If you're a car nut of a conservative sort I but with a liquid bank account, if you like Rolls-Royces but feel they're a bit stuffy, if you like the looks of a 1928 Mercedes or a 1930 Duesenberg but wish they came with power steering—then the car for you is a Ruger. That's right—a Ruger.
The Ruger car is named for William Ruger Sr. of Southport, Conn., and at the moment there are only two in existence, both owned by the man who designed and gave his name to them. When Mr. Ruger puts on his visored cap, climbs into his bright yellow open tourer and takes to the roads of southern New England, pedestrians and motorists alike come to a halt to get a better look. Once, at a toll booth on the turnpike, he was asked by a booth operator, "What car is that?" "It's a Ruger," said Ruger. "I thought so," replied the man with a grin. "I used to have one of those myself."
Ruger's yellow touring car is only a year old, but it looks as if it had been built around 1930 and kept gleaming by loving collectors all these years. There is more than gleam to it, however. Despite its antique look it is a high-performance modern automobile with a timeless body, built of the finest mechanical parts available today. Taking a curve at 60 mph, Ruger will observe, "Any engineer who looks at it knows right away that this is not an old car. It is too well made with modern materials and techniques."
Ruger is a youthful 54 years old and looks not unlike a recently retired race driver. He is really a gun designer, whose company, Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc., manufactures fine revolvers and rifles. For most of his life, however, Bill Ruger has been in love with automobiles. He once owned a 1928 Stutz Blackhawk Speedster that was recently auctioned off at New York's Parke-Bernet Galleries for $15,000. "Found it in a garage up in New Hampshire," he says, "but I sold it in 1959 for $3,000." Now he owns three Ferraris. His son, who helped develop the Ruger, owns a Bentley and his wife drives a Mercedes 300. Yet, despite all the well-bred horsepower available to him, Ruger felt the need to develop a car that would give its owner even more satisfaction than any car in existence today.
Five years ago, with the help of a group of Detroit engineers, he started to design the Ruger. "The idea was to make a very fine automobile according to today's best engineering standards," says Ruger, "but with styling free of the modern streamlined appearance."
The car he produced is a model of elegant simplicity. The body shell and fenders are made of fiber glass, the doors—two in front and one in the rear—are aluminum castings. The engine hood, which can be folded up for complete accessibility to all parts of the motor, is made of aluminum. A modern copper radiator is hidden inside a plated brass shell which has a stainless steel grille. The wire wheels are by Borrani of Italy. The dashboard is of solid walnut and carries instruments made by Smith's in England.
Ruger's two demonstration models are equipped with Ford V-8 427-cu.-in. engines producing 425 hp at 6,000 rpm and a top speed of about 150 mph. But production models will be equipped with 429-cu.-in. Ford engines in the 350- to 375-hp class to comply with antismog requirements. The four-speed manual all-synchromesh Ford transmission is extremely smooth, but Rugers will also be offered with an automatic transmission.
The Ruger chassis consists of box section side rails, a cruciform center brace and four tubular cross-members, all made of steel and painted to resist corrosion. The chassis is visible, like a tray on which the body rests. On Ruger's yellow car it has been painted a bright green, on his black car a deep red. "We do nothing to cover up the chassis parts," he says. "Many companies go out of their way to make sure that nothing shows. We let it show and make it look beautiful."
Not long ago Ruger hired Tom Hibbard to work on variations of the body design. Hibbard and his former partner, Howard Damn, are the American body designers who were the hit of Paris Automobile Shows from 1922 until 1932 with their handsome and rakish designs for such luxury cars as the Rolls-Royce, the Duesenberg and the Hispano-Suiza. Hibbard, who now lives in Camden, Maine, has already designed a Ruger sports body that looks much like the 540 K Mercedes of 1937, "one of the great luxury sports cars of all times," according to Ruger. Eventually Hibbard's designs will provide the customer with a choice of bodies that will retain the Ruger look but differ in dimensions and finish. Any one of these bodies could be mounted on the Ruger chassis.
Of course, such luxury does not come cheap. The Ruger, when it goes into production (and some 50 cars have already been spoken for) will cost about $13,000 as an open touring car with folding top, either four- or two-seater. The closed sedan will range from $15,000 to $17,000, depending on its degree of luxury. "It's expensive," says Ruger, "but you will be buying a great car, and you don't have to buy another one next year."
If the notion appeals to you, go to South-port and ask for a demonstration ride.