1930 Ruxton
1930 Ruxton. Click image to enlarge

Story and photo by Bill Vance

Despite the fact that front-wheel drive has numerous advantages, and is now very popular, American manufacturers didn’t adopt it nearly as readily as Europeans did.

American Walter Christie and his Christie Front Drive Motor Co. of New York, N.Y. was a front-drive pioneer as early as 1904, but he was a voice in the wilderness. Before GM’s front-wheel drive 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado, and spinoff 1967 Cadillac Eldorado, the Cord was the best known American fwd car. But there was another American front-driver called the Ruxton, and both it and the Cord arrived at about the same time, although the Cord would survive longer.

The Ruxton evolved via a circuitous route. It was developed by former racing engineer William Muller, an employee of the Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Co. of Philadelphia, to promote Budd’s pioneering all-steel car bodies.

Muller designed the running gear, and Budd’s chief engineer Joseph Ledwinka styled the body. It was longer than contemporary production cars, and had a 3,302 mm (130 in.) wheelbase. Like the Cord, its front-wheel drive resulted in low overall height, just 1,607 mm (63.25 in.), some 254 mm (10 in.) lower than contemporary rear-drive cars.

The prototype came to the attention of wealthy Wall Street financier Archie Andrews, a member of Budd’s board of directors. Andrews, an ambitious promoter, was so intrigued with the Budd/Muller/Ledwinka car that he set out to get it manufactured.

Andrews was also on the board of Hupp Motor Car Corp. of Detroit, maker of Hupmobiles. He acquired the prototype, and approached Hupp to see it they would produce it. They were interested, but when they got cold feet before signing, Andrews launched the project himself.

In the spring of 1929 Andrews formed New Era Motors Inc. in New York City, with himself as president, and engineer Muller as vice-president. While Muller proceeded to get the car ready for manufacturing, Andrews sought financial backing and facilities. In his quest for finances Andrews so unabashedly wooed prominent New York stockbroker William Ruxton that he named the car the Ruxton. Ironically, Ruxton never did provide any money.

Undaunted, Andrews approached the Gardner Motor Co. of St. Louis, which, like Hupp, showed interest but pulled out. Luxury car builder, Marmon Motor Car Co. of Indianapolis, was keen, but declined when the stock market crashed on the day it was to sign.

Becoming desperate, Andrews talked to Jordan, Pierce and Stutz, none of whom wanted to build the Ruxton. Finally, Andrews found someone who would, the ailing Moon Motor Car Co. of St. Louis. Andrews quickly took control of Moon by buying a large block of stock, and Ruxton production began in the summer of 1930.

But Muller wasn’t happy with the old Moon plant, so Andrews set out to find an additional facility. His search brought him to the Kissel Motor Co. of Hartford, Wisconsin, also in financial difficulties, who welcomed the opportunity to produce the Ruxton. The Ruxton was soon being built by Moon in St. Louis and Kissel in Wisconsin, although Moon would ultimately produce most of them.

The production model had a 100-horsepower Continental 4.4 litre (268.6 cu in.), side-valve, straight-eight engine. It was reversed in the chassis, with the flywheel/clutch/transaxle at the front, driving the front wheels through a Muller-designed three-speed transaxle.

The transmission was unusual in that it was split, with first and reverse gears ahead of the worm-drive differential, and second and third gears behind it. This resulted in a much shorter powertrain.

Its styling was low and sleek. In addition to its svelte silhouette, long hood and lack of running boards, most Ruxtons had optional “Woodlite” headlamps. The teardrop shaped lights with a narrow “cat’s eye” opening for the lens were supposed to concentrate an intense narrow beam of light.

But the Depression was dramatically reducing the number of buyers who could afford $3,000 cars. And the Auburn Automobile Co.’s new, front-wheel drive L29 Cord was finding more favour with the remaining luxury-car buyers. The inevitable end came for Ruxton in late 1930 or early ’31 after an estimated 500 had been produced. Like so many others, particularly luxury cars, the Ruxton became a victim of the Depression.

Cord would carry the front-wheel drive banner, briefly, in North America in the 1930s. Front-drive would not be revived here until the Oldsmobile Toronado. The Ruxton was a short chapter in American automotive history, but one with the distinction of being among the first of our front-drivers.

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