How does 10 hours of work turn into 3000? Restore a rare Ruxton to concours condition

You never know until you try. My good friend Scott R Bosés gave me a call one day in 2012. He told me that Ruxton, produced in the early 1930s by the New Era Motors in New York, was the featured marque for the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours. Only 19 are known to exist, and Scott found a ’32 in Flint, Michigan, that wasn’t running. He asked that I get it going for him so he could be put it on a transport and ship it to a restoration shop in California.

Long story short, it never made it there.

I had decided to shutter my business, which was working in commercial lighting. I had a great run and entertained retiring, but the financial lure kept drawing me back, even though I had less and less to do. To challenge myself, I offered to give Scott 10 hours of my time. I was familiar with the brand of engine in the car, made by the Continental Motor Company. What I didn’t know was that this engine was an odd bird. The car was a very early front-wheel-drive vehicle, and like the others of the period, the engine was mounted backwards to drive the front wheels.

After I put 14 hours into it, I was ready to start it. I hooked up a small fuel tank and battery, and I put water in the radiator. It was a big radiator, so I didn’t think much of it when the fourth gallon went in. The engine is huge, so I figured the water was filling up the water jacket and head. When I put the seventh gallon in, I thought something was screwy. As I started the eighth gallon, water and oil started running out of the front and rear main—actually it was mostly oil, as whatever I was pouring into the radiator was ending up in the oil pan and the fresh engine oil was floating on the water. Oy!

Barry Wolk

There was only one way that could happen. There had to be a crack between the water chamber and the chamber that held all things oiled. I hated making that phone call to Scotty. Removing the side panels covering the valve train revealed a rain-forest of moisture emanating from a 22-inch crack in the engine block. Now what do you do?

Well, my friend Greg Hartle told me about an engine cement that could seal the crack from the inside. I was skeptical, but it worked. Unfortunately, we found that one of the cam lobes was flattened, which meant that the engine had to come out for a rebuild. What had I gotten myself into?

Well, Scotty asked if I could spruce up the engine compartment while the engine was out, but the fenders were in the way. You could still see the rusted frame rails after the engine came out, so the body had to come off to get to the frame. You can see what happened.

Some 1000 hours later, the car was ready for body work and paint. I completely stripped the paint off everything, had all the mechanical bits powder-coated, and then reassembled the chassis.

There was a looming deadline, less than eight months away. The car had to be on a truck headed to Pebble Beach 10 days before the concours. I do decent body work, but this was headed to the finest, most prestigious Concours d’Elegance in the country, maybe the world. I really needed a body and paint expert. I’d known Jocko McNeal for years as the floor manager of a local restoration shop. He was on his own and looking for body work, but he really didn’t want to paint it. I really needed to get the project moving, so he stepped in with his pal, Dan Letinski. Together they eventually acquiesced and started talking like they would paint it and do the final assembly.

Barry Wolk

We got the engine back and tried in vain to start it. After five days, I was curled up in a ball on the shop floor. That’s when Dave Brown stepped in and saved the day. He knew something no one else knew. Because the engine was in backwards, the ignition timing was done off the #1 cylinder and the valve timing off #8. Who knew? Dave did.

About that time, Celesta Pappas-Boses came up with the color scheme. Ruxton hired a set designer to come up with a paint job that made the car look even longer and lower than it really was. There were a small number of cars painted various striped color schemes, but none survived, so the owners only had black and white factory photos to go by. Celesta hit upon the idea of a grey scale color scheme that replicated the photo.

I had been documenting the entire project for an automotive website called VWvortex, and I revealed their plans. Scotty was not happy, as he wanted the color scheme to be a secret. I quickly pulled Celesta’s drawing and started to sulk that I wouldn’t be able to continue my build reporting without photos. The proverbial light bulb went on and I settled for posting any new pictures in B&W. I ended up having the most fun with that bit of concealment. Everyone wanted to know the color scheme, but it was right in front of them all the time.

Now, close to 3000 man-hours in, the transporter, John van Dam, was sitting in my parking lot. He had arrived at 5 p.m., but I wasn’t quite finished. Three hours later, the back fenders still had not been installed. I was a wreck, but by 10:30 the car rolled onto the transport under its own steam. That’s when I decided that I would never, ever again get involved with any project that had a hard deadline.

Thankfully, this one worked out. Bonus: The owners paid our way to California and we got to share in their joy.

Barry Wolk
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