having tried the body on the chassis with the wheels in place I’ve achieved the correct height exactly in 1/43 scale. The real car is 64 inches high!
After working on proportions today I realised that the body is 1/10th of an inch too long – about 4” in real terms. I thought I could get away with it but realised I would wish I’d changed things, so the body has now been cut in half and I’ve taken 1/10th out. I’m currently fixing the bits back together. I’ll make new ‘B’ posts and recut the door shutlines. I’ve already made the windscreen upright rather than raked. After the body is together, gaps filled and the whole thing sanded I’ll scatchbuild the bonnet and radiator shell.
Photographs below show some of the work….before I cut the body in half to shorten it.
1937 Volvo TR704, Robeddie 014
Packard chassis & wheels, with Volvo body, with modifications already (Nov. 1, 2014)
Another view (Nov. 1, 2014)
Since I took the photos I’ve shortened the body shell by 1/10th of an inch. The proportions are now correct. Currently I’m making the bonnet and have made a sub-structure which is glued to the body. This gives me the chance to see if everything is aligned. I’m now looking for some louvres to go on the bonnet sides. I could make them from wire if I have to, but some taken from another model will be quicker. I will then let them in as panels on the bonnet sides. Currently I have an old Norev Peugeot that would do, or failing that a Lansdowne Bentley 8 litre. I’d rather use the Norev if I can. I’m still going through my bits and pieces. Most louvre sets are angled whereas the Ruxton and others of this period are vertical. The radiator grille will be fashioned from plasticard then foiled. The bonnet sides will be plasticard, and the top probably filler. The Woodlites…probably going to be the hardest thing to do. I have several ways here but I want to use metal so they can be polished. Foiling won’t work. I may make one and then make a mould and cast them to ensure they’re both the same size. I may modify a 1936 Pontiac light as I have a few spare.
Photos below show the Omen lady in the background, included for height/scale really – painted in a hurry yesterday. Side view shows the shortened body which now needs detail work round the windows and B posts, plus the drip rails, etc. The white plastic substructure is glued to the body and will form the basis for the bonnet – plastic sides and filler top which I can sand to the right profile. The front shots show the heavily modified front wings – the inners have been cut away and replaced with thin section plastic and the wing profiles have been altered to make them flatter rather than curved as they were originally. Also I’ve cut away the lump of metal in the front to leave the locating arms for the front bumper. These have to be shaped now. The body is just loosely placed on the chassis and it’s slightly off centre – this was me not the model.
Alignment frame for bonnet (Nov. 2, 2014)
Front section to fit in chassis (Nov. 2, 2014)
I’m going to be working on the bonnet next and then refining the detail and the fit. There are gaps between the body and the rear wings and these have to be sorted. I’ll make the basic shape of the radiator and when I’m happy with the fit I’ll try a guide coat of primer to highlight blemishes.
Joining the starting pieces (Nov. 2, 2014)
I’ve found that the Peugeot louvres are a good match so that’s a relief. I didn’t really want to cut a Bentley 8 litre apart.
Side panels for the bonnet before filling in the tiny gaps, bonnet sub-assembly in place, and filler waiting to be filed to shape…plus my bloody fingerprint on the roof after I cut myself! Risky business this model creation!!
The side panels (Nov. 2, 2014)
Bonnet form taking shape (Nov. 2, 2014)
Filler curing (Nov. 2, 2014)
I’m working on the body now – final detailing and cleaning up. All the wire trim has been done – roof, bonnet sides, drip rails. The holes for door handles and bonnet (hood) clips are drilled and the radiator shell is underway – the flash takes the detail out. I made it from plastic with a wire frame with a thin filler coat to blend in the wire. As you know Ruxtons are all different – some have chrome grilles, other black mesh. I’ve also noticed detail differences in the paint finishes and some have uncovered sidemounts, some have fabric and others have chrome. I’m going for the uncovered. The sidemounts sit higher than the bonnet on the real cars and I’ve realised that they do on the model too. I’m concentrating on the painting today and the making of the Woodlites. I have a dozen or so Pontiac headlights in a heap on the bench so hopefully I’ll get two correct Woodlites before I run out. The interior will have the full striped treatment – I’ve thought of a way of doing this.
Parts getting there—see the radiator (Nov 3, 2014)
And together (Nov. 3, 2014)
Looking about right (Nov. 3, 2014)
I am pretty confident the Woodlites will work using the Pontiac ones as a base. I’ve filed two into the basic shape…actually I filed four but two pinged off into the far corners of the workshop and I couldn’t find them!
The body now has its top painted white and I’ve just painted the lilac stripe round the sides. I’ll have to wait until all is dry before masking for the third time.
The aim is to get the body painted and then I’ll leave everything to dry properly. The striping on the wings will be hand painted – free hand on the edges and masked for the central stripes. The stripes on the rear wings should disappear under the body then appear again at the lower ends. I’m not sure if this will happen but I hope it will.
My second attempt at masking and spraying has worked. Still some bits to refine and tidy and the white and lilac will be redone but it’s beginning to look the part now. The masking tape ripped a section of bonnet top off so it’s one step forward, and one back!
Tomorrow I’m masking up and respraying the white. The black roof has taken ages today – several attempts. You can see the striping on this pic. The lilac is being redone tomorrow and will continue along the bonnet sides. On top will be dark blue pinstriping and the blue stripes will go on the door pillars. The drip moulding will also be dark blue and I’ll add hinges for the doors and a bright metal strip along the bottom of the body. The sunvisor will be made and fitted, sprayed dark blue. Tomorrow I’ll detail the striping on the wings, hoping I can get the central white stripe to disappear under the body as per the original. But here’s what it looks like today:
The radiator grille has been made and fitted and the wheels given caps. The lower body sides have wire trim.
The seats are from the donor Volvo. I filled all the pleats to make smooth seats then cut the striped pattern to fit. The same pattern will be used vertically on the inner door panels. The seat ‘material’ was made by spraying small pieces of thin plasticard with the various colours. I then cut these into strips and glued them onto a backing. After this I photocopied the pattern, doubling up each time until I had enough. Then the sheet of panels was reduced to 56% on the copier and printed. I’ll use these to cover the seats and door trims.
The Woodlite headlights were made using 1936 Pontiac headlights, filed down to a Woodlite profile and I’ve just glued very thin wire round the body of each lamp to replicate the raised rib that goes round the upper half. The mountings have been slimmed down from the originals. I think I’ll drill the front wings and fit the lights. I have to line up the lights tomorrow to see how they look. If they’re not mounted in the right place the front will look wrong.
I paid a visit to Frome Model Centre on Thursday (Dec. 11, 2014) as I needed some black decal sheet to finish the Ruxton Sedan. I found a plain black sheet and also a sheet of printed grilles and grids which have many applications for model cars. The company is BECCs self adhesive vinyl Custom Decals – website www.becc.co.uk.
I’ve managed to fit the dreaded Woodlite headlights! They look just right. I now have to detail the lights and refine the shapes slightly.
All I need to do now is make and fit the front and rear bumpers and detail the trunk then it’s done.
Finished! Dec. 19, 2014
With the 1:1, Dec. 19, 2014
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