by Gerald Perschbacher
It was bound to turn heads, even as it sat long, sleek and sassy along a curb. It was even more prone to grab attention as it sped down thoroughfares. It was the Ruxton.
Mention Ruxton and you must immediately think "front wheel drive." That was a novelty in 1929 when the Ruxton automobile was in its final formative stages. What resulted was a car nearly 10 inches lower than most competitors' silhouettes. That was thanks to the omission of a drive train that ran the length of the car. No need for it when the auto had front drive!
The front-drive concept was not new. Variants date to the 1700s and late 1800s in several locations around the globe. There was a highwheeler with the innovation as early as 1906. It was constructed in St. Louis, Mo., but history does not provide conclusive indications that more than one such vehicle was made. The concept was not new even before that, since the driver of any buggy or wagon clearly understood that power came from up front. The idea of rear drive was an oddity in horse-drawn days.
Some historians even trace the concept of front drive to the 1500s and an inventor named Leonardo da Vinci, but then again, Renaissance Man da Vinci did a lot of scribbling, painting, and what-not, so it's hard to fathom substance for his front-drive idea. There is no evidence that his drawings resulted in construction.
When the Moon automobile entered the car business in 1906 as an outgrowth of buggy business in St. Louis, knowledge of that crude, other-source, front-drive highwheeler must have stuck in the minds of company moguls. While Moons rose and set annually as products from the plant, none of them provided ultimate salvation for the company. The only glimmer of hope for the failing concern was an idea called the Ruxton, named after a financier who never did cough up the funds to make the car a reality. But a reality it was, despite the financial shortfall.
No running boards on the Ruxton. You did not step up and into the car, but down -- almost wrapping yourself with steel security and a Continental motor that was turned around in concept. The front drive was complicated and potentially troublesome, if for no other reason than that few (if any!) local car mechanics knew the first thing about the construction.
Still, the Ruxton and its competitor Cord (in L-29 version) rocked the imagination of the car industry in 1929 and early 1930s. That "rocking" by Ruxton did not last long.
Lest it be misunderstood, the idea for the front-drive Ruxton was not attributed to Moon Motor Car Company officials but they were rounded up and tempted by the concept. Basically, the idea was timely but would not take root unless it found fertile ground in a factory…or two. It was the concept of New Era Motors headed by a man of flair and perhaps questionable motives named Archie M. Andrews. He and his group of supporters bought into Moon stock and eventually took control.
Yet, it was William J. Muller who was mastermind behind the mechanical make-up of the front-drive Ruxton. He experimented with the idea in 1926 with a prototype. He worked at Edward G. Budd Company in Philadelphia, a popular maker of car bodies. Body designer Joseph Ledwinka gave the car its exterior lines and dashing appearance. Color and sensationalism (sometimes outlandish to some observers) were to be embodied in the Ruston. The car was to be a trend setter. But it did not last long enough to prove it.
Initially, some of new Era's influential leaders included C. Harold Wills who had formerly been chief engineer for Ford and Wills Sainte Claire, plus Fred W. Gardner, of the Gardner Motor Car Company. There was a Kissel connection being explored, too, plus one with Marmon.
The Ruxton resulted in the death of the Moon operation in 1930. Period. Wrangling over patent rights, control, management, and company direction practically put the Ruxton into a hole before it got up and running. No one has ascertained the exact number of production for the sedan and roadster, but total production estimates have ranged from 250 to 500. Some doubt if that many were even made.
Doesn't matter in the long run. The handful of survivors exist and all are interesting. The cars were predictive of future trends and are every bit of what a Full Classic should be. Call the Ruxton a dream car that came true, even though the experience was a nightmare for many.
(All rights reserved by the writer; not to be used without permission.)
The Ruxton for 1929-1930 was innovative, colorful, different on many counts, and all-Classic from front to rear.