No, it's not a Porsche, but in a way it does fit in.
The year was early 1929, not a good year for a new car introduction. There it sat on a Manhattan street, a strikingly good-looking and very new design. It was very low, lower than anything on the market! What was it? As curious onlookers gathered round they looked in vain for a name. Nothing on the hubcaps, nothing on the back, but there on the radiator was a badge, oh, what was it? On close examination all that was revealed was a question mark!
That was the start of the turbulent and short life of the Ruxton automobile. It was indeed a ground breaking design. A few details;
Front wheel drive!
- (Two years before Cord.)
- (Two years before DKW)
- (Five years before Citroen)
- (Twenty years before Saab)
- (Thirty nine years before Audi)
Unique transmission design.
- The design used a worm gear drive. This allowed a saving of 12” in overall length of the car.
- Low and reverse gears were put in front of the differential and second and third were put in back.
- This solved the problem of putting enough weight on the front wheels. (Many front wheel drive car designs had problems with not enough weight on the front, causing problems with slippage on steep hills.)
Lower than anything produced at that time.
- 63” tall, a good 10” lower than anything on the market., accomplished by the use of front wheel drive and a new design frame and body mounting.
- Yet the ground clearance was 10,” equal to or surpassing any of the conventional cars of the day.
19” wheels. 6.00 X 19” tires (giving a 31” overall diameter.)
- The Woodlite headlight was an unconventional design that used mirrors internally to focus a very narrow beam on the road.
- Unfortunately, they gave very little or no light on the entire road. They were very bright, in fact some states banned them for allegedly blinding on-coming drivers.
- But, they were unique, and with matching parking lights.
- To further dramatize the low height they utilized the custom color design of New York stage and interior designer, Joseph Urban. His design called for eight horizontal bands of color, graduating from very light at the top to very dark at the bottom of the car.
- The colors that were to be available were, blue, green, gray and maroon.
- In addition the fenders were to be trimmed in the lightest color. As well as the same color trim in the middle of the fenders.
- (And this was in 1929 and the Ford model T was still mostly all black.)
Battery under the hood. Most cars had the battery under the floorboards, making access difficult.
deDion tube front axle with Spicer constant velocity universal joints. This allowed for a 38’ turning circle. (Considerably under most cars of the time.)
- Wheelbase- 130”
- Track- 56”
- Weight- 4000 lbs.
Engine: Continental model 18 S L head straight 8
- Bore & Stroke - 3” X 4.75”
- Displacement - 268.6 cu.in.
- Horsepower - 100 @ 3400 rpm
- $3195, sedan
- $3195 roadster
The car was met with overwhelming public acclaim, and when engineer Willam Muller drove the car over 12,000 miles and then to a meeting of the Society of Automotive engineers, it was met with praise and admiration.
It all started with Willam Muller. Born in Brooklyn and educated at Brooklyn Polytechnic, he garnered a wealth of engineering experience over a decade of work as a racing mechanic. He joined the Edward Budd manufacturing company of Philadelphia in 1920 as an experimental engineer. In the course of this work he proposed building a car of his design. It was approved and after some delays it was finished in 1928. The car had a question mark on the radiator.
Now enter Archie Andrews a wealthy financier and promoter. He was a board member of various large corporations, Pictograph, Hupp and Budd. Highly enthusiastic over Muller’s design, he persuaded Muller to leave Budd and somehow, stole the car design and car away from Budd. He anticipated having Hupp produce the car. However, Hupp had other plans, they had record demand for Hupp automobiles and in addition they had recently purchased the Chandler-Cleveland Automobile company and were in no mood to take on another car production. Now what?
Andrews decided to form his own company. In April 1929, he announced New Era Motors Inc. They opened offices at 17 East 45th street in New York City. Corporate officers were announced. Archie Andrews, President, William Muller, Vice President. A distinguished board of directors. Fred Gardner of Gardner Motor Company Inc. St. Louis, Metallurgist C. Harold Willis of Ford and Willis St. Clair, and a stock broker by the name of William V. C. Ruxton, who was a member of the governing committee of the New York Stock Exchange.
The name for the new car was to be Ruxton. This was perhaps in hope that Ruxton would bring further investors from his associates at the stock exchange. It did not happen! In fact Ruxton sued over a question of a $50,000 stock subscription, and he denied any connection with the company. But somehow, the name Ruxton stayed on the car. The company was not off to a propitious start!
But the company did have offices, and a board of directors. Of course there was still the matter of who would manufacture the car. Rumors of who, were rampant. Peerless in Cleveland was approached, “Well they might.“ Hupmobile in Detroit said that they would not! Gardner in St. Louis was approached and finally, success. The details were to be worked out.
Gardner had been producing Chevrolet under contract, with Willam Crapo, but when the company was sold to General Motors, production was discontinued, they now had capacity. It seemed that the problem was solved. Now the emphasis was to sign up dealers and distributors, and most important, attracting favorable publicity. The car was shown at the Grand Central Palace in New York in October to favorable comments. A special sedan was show to various dealer prospects around the country. At the Chicago Auto Show the car garnered extremely favorable reviews.
Then, a major problem, Gardner and Andrews could not agree on the terms of the agreement to manufacture the car! It seemed that Gardner had decided to produce their own front wheel drive car. Now what? Andrews approached Marmon. The car was shown to them, and they appeared quite interested. The chief engineer at Marmon sent a telegram to Muller stating “the car was practical, ingenious, and had great commercial possibilities.” But it was now November 1929, the stock market had crashed. and only a few sample cars existed. Marmon decided that now was not the time to take on a new car project.
Once again the question was who would manufacture the car? And again there was an answer – Moon. Moon Motor car company was based in St. Louis and similar to Gardner was an old and small company. They had never grown very large. Peak production was in 1925, 13,000 Moon and Diana cars. After that it was a down hill slide with a number of different nameplates. The Diana was discontinued in 1927. Next was the Aerotype, then the Windsor White Prince, and finally the Moon was discontinued in favor of the Windsor. It was thought that the Moon had lost appeal. The Ruxton was thought to be the answer to their problems.
In late November it was official; Moon would take over Ruxton production. Distribution would be through Moon dealers. It seemed that finally things were working out. However behind the scene things were anything but calm. Rumors were spreading. In March 1930, the stories going round were that New Era was about to merge with Moon, Gardner, Kissel, Jordan, and Stutz. This was news to Stutz; they denied everything. Jordan admitted that there had been talk, but nothing more. At Gardner, it depended on to who you talked; some were saying yes, a merger was imminent; others said it would never happen.
Then in April it all came to a head. First there would be a merger of Gardner and Moon. A good plan, the companies would combine their sales and engineering departments. It sounded good on paper. And that is where it remained. The reason for the merger was to prevent Andrews and New Era from taking over Moon. However, Andrews was way ahead of them. Moon had traded new issues of their shares of the company in exchange for Ruxton rights and patents. Of 350,000 shares of stock, New Era now held 240,000. When Andrews demanded a seat on the board, Moon officials refused. Andrews simply held a board meeting of his own and increased the number of board members from seven to fifteen, all Andrews men of course. Less than a week later all of the Moon officers found themselves out of a job. At Andrews insistence Muller became president of the Moon company. But the Moon officers were not done with the fight. New Era had taken over the company, but they were not going to get the factory. The Moon people hired armed guards and barricaded themselves in the factory. Andrews armed with a court order simply broke in and took over. New Era was now firmly in control.
Meanwhile, Andrews had been busy. He had approached the Kissel Motor car company in Hartford, Wisconsin. Kissel was another old and small company that was finding it hard going against the mass production of the 1930s. However, they had an excellent plant and facilities. Much better than Moon. In fact when Muller gained access to the Moon plant he had been astounded at the poor equipment. Andrews and George Kissel worked out an agreement. Kissel would receive $250,000. in new financing, $100,000. available immediately. In return Kissel would agree to produce 1500 Ruxtons per year, provided that the market would absorb that many. Meanwhile, Kissel would continue producing their existing line of cars. Should Kissel not live up to the bargain, control of the company would go to Andrews in return for New Era stock.
In June 1930, the first Ruxtons rolled off the assembly line at Moon. J.E. Roberts General Manager of Moon Company, reported that the demand for Ruxtons would keep the company busy for some time. But as the Ruxtons were being shipped around the country, suits and countersuits were being fought out in the courts over the control of Moon. However, New Era was having a hard time. The depression was starting to have a major influence in the market. Cord had gained a head start in production and sales. Andrew’s companies were in very shaky situation.
Then Kissel collapsed! Not able to meet mortgage payments, at the request of George A. Kissel the company was placed in the hands of receivers because of his reluctance to have the company fall into the hands of Andrews. The company attempted to continue production, but found that it was not possible. To further compound the problems, the final drive assemblies for the Ruxton was being made at Kissel and then shipped to Moon. But now that was not possible and as a result no Ruxtons could be produced at Moon. Moon shut down, bankrupt! Kissel shut down, bankrupt! Gardner shut down, bankrupt! and then New Era shut down, bankrupt! All within six months.
How many Ruxtons were produced? No firm numbers! It has been reported that some 500 were delivered, other sources report only 300 some, yet others say less than 100 were ever produced. It has been reported that only 19 cars still exist. Of these, 17 are said to be in original condition and running order. The Ruxton was a unique and ground breaking design that deserved a better outcome. Had it been produced by a strong financial company and in larger numbers it might have changed the entire shape of the automobile business and design of automobiles worldwide. As the saying goes, “What might have been?”
Now you have learned a bit about a unique car, go to “You Tube” and look for Jim Fasnacht and his video “ A look at Ruxtons”. Some very pretty cars!