Edward Gowan Budd was born on Dec. 28, 1870 in Smyrna, Delaware to Henry George Budd, Smyrna’s Justice of the Peace. From an early age, Budd had an aptitude for all things mechanical and following his graduation from high school, he apprenticed as a machinist at Smyrna’s G. W. and S. Taylor Iron Works. He moved to nearby Philadelphia in 1890 taking a job as a machinist at the Sellers Machine and Foundry Co. and later on the Bement-Pond Tool Company (Niles-Bement-Pond starting in 1899), a manufacturer of machines tools and hydraulic presses. At night Budd took classes in drafting and engineering at the Franklin Institute, the University of Pennsylvania and the International Correspondence School.
A friend of Budd’s named Thomas Corscaden designed a stamped sheet-steel pulley that was both lighter and cheaper to produce than traditional cast-iron versions and sold the design to George Cresson, the owner of the Philadelphia’s American Pulley Co. Budd joined his friend at American Pulley as their chief draftsman in 1898, and married his wife Mary the following year.
Aside for their pulleys, American manufactured many other items including stamped steel pedestals that were built for Hale & Kilburn, a Philadelphia furniture manufacturer that specialized in producing seating for railways, subways and trolleys.
Located at 48-50 North 6th St. (at Arch St.), Hale & Kilburn started off building parlor furniture, commodes and other household products in 1873. By the turn of the century they had become famous for their streetcar and railroad seating. They even developed a “walkover” railroad bench seat that incorporated a pedestal that allowed it to be rotated 180 degrees allowing it to face forward or backward depending on the direction of train. At the time, most of their seating was built using cast-iron frames and pedestals.
Budd’s expertise in stamped steel engineering caught the attention of Hale & Kilburn’s management and in 1902 they hired him away with an offer twice his former salary. His job was to develop pressed steel replacements for their cast-metal products, thereby reducing both their weight and their cost. Using a combination of sheet steel stampings and oxy-acetylene welding, he succeeded and was appointed works manager within a couple of years.
In 1895, French chemist Henry Le Chatelier discovered that combustion of equal quantities of acetylene and oxygen produced a 6000° F flame, a flame significantly hotter than any produced by the various gases used previously. In 1903, Thomas Wilson created the first oxyacetylene torch, and in 1907, the country’s first oxygen plant was built in Buffalo, New York. A Frenchman named David Bourneville developed a technique that was perfected by a Hale & Kilburn employee named Morris Lachman, who worked with Budd and deserves a share of the credit for his pioneering work in the field. Budd and Lachaman also experiment with arc-welding, a technique developed by an American named C.L Coffin in 1890. With the introduction of coated stick electrodes in the early 1900s, the process could now be used to produce very strong spot welds, a key to producing automobile bodies.
With the new technology, Hale & Kilburn produced hundreds of Budd-designed all-steel passenger cars for the Pullman Company in the early 1900s. The benefits were similar to that of the all-steel auto body, they were lighter, stronger and enjoyed the additional benefit of being significantly more fire resistant, a factor very important to an industry plagued by deadly railway passenger fires.
Business increased to the point that Hale & Kilburn moved to larger quarters located adjacent to the main Pennsylvania Railroad line at 2700 17th St. and Lehigh Ave in 1905. Budd was given a salary increase as well as stock options that proved useful a number of years later.
Within a short time Budd began experimenting with early attempts at shallow-draw sheet-metal stamping, producing small runs sheet metal panels for the King and Paige Co.’s composite automobile bodies.
In 1909, Emil Nelson, Chief Engineer of the Hupp Motor Car Co. approached Budd looking for help with developing a true all-metal body. In a 1948 address Budd recalled: "None of the Detroit plants would contract for this body,"
Recent improvements in sheet steel production now made it possible to produce larger stampings with a uniform thickness, however the compound curves needed for automobile bodies still had to be built from numerous individual stampings that had to be welded together by hand. However, both Hupp and Budd felt that the future lay in stamped sheet-steel bodies. Hale & Kilburn began to supply Hupp with a number of pressed steel panels and Budd started development of an all-steel automobile body.
Deep draw stamping technology had yet to be developed so Budd and Nelson devised a system where the body’s numerous steel stampings were welded together by hand and supported by a crude system of angle iron supports that held the welded subassemblies together. The disassembled bodies were shipped by rail to Detroit where they were put back together, painted and trimmed in the Hupp factory. The resulting automobile was the 1912 Hupmobile Model 32, the first car produced in Detroit with an all-steel production body. In addition to the Model 32 touring and roadster, an all-metal coupe was offered. Unfortunately Nelson left Hupmobile later that year and subsequent Model 32s were equipped with standard composite bodies.
Hupmobile was not the first to explore the all-metal body. Both Marmon and Pierce-Arrow had been building riveted cast aluminum bodies for a number of years, however the expense and expertise involved made cast aluminum impractical for a low-to-medium priced automaker like Hupp.
During 1911 Hale & Kilburn was acquired by J.P Morgan for $9 million, and the existing management was replaced by Morgan administrators who had little to no experience in the metal-stamping business. Budd quickly became frustrated and suffered a nervous breakdown later in the year. After a couple of month’s recuperation in Europe, he returned to Philadelphia in early 1912 and resigned.
With $75,000 of his own savings, $15,000 from a friend of the family’s named A. Robinson McIlvaine and $10,000 from another friend, J.S. Williams, Budd formed the Edward G. Budd Mfg. Co. on July 22, 1912. The firm was capitalized at $100,000 with Budd as president and McIlvaine, secretary. An office was leased in the North American Building at 121 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, and two good friends of Budd’s from Hale & Kilburn, Joseph Ledwinka and Russell Leidy joined the firm.
Joseph Lewinka was an Austrian immigrant whom Budd had hired for $18 per week in 1910s while he was still in charge of Hale & Kilburn. A cousin of the equally-gifted Hans Ledwinka, the designer of the Tatra, Joseph Ledwinka’s talent with sheet metal was directly responsible for the eventual success of the firm. From the teens through the forties, Ledwinka would be awarded hundreds of patents, many of which produced significant revenues for Budd when they were licensed to other body builders and automakers.
Their first product would be an all-metal truck body for a Philadelphia coal distributor. Additional investors materialized and by the end of 1912 the firm was recapitalized at 200,000 and they moved to more spacious quarters at the corner of I St. and Ontario St., a couple of blocks south of the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. They purchased their first sheet-metal press, and as it didn’t fit inside their building, a circus tent was erected to house it next door.
Budd’s efforts at building the all-steel body progressed slowly as the each set of dies required hours of work before a fault-free stamping emerged from the giant press. Until jigs were developed, welding was also tedious work and Budd’s workmen sometimes spent hours straightening joined together panels that had been severely warped during the process. Edward G. Budd had previously experimented with various types of welding techniques with Hale & Kilburn’s Morris Lachman. Arc welding proved to be the most suitable for Budd’s needs and their director of welding developments, J.W. Meadowcraft, perfected the process after many years of research and experimentation.
One of the giants of Detroit, Charles W. Nash, also felt that the all-metal body would eventually rule supreme and he and Budd had discussed the matter earlier that year. At the time Nash was head of Buick and a few months later he became president of General Motors. At the end of 1912, he ordered a sample metal body for Buick, which was followed by a $300,000 order from Oakland for 2,000 metal touring car bodies. Another early supporter of Budd was John North Willys, the super salesman from Canandaigua, New York. His Willys-Overland company had recently purchased the Garford Truck Co. and announced a new 6-cylinder automobile which would feature a Budd-built all-steel body. He placed a $500,000 order for 2,500 touring car bodies with the fledgling firm from Philadelphia, prompting Budd to look for some property in Detroit that could be outfitted to produce the large number of bodies on order.
In 1913 the former Detroit factory of the Grabowski Wagon Co. was purchased at auction and within a few weeks it was turning out finished bodies for Oakland that had been shipped there from Philadelphia to be painted and upholstered. Things look bright until Garford filed for bankruptcy a few months later. Oakland experienced a slowdown as well and Budd was forced to sell the Detroit property in order to avoid bankruptcy. John North Willys helped Budd meet payroll that winter with a check for $100,000, and put in a large order for Willys fenders to help make up for losses incurred by the Garford failure.
A well-connected salesman from Detroit named Hugh Adams joined Budd in 1913 and brought with him some new investors as well as some new contracts. During the year Budd built truck bodies for Packard and Peerless, fenders for Cadillac, Franklin, Jeffery and Willys-Overland, and some stamped panels and interior trim for the Cincinnati Car Co. and the Pullman Mfg. Co. 1913 revenue totaled $574,000, a big improvement on the $6,000 received the previous year.
The following year Budd received another substantial order, 5,000 touring car bodies for John and Horace Dodge’s new automobile.
The Dodge’s all-metal bodies looked like any other from the outside, but when the interior panels and seating were removed, the novel all-metal construction quickly became apparent. A framework of stamped steel braces was attached using rivets to the outer bodywork, which was welded together in the usual manner. The body sides were attached to the metal floor, forming a one–piece all-metal structure to which the doors and seats were attached.
Finishing an all-metal body was a much less time-consuming process that the process required for a composite (metal over wood) body. Once the exterior metalwork was sanded smooth, the primer and enamel color coats were applied and then baked at 450°F for 1-2 hours in a large oven. The entire process took less than a day - a noticeable improvement over the many weeks required to sand, prime, paint, varnish and dry a composite body.
Although “in-the-white” all-metal bodies were comparably priced to a composite body of the same type, a manufacturer could save a substantial amount of time and money during the painting process, a fact well known to the Dodge Brothers. Once painted and trimmed, the structure was bolted on the chassis in the usual manner.
The Jan-Feb, 1971 issue of Antique Automobile includes a letter that Budd sent to the Dodge Brothers’ concerning their initial order:
As predicted, the Dodge was an immediate success, and an order for 50,000 all-steel bodies was placed in 1915. Budd’s sales director Hugh Adams had been busy as well, bringing in additional orders for fenders and sheet-metal stampings from Buick, Reo and Ford. Employment totaled 800, revenue for the year exceeded $3.5 million and shareholders received a 100% dividend.
Budd’s existing Philadelphia facility could not handle the additional workload and a factory was leased at 25th and Hunting Park Ave. By the time the new plant was fully up and running in 1916, Budd employed over 2,000.
On June 17, 1914, Joseph Lewinka filed a very important patent that was assigned to Budd, US Patent No.1,143,635. Granted a year later, on June 22, 1915, it contains design and construction details for a welded all-steel touring-car body. It would prove Budd’s most valuable patent, and in the coming years brought in millions of dollars of work to the Philadelphia manufacturer. The patent was frequently infringed upon, however, negotiations with the offending parties usually resulted in a large contract for Budd and the dropping of threatened legal action. However, there was one notable exception. In the late teens, the C.R. Wilson Co. of Detroit – a predecessor to the Murray Corp. - had mysteriously obtained Budd plans for bodies, dies and welding jigs. Budd successfully sued the Detroit body builder for theft, conspiracy and unfair competition.
With John North Willys as a principal investor, the Budd Wheel Corp. was formed in 1916 to produce wire wheels for the auto industry. Although Willys-Overland was their initial customer, by the Armistice, Bud Wheel was producing wheels for Dodge, Ford, Jordan, Studebaker and Wills Ste. Claire. During the War Budd acquired a license from Michelin to produce disc wheels and they soon became popular with commercial vehicle manufacturers.
Early automotive customers for the disc wheel were Jordan and Dodge Brothers - existing pictures of General Pershing’s Dodge staff car show its Michelin-style Budd disc steel wheels. Willys sold his million dollar share in Budd Wheel to Edward G. Budd in 1921 and it was reorganized as the Budd Wheel Co. Hupmobile’s Emil Nelson joined Budd in 1923 and along with Budd engineer C.L. Eksergian introduced significant improvements in the Michelin design, creating a much stronger wheel and replacing the troublesome original brass nut with a steel replacement. Budd had apparently recovered from his first Detroit factory, and in 1925 moved all of Budd Wheel Co.’s operations to a plant on Charlevoix Ave. in Detroit. Emil Nelson left Budd in 1927 to work for the Motor Wheel Co., a Lansing, Michigan manufacturer who built the British Rudge-Whitworth wire wheel under license.
Although a few of the luxury automobile makers and custom body firms were building totally enclosed cars in the late teens, the style had yet to be introduced in a popular-priced automobile. If you owned a Ford Model T, Dodge, Willys or Chevrolet touring, the closest thing available were the one-piece pillar-less “California Tops” offered by aftermarket manufacturers. Budd changed all that in 1916, when they introduced their pillar-less hard-top on the Dodge Brothers chassis. Like the aftermarket California tops, Budd’s all metal hard-top had a fixed top and rear quarters with optional side curtains that would shield the inhabitants from inclement weather, but when removed allowed the air to freely circulate during fair weather.
The following year they introduced their first all-steel sedan, again for the Dodge Brothers. Unfortunately it wouldn’t enter into full production until 1919 as the war effort tied up large portions of the Budd factory. Three years later in 1922, Budd’s first all-steel coupe was introduced, again on the Dodge chassis.
The deteriorating situation in Europe brought Budd contracts for Liberty Truck bodies as well as stamped-steel helmets and bomb casings. Years later, Budd confided to an interviewer, "We don't like war or war work" however Budd answered the call whenever the government beckoned, and was a major supplier to the Allies during both World Wars.
In the latter half of 1917, Dodge introduced a series of commercial delivery cars with bodies made by both Budd and the H.H Babcock Co of Watertown, New York. By 1918, the Dodge Brothers commercial chassis was successfully competing against the Model TT Ford in the commercial vehicle arena, and was also available as a cowl and chassis for use by outside body builders. In February of 1918, Budd shipped its 200,000th Dodge body to Detroit.
An outgrowth of Budd’s growing wheel business was a brief foray into four-wheel brakes. Ledwinka had started working on the project starting in the late teens, and by 1921 had successfully demonstrated it on some Dodge and Rickenbacker chassis. However, Budd’s directors feared that if Budd ventured into the brake business, Bendix, the dominant US brake manufacturer, would retaliate by competing against Budd in the wheel business, so the project was scrapped in 1925. However, Budd did go on to manufacture stamped-steel and cast-iron brake drums for many years and was one of the first firms to offer disc brakes for heavy duty trucks.
Another one of Budd’s valuable employees was a former racecar driver named William J. Muller who was hired in 1920 to work for development engineer Earl James Wilson (aka Colonel) Ragsdale. During his many years at Budd, Muller served as an engineer, test driver, troubleshooter, talent scout, automobile designer and even Edward G. Budd’s part-time chauffeur. In 1926 Muller, Ragsdale and Joseph Lewinka helped design the front-wheel-drive Budd prototype that would eventually become the Ruxton.
The twenties brought with them a series of changes to Budd’s supply of steel and to how the finished products were delivered. The steel manufacturers had slowly increased both the quality and the width of sheet steel allowing Budd to slowly introduce larger and larger stampings. Ledwinka contributed to their efforts by building a giant sheet steel welder that could produce finished sheets 140” long, making it possible to produce the entire side of a four-door sedan, complete with door openings, using a single stamping. The stamping of sedan doors with integral window frames was now commonplace, speeding up the once time consuming process of hanging and aligning doors to a matter of minutes. Budd introduced 2-piece doors and body panels built from an inner and outer stamping as well as early blanket and sprayed-on insulation that helped to reduce the drumming experienced with early steel roofs.
Budd’s Philadelphia plant was enlarged in 1925 and once again in 1926 to house new multi-story presses that were needed to produce the larger stampings. By 1928 Ledwinka had successfully implemented his “monopiece” auto body - first seen on the Dodge Brothers Victory Six - built using five subassemblies consisting of a cowl, 2 sides, a roof and a rear end. By substituting rounded corners on windows and door openings, a much stronger body was made possible. Ledwinka’s developments contributed not only to a car’s appearance, but made it safer as well.
It was a common practice in the industry to deliver “bodies in the white” to the various auto manufacturers, which would be painted and trimmed in their own respective factories. Early on Budd sometimes supplied bodies that were already painted and upholstered, and even operated a plant in Detroit for a couple of years that specialized in painting and trimming. However with the all-steel body it was much cheaper to ship them in railroad car packs - knocked-down sub assemblies consisting of doors, fenders, hoods, body sides, roofs etc. - that could be stacked inside rail cars and reassembled at a customer’s own plant. The practice was commonplace from the teens through the sixties and is still used today.
Budd had larger aspirations than the US market allowed for so in 1919, Budd’s super salesman Hugh Adams went on a tour of France and England armed with a promotional film showing all-metal body building operations at Budd’s Philadelphia plant. He visited many of the industry’s giants; Andre Citroën, Louis Renault, Herbert Austin, William Morris and Kenneth Crossley. No orders were forthcoming at the time however the all-metal seed had been planted.
Andre Citroën was the first European auto manufacturer to bite and he personally toured the Budd plant during 1923. The following year, Budd’s Hugh Adams went to France to personally supervise the planning of Citroën’s new all-metal body manufacturing facility. Budd furnished Citroën with engineering assistance as well as stamping equipment, tools and dies for their new all-metal Model B-10 and B-12 bodies. In return, Citroën paid Budd a royalty of $5.00 per body. Over 20,000 bodies were produced under the direction of Budd personnel, including Edward G. Budd Jr., the founder’s son.
The next year another European automaker, William R. Morris, toured the Philadelphia Budd facilities, and returned to England with a Budd license. Investment banker J. Henry Schroder, Morris and Budd built their Pressed Steel Co. across the street from Morris’s existing assembly plant in Cowley, Oxfordshire, and once again Hugh Adams and his crew supervised the installation. The firm’s first all-steel product the Morris Cowley sedan, debuted at the 1927 Olympia show in London. Although early production was hampered by poor-quality steel, Pressed Steel became the largest independent producer of all-steel bodies in Great Britain, eventually producing bodies for such diverse brands as the Morris Mini and Rolls-Royce. Severely effected by the Depression, in 1930 William R. Morris was forced to withdraw from the enterprise. Budd had deep pockets and was able to survive eventually selling the entire operation to a group of British investors in 1936, who reorganized it as Pressed Steel Limited.
The process was repeated in Germany when the Ambi-Budd Presse Werke was set up in 1926. A partnership between Budd and Arthur Mueller’s Ambi Co., a Berlin engineering firm, Ambi-Budd took over the former Rumpler factory next to Chrysler’s Berlin-Johannisthal factory. The factories first products were Chrysler and Nash automobiles built using dies that had been shipped to Germany. Ambi-Budd eventually produced sheet metal stampings and complete bodies for nearly all of Germany’s major automobile manufacturers. They were also instrumental in developing Germany’s first all-steel automobiles including the Adler Trumpf, Ford Eifel, and the Opel Olympia, the country’s first chassis-less, all-steel automobile. Panels were also produced for Adler, Audi, BMW, Daimler-Benz, Ford, Hanomag, Horch, NSU and Opel. When the Adler Werkes became deeply indebted to Ambi-Budd in the mid-thirties, the body builder took over a 25% share in the firm.
Although Ambi-Budd had manufactured some military vehicle bodies starting in 1936, in 1939 it was absorbed by the German government and re-tooled to produce bodies for German military vehicles including the Volkswagen Type 82 Kübelwagen and Type 128/166 Schwimmwagen.
During the war Allied bombing reduced much of the factory to rubble and whatever was left was appropriated by the Russians and transported east. However the Ambi-Budd dies for BMW’s prewar models 321, 326, and 327 were used after the war to produce the East German BMW/EMW Models 341/346/347, which remained in production well into the 1950s.
Budd’s all-steel bodies were eventually licensed to manufacturers in France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia and Sweden. In 1930 Budd created the Budd International Corp. to consolidate the firm’s numerous European holdings and to keep track of their international licensees. By the start of World War II, Budd’s international licensees included Ambi-Budd, Citroën, FIAT, Carel & Fouché, Peugeot, Piaggio, Pressed Steel, Simca, Volvo and ZIS.
Louis Renault also adopted Budd’s all-metal body on his 1937 Juvaquatre, a car based on the Ambi-Budd-built Opel Kadett. For many years Renault had pirated other automakers’ patents with little or no penalties due to lax French patent law. However, this time Renault had pirated a German automobile, giving both Ambi-Budd and Opel the right to sue Renault in the German courts, who were very protective of inventor’s rights. Additionally, Renault was a major exporter to Germany, and was hesitant to lose the large German marketplace, and consequently paid Ambi-Budd back royalties.
Ford became an increasingly important customer for Budd as the twenties progressed. Budd built most of Ford's new line of factory commercial Model T and TT bodies that were introduced in 1924. When the new model A was brought out in 1928, Budd was called upon to provide the factory panel truck bodies for the Model A and Model AA delivery vans as well as the metal beds for model A Pickup Trucks. 1928 Budd panel van bodies were available in two lengths, a 57" long cargo compartment for the short wheelbase model, and a 93" compartment fort long-wheelbase Model A’s and AA’s.
Budd built the bodies for Ford's new Model A Deluxe Delivery Car introduced in 1930. Although it looked similar to a Tudor Sedan, the Delivery Car featured a totally different body that featured a slightly higher roof, solid rear quarters and a large rear cargo door.
A new line of Ford closed cabs were introduced in 1932 on the new model B and BB chassis, and all were built by Budd. Murray supplied the convertible cab, which was sold in limited numbers. Budd also supplied Ford with the new 1932 B79 Panel Delivery body. It featured a new arched side panel treatment and a gently sloping French roof that ended in a visor-less windshield. As the new van was available in two wheelbases, Budd produced two different bodies, one for the short 131 1/2" wheelbase chassis and a longer version for the 157" chassis. A side access door could be ordered on either body at additional cost. Budd became Ford’s largest supplier of truck bodies, and continued to supply them with bodies and stampings up until the start of World War II.
Budd’s expertise at welding and deep-draw stamping brought them contracts to supply Chevrolet with fenders, although they never became a customer for complete bodies. Budd had gone so far as to build a prototype all-steel Chevrolet sedan in 1925, but due to pressure from GM brass and Fisher Body it was not adopted. Although it’s commonly assumed that the Fisher turret-top of 1935 was an all-steel body, you’ll soon discover that there’s still plenty of wood supports inside it.
Deep-draw metal stamping was only a theory when Budd started producing automobile bodies in 1912. Due to pioneering work by Budd’s engineers, and breakthroughs in sheet steel composition, by 1930 it was a reality. Using huge multi-story metal presses of between 200 and 1000 tons, a piece of metal could now be drawn to a previously unheard-of ratio of 7 or 8 to 1, allowing for the complex grills and fenders that appeared during the decade.
In 1926 William J. Muller, Earl James Wilson (aka Colonel) Ragsdale and Joseph Lewinka all helped design the front-wheel-drive Budd prototype that would eventually become the Ruxton. Ledwinka was responsible for the low-slung body and Muller and Colonel Ragsdale designed the chassis and drive train. After a number of delays the car was finally complete in the fall of 1928.
Featuring a 130” wheelbase, the six-window four-door sedan body was approximately 10” lower than a contemporary rear-wheel-drive sedan. Consequently the body rode much lower on the chassis and featured an equally low hood and grill. Ledwinka’s striking design featured 31” Budd wheels and front and rear fenders with built-in mud guards as the car was so low that the running boards were eliminated.
The car cost Budd $35,000 to build and develop, over twice its original 1926 estimate. At the time it was common practice for large production body builders like Budd to develop prototypes on speculation, hoping the vehicle might be favorably received and eventually built by one of their clients. The Muller-Ragsdale-Ledwinka prototype featured a question mark on its radiator badge, just waiting to be replaced by the logo of an interested manufacturer.
It was not unusual for the company’s directors to get a sneak peak at upcoming designs and one director by the name of Archie M. Andrews absolutely loved it. Andrews was a wealthy financier and Wall St. promoter who had amassed a fortune in real estate and stocks and bonds. In addition to Budd, he was also on the board of directors of Dictagraph, Trans-Lux and Hupp, the manufacturers of the Hupmobile. He persuaded Budd’s vice president Hugh Adams to let him take over the project assuring him that Hupp Motor Car Corp. would be thrilled to build it.
Unfortunately, Hupp was unwilling to take the risk on a front-wheel drive model, no matter how attractive it might be. Consequently Andrews organized his own firm, New Era Motors Inc. to build it, and Muller left Budd to join him. It was capitalized for $5 million with Andrews as president, Muller, vice-president and a board filled with two automobile executives, Fred W. Gardner and C. Harold Wills.
Hoping to attract some additional Wall St. investors, Andrews persuaded a member of the governing board of the New York Stock Exchange, William V.C. Ruxton to join the board as well. Ruxton was a partner in Spencer, Trask & Co., a large New York brokerage house, and Andrews even named the car after Ruxton, hoping to get some of his millionaire friends and clients to invest in the enterprise.
At some point William V.C. Ruxton became disillusioned with the project, and he later denied any involvement with the project, and even filed a suit against Andrews over the matter. However that occurred after the cars debut at the 1929 New York Automobile Show where it was exhibited as the Ruxton, and the name stuck. The car was shopped around to many of the era’s mid-sized manufacturers but none were willing to take a chance on the vehicle. A few Ruxtons were eventually produced in the Moon Motors plant in St. Louis Missouri, but its ill-timed introduction by a firm with no manufacturing facilities was just too much of a hurdle to overcome.
Budd ended up building a couple hundred sedan bodies for the car, although they were produced in England by their Pressed Steel subsidiary. Cleveland’s Baker-Raulang built the Ruxton’s roadster body, Kissel built the phaeton and a handful of custom bodies were built by Raulang, Holbrook and Locke.
Budd built another front-wheel-drive prototype in 1929 for Andre Citroën. The earlier front-wheel-drive Ruxton was designed around the standard body on frame principle. The Citroën was different, it was built using an integral frame and chassis where its bodywork also served as a stressed portion of the chassis - a concept pioneered by Marmon in the teens and Lancia in the twenties that is popularly known today as unibody or monocoque construction.
John Tjaarda von Sterkenburg was developing a similar concept at much the same time as was Joseph Ledwinka’s cousin, Hans, at the Czechoslovakian automaker Tatra. However, Budd’s Citroën was the only one to feature front-wheel-drive. The car entered into production in 1934 as the Citroën Onze Légère and 7 CV Traction Avant, a car that would remain in production into the late 1950s. Early runs were built by Budd in Philadelphia while the Citroën factory was being converted to use the new tooling.
Budd helped develop a third revolutionary unit-bodied vehicle in the early thirties. Chrysler’s engineering trio, Fred Zeder, Owen Skelton, and Carl Breer (aka ZSB or 3 Musketeers), started developing the Airflow after a flock of geese flying in formation set Carl Breer’s brain in motion. They were determined to make the vehicle entirely out of steel, and turned to Budd for help in engineering the “bridge-truss” body-chassis which was made up of stamped structural steel members welded together to form a cage-like framework to which the outer steel bodywork was attached. The prototype, called the Trifon Special was completed in 1932 and underwent hundreds of hours of testing. The one-piece curved windshield found on the Trifon was too expensive to be reproduced on a massive scale, but was introduced on the top of the line Chrysler Imperial Airflow CW.
The car was not Chrysler’s first all-steel car, however it was their first unit-bodied car, and included a number of innovations such as cab-forward design of the passenger compartment, which placed both the front and the rear seat passengers between the axles, producing a much smoother ride.
Equally important was the Airflow’s use of interchangeable stampings that could be used on different body styles. The sedan doors were interchangeable – left front, being the same as right rear – and the long wheelbase Imperial CW used the wider doors found on the Airflow coupe. Chrysler and Desoto Airflows shared the same deck panel, bumper pan, roof and floorpan stampings and differed only in that the Chrysler’s front axle was located 7” inches forward of the Desoto’s and required a different set of front end stampings. Unfortunately, the use of interchangeable panels was in its infancy and many Airflows left the factory with a couple of hundred pounds of lead filler. The 1934-1937 Airflows were not successful in the marketplace and Chrysler replaced them with the Airstream which was built using body on frame construction.
The next American unibody car was built by Briggs, not Budd. Based on John Tjaarda’s Brigg’s Dream Car, the 1937-1941 Lincoln Zephyr featured a far more sophisticated truss-frame construction and although it was built in much smaller quantities, was deemed to be a success.
During the 1930s Budd’s largest customer was the Chrysler Corporation, and in 1932 they staged a publicity stunt at Coney Island in which a 5-ton elephant stood on the roof of an all-steel Budd-built 1931 Chrysler Straight-Eight sedan while the doors were opened and closed to demonstrate the strength of the all-steel body. Upon examination of the photo, the elephant stood on a specially-constructed platform placed on top of the roof, which most certainly could not have held the weight of the huge beast in its stock configuration.
Another Budd-Chrysler stunt happened a couple of years later. A number of newsreel cameramen were invited to a demonstration in which a 1933 Airflow was rolled off a 20’ cliff - sans driver – then promptly overturned and driven away. A competitor’s composite-bodied sedan attempted to repeat the feat, but was unable to be driven away as the roof had been squashed like a pancake.
During the early twentieth century, a British metallurgist named Harry Brearley developed what is now known as stainless steel by mixing a small amount of nickel into regular steel creating a rust-free product. The version he developed was unsuited to the metal stamping industry, however Krupp, the German steel producer, had a useable product ready following World War I. The Allegheny Steel Co. licensed it in the United States and Budd became enamored with it soon after.
Following a European visit in 1930, Budd returned to the United States with a remarkable idea. He hoped to return to the manufacture of all-steel railway cars using an outer skin made from the new stainless steel. Allegheny and Budd worked together on the project and discovered that the material had sufficient elasticity to permit formation by shallow-draw dies and presses. Unfortunately they encountered one problem, conventional welding techniques destroyed the material.
In 1932, Budd’s brilliant development engineer, Colonel Ragsdale, was given the task to come up with a procedure that wouldn’t destroy the new material. Within a few short months Ragsdale found the answer, by modifying existing arc-welding equipment to work at a temperature of 2700 degrees F., stainless steel panels could be fused together without damage. Budd's French-based associate, Michelin, commissioned a single-car rubber-tired stainless-steel paneled train later that year and ordered three more during the following months. Dubbed the Budd-Michelin "Lafayette," they paved the way for Budd's next stainless-steel clad train, which would debut in 1934.
Equipped with a diesel-electric drivetrain, the three-car "Zephyr" was the first stainless steel train in America, weighing no less than a single Pullman Car. It featured an interior designed by Philadelphia architect Paul Cret and was sold to the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad who christened it the Burlington Pioneer Zephyr. The vehicle launched the streamliner railway craze and within a couple of years hundreds of Budd’s streamlined cars and locomotives were coming out of Budd’s Hunting Park plant with names like Rocket, Silver Meteor, Champion, Mark Twain, Flying Yankee, Super Chief and El Capitan. The train’s significantly higher speeds sparked Budd’s interest in disc brakes, which were first applied to the streamliners in the late thirties. Budd’s automotive disc brakes appeared for the first time on the 1967 Chrysler and Imperial.
“Pioneer Without Profit” shouted an article in the February 1937 issue of Fortune magazine. The magazine had obtained a copy of the Edward G. Budd Mfg. Co.’s accounts, which showed a loss of $3.3 million dollars over the previous 11 years (1924-1935). Budd was furious, however the article was not without its merits, although it did mislead its readers with the exploitative headline. Budd had lost over $3.3 million, $4.8 million to be exact - $730,000 in 1931, $1,785,000 in 1932, $886,000 in 1933 and $1,399,000 in 1934. However large profits in the years immediately preceding the losses brought the total down quite a bit.
To put Budd’s losses in a better perspective, most large American manufacturers lost money during the same period, and not a single one of them was involved in redesigning the American passenger train which accounted for most of the losses. Railcar manufacture and development preoccupied Budd throughout the thirties and he poured millions of his own money back into the project. Strapped for cash, Budd even sold their British subsidiary, Pressed Steel, in 1937 for $5 million and secured a number of loans from the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia.
Despite some stiff competition from Pullman, Budd managed to survive the decade and between 1938-39 Budd engineer Ted Ulrich created another evolutionary automobile design, the Nash 600. Ulrich carried on the fine work of Joseph Ledwinka following the retirement and Ulrich’s name would appear on Budd’s patents during the late thirties.
Nash’s president George Mason had been interest in unit construction for a number of years and when it came time to design the next Nash, he turned to Budd for help. The 1941 Nash 600 weighed 500lbs. less than any of its competitors and featured true unit construction, with numerous formed box sections and welded inner and outer stampings throughout. Ulrich followed the 600 project over to Nash where he directed its final development, remaining as their chief body engineer through the 1950s.
When both train and automobile production ground to a halt at the end of 1941, Budd’s 20,000 employees started stamping out bomb and artillery shells as well as the cargo and reconnaissance bodies that were fitted to WC-series Dodge light trucks. They also produced the stainless steel twin-engined RB-1 Conestoga cargo planes for the US Navy as well as numerous other The Conestogas remained popular after the war and were the first planes selected for use by world’s first private air freight company, the Flying Tiger Line.
Although Budd expressed his displeasure at engaging in “war work”, it created a $19 million balance in their bank account, enabling the firm to relocate all of its railroad operations to a new plant in Bustleton, Pennsylvania, leaving Philadelphia’s Hunting Park exclusively for their automotive activities.
Following the war Budd returned to automobile manufacturing and helped Hudson with the development of the 1948 Hudson Commodore, another evolutionary vehicle built using integral frame and chassis. Hudson spent $16 million to re-tool for the vehicle, and unlike most of the other pre-war unibodied cars built by Budd, the Hudson was a success. Hudson advertised that its wide footprint, low center of gravity, 15” tires and “Monobilt” construction contributed to the Commodores excellent handling. The floor of the passenger compartment was also located a number of inches below the height of the door sills, creating the nickname “Stepdown” to describe the process of getting in an out of the vehicle. Budd also built the bodies for the Virgil M. Exner-designed 1947 Studebaker, another memorable postwar automobile, although it featured a normal body on frame design.
Edward G. Budd passed away on November 30, 1946 in Germantown, Pennsylvania, and was succeed by his son, Edward G. Budd Jr., as president. Concurrent with the change in leadership, the firm’s two American subsidiaries, the Budd Wheel Co. and Edward G. Budd Mfg Co., were merged into a single entity, the Budd Co.
Business with Ford continued to be strong after the war and in 1950 a new automotive stamping plant was built a few miles southeast of Detroit in Gary, Indiana. A further addition was erected at Hunting Park in 1952, and by the end of the decade a plant had been built in downtown Detroit as well.
Although the bulk of their automotive business consisted of supplying stamping and sub assemblies, Budd also supplied “bodies in the white” for special projects such as Ford’s 1955-57 Thunderbird which were built at Budd’s Mack Ave. plant in Detroit, then trucked 12 miles west for painting and final assembly at Ford’s Dearborn facility. Budd even supplied Ford with station wagon bodies “in the white” for their popular Ford’s Taurus.
Budd continued to build an occasional speculative prototype well into the 1960s. They built a mid-sized sports convertible for American Motors in 1963 called the XR-400 that accurately predicted the look and wheelbase of the 1964 ½ Mustang. Unfortunately for them, AMC rejected the car.
Under Edward Budd, Jr., the reorganized Budd Co. began paying its first regular dividends in over sixteen years. He retired as chairman of the board in 1967 and died four years later, ending the family’s 55-year management of the firm they founded.
An outgrowth of Budd’s extensive railroad manufacturing experience was the short-lived Budd Trailer which first appeared in the 1960s. Built of aluminum or stainless steel, Budd’s truck trailers were popular for a number of years, but fell from favor in the early 1980s.
In 1978, The Budd Company was acquired by Thyssen AG of Germany and began to withdraw from non-automotive businesses, refocusing on their core automotive businesses. The 1999 merger of Thyssen AG and Krupp AG produced Thyssen Krupp Automotive AG, one of the largest automotive suppliers in the world with revenues approaching $6 billion annually. Budd currently operates 39 facilities in North America, employing approximately 13,000 people. They design and manufacture products using a variety of materials, including several grades of steel, sheet molded composites (SMC), aluminum, graphite, ductile and gray iron producing products found on more than 100 current model vehicles sold in North America, with annual revenues exceeding $2.5 billion.
In 1985, 40 years after his death, Edward G. Budd, the "father of the stainless-steel streamliner," was inducted into Dearborn, Michigan's Automotive Hall of Fame.
Today, when you mention the word Budd, the 10-hole, stud-piloted disc wheel found on medium to heavy duty trucks is what comes to mind. Of those who recognize the name, a large percentage might remember the thousands of stainless steel rail cars that once crossed the country, but only a handful will recognize it as the world’s largest and oldest independent producer of automobile bodies.
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com with special thanks to Harold M. Cobb