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FreightWaves Classics/Pioneers: Edward G. Budd transformed the railroad and automobile industries (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this article, the early life and career of Edward G. Budd was profiled. How Budd revolutionized the automobile industry in the 1900-20 period was also covered. 

The article will continue with other examples of the Budd Manufacturing Company’s impact on the automotive industry.

Increasing success during the 1920s 

Joseph Ledwinka continued to develop innovations for Budd. “Initially created by welding together numerous small, single-strike stampings, Budd and his associates soon developed multiple-strike, deep-draw stamping techniques, which allowed auto manufacturers to create complete body shells from as little as four stamped pieces of steel.”

One of Edward Budd’s best qualities was his ability to attract smart, capable and inventive people. Another of Budd’s valuable employees was William J. Muller, a former racecar driver who was hired to work for the company’s development engineer Earl J.W. Ragsdale in 1920.  Muller was an engineer, test driver, troubleshooter, talent scout and automobile designer during his long career at Budd. 

The 1920s brought several changes to Budd’s steel supply and how its finished products were delivered. Steel manufacturers had developed new processes to increase the quality and width of sheet steel; this allowed Budd to introduce larger and larger stampings. Ledwinka built a giant sheet steel welder that was capable of producing finished sheets more than 11 feet long, making it possible for Budd to produce an entire side of a four-door sedan (complete with door openings) using a single stamping. 

Stamping sedan doors with integral window frames became commonplace. The formerly time-consuming process of hanging and aligning doors was now done in minutes. Like the painting process, Budd’s new processes increased the speed with which cars were built – and time was money… 

Other innovations introduced by Budd in the 1920s were two-piece doors and body panels built from an inner and outer stamping. Also, to help dampen the noise of early steel roofs, blanket and sprayed-on insulation were developed. 

These new processes led to the enlargement of Budd’s Philadelphia plant in 1925 and then again in 1926 in order to provide room for new multi-story presses that produced larger stampings. 

Ledwinka developed and successfully implemented his “monopiece” auto body, which was first used on the Dodge Brothers Victory Six in 1928. The monopiece was built using five subassemblies consisting of a cowl, the two sides, a roof and a rear end. Ledwinka used rounded corners on windows and door openings, which created a more attractive vehicle. The process also meant that the car had a much stronger body, making it a safer car as well.

At that time, Budd and its competitors generally delivered automobile bodies that were ready to be painted and trimmed in the auto manufacturers’ factories. For a time Budd operated a facility in Detroit that specialized in painting and trimming. However, it became much cheaper to ship sub-assemblies of doors, fenders, hoods, body sides, roofs, etc. that were stacked inside rail cars and then assembled at an automobile factory.

Ford becomes a customer

The Ford Motor Co. became a customer in the early 1920s, and grew in importance as the decade progressed. Budd built the majority of Ford’s new line of commercial Model T and TT bodies that were rolled out in 1924. When Ford introduced its new Model A in 1928, Budd  produced the panel truck bodies for the Model A and Model AA delivery vans and the metal beds for model A pickup trucks. Budd panel van bodies were available in two lengths for Ford in 1928 – a 57-inch-long cargo compartment for the model with a short wheelbase, and a 93-inch-long compartment for long-wheelbase Model A’s and AA’s.

Moving into 1930, Budd manufactured the bodies for Ford’s new Model A Deluxe Delivery Car, which was introduced that year. The Delivery Car featured a totally different body with a slightly higher roof, solid rear quarters and a large rear cargo door.

Ford introduced a new line of closed cab models in 1932 on its new Ford B and BB chassis; all were built by Budd. The company also supplied Ford with bodies for the new 1932 B79 Panel Delivery truck. The new van was available in two wheelbases, so Budd produced two different bodies; and a side access door could be ordered on either body at additional cost. 

Budd grew to become Ford’s largest supplier of truck bodies, and the company continued to supply Ford with bodies and stampings until the start of World War II.

No dice at Chevrolet

Because of Budd’s expertise at welding and deep-draw stamping, GM’s Chevrolet division bought fenders from Budd. However, Chevrolet never purchased complete bodies. Apparently, pressure from GM’s senior leadership and Fisher Body (a competitor to Budd that became a GM subsidiary) was enough to block Budd. 

An early front-wheel drive automobile

Muller, Ragsdale and Lewinka helped to design the front-wheel-drive Budd prototype in 1926 that would eventually become the Ruxton automobile. Ledwinka developed the car’s low-slung body and Muller and Ragsdale designed the chassis and drivetrain. The car was finally completed in the fall of 1928.

The prototype was a six-window, four-door sedan with a 130-inch wheelbase. Its body was approximately 10” lower than a contemporary rear-wheel-drive sedan. The body rode much lower on the chassis and featured an equally low hood and grill. Ledwinka’s design was striking, and featured 31” Budd wheels and front and rear fenders with built-in mud guards.

The car cost Budd $35,000 to build and develop (which was more than twice the 1926 estimate). It was not unusual for the company’s directors to see upcoming designs; Archie M. Andrews was a director who loved the car. Andrews was a wealthy financier and Wall St. promoter who had made a fortune in real estate and stocks and bonds. In addition to being a member of the Budd board of directors, he was also on the board of directors at Hupp Motor Car Corp., the manufacturer of the Hupmobile. He persuaded Hugh Adams to let him take over the project, assuring him that Hupp would be thrilled to build it.

However, Hupp was unwilling to take the risk on a front-wheel drive model. That led Andrews to organize New Era Motors Inc. to build it, and Muller left Budd to join him. Seeking to attract some additional Wall Street investors, Andrews persuaded William V.C. Ruxton to join the New Era board. Ruxton was a partner in a large New York City brokerage house; Andrews even named the car after Ruxton, hoping to get some of Ruxton’s wealthy friends and clients to invest in the enterprise.

Although the car debuted at the 1929 New York Automobile Show, the Ruxton never went into mass production. 

The same year, Budd manufactured a different front-wheel-drive prototype for Andre Citroën. The Ruxton had been designed with the standard body-on-frame principle. The Citroën prototype was different; it was built with an integrated frame and chassis – its bodywork also served as a stressed portion of the chassis. The concept had been pioneered by the auto manufacturers Marmon in the 1910s and Lancia in the 1920s. Today the manufacturing method is commonly known as unit-body (or unibody) construction.

Seeking business in Europe

After World War I, Hugh Adams had traveled to France and Great Britain. He carried a promotional film that showed Budd’s all-metal body building operations in Philadelphia. He visited many of Europe’s automotive leaders, including Andre Citroën, Louis Renault, Herbert Austin, William Morris and Kenneth Crossley. No immediate orders were booked, but the idea had been planted. 

The first European manufacturer to use Budd’s all-metal auto body was Andre Citroën. He came to the United States to tour the Budd plant in 1923. The following year, Adams went to France to supervise planning for Citroën’s new all-metal body manufacturing facility. Budd furnished Citroën with engineering assistance as well as stamping equipment, tools and dies for its new all-metal Model B-10 and B-12 bodies. Citroën paid Budd a $5 royalty per body; over 20,000 bodies were produced under the direction of Budd personnel, including Edward G. Budd Jr., the founder’s son.

Citroën stated that Budd’s body-stamping process allowed his company to increase daily production by a factor of 10. Within a decade, Budd also signed strictly defined licensing agreements with Morris, Fiat, Peugeot and Volvo.

The rigidity of the lightweight welded bodies created at Budd’s manufacturing facilities also led to the widespread adoption of unitized construction, also led by Citroën with his 1934 Traction Avant. Budd also was foresighted; when licensing his technologies, he also required that his company be directly involved in their use by a licensee. 

In 1924 British automaker William R. Morris followed in Citroën’s wake; he toured the Budd facilities in Philadelphia and returned to England with a Budd license. Working with investment banker J. Henry Schroder, Morris and Budd built the Pressed Steel Co. across the street from the existing Morris assembly plant. Once again, Hugh Adams and his crew supervised the installation. The Morris Cowley sedan debuted in 1927. Pressed Steel grew to become the largest independent producer of all-steel bodies in Great Britain. It eventually produced bodies for cars as diverse as the Morris Mini and the Rolls-Royce. Unfortunately, Morris and his company were severely impacted by the Great Depression and were forced to withdraw from the partnership. Budd sold the business to a group of British investors in 1936.

The process was repeated in Germany. Ambi-Budd Presse Werke was set up in 1926 as a partnership between Budd and Arthur Mueller’s Ambi Co., a Berlin engineering firm. A factory next to Chrysler’s Berlin factory was purchased. Dies were shipped to Germany; the factory’s first products were Chrysler and Nash automobiles. 

Ambi-Budd produced sheet metal stampings and complete bodies for nearly all of Germany’s major automobile manufacturers. The partnership was also a key player 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). In addition, all-steel panels were produced for Adler, Audi, BMW, Daimler-Benz, Ford, Hanomag, Horch, NSU and Opel. 

Over time, Budd’s all-steel bodies were licensed to manufacturers in Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Russia and Sweden. The Budd International Corp. was founded in 1930 to consolidate the company’s European holdings and to keep track of its international licensees. When World War II began in Europe in 1939, Budd’s international licensees included Ambi-Budd, Citroën, FIAT, Carel & Fouché, Peugeot, Piaggio, Pressed Steel, Simca, Volvo and ZIS.

Citroën’s front-wheel drive model

Andre Citroën loved Budd’s front-wheel prototype. Early production runs were manufactured at Budd’s Philadelphia facilities while the Citroën factory was being converted to use the new tooling.

The car went into production in 1934 as the Citroën Onze Légère and 7 CV Traction Avant. With updates and cosmetic changes, the car remained in production into the late 1950s. 

A special car for Chrysler

Budd helped to develop a third revolutionary unit-bodied vehicle in the early 1930s.

Chrysler’s primary designers/engineers in the early 1930s were Fred Zeder, Owen Skelton and Carl Breer. They began designing the revolutionary Chrysler Airflow after Breer saw a flock of geese flying in formation.

They sought to make the new automobile from steel; they turned to Budd to help engineer the “bridge-truss” body-chassis. This was built using stamped structural steel members welded together to form a cage-like framework; the outer steel bodywork was attached. The prototype was completed in 1932 and then underwent hundreds of hours of testing. 

The Airflow was not Chrysler’s first all-steel car, but it was the company’s first unit-bodied car. It had a number of innovations such as the cab-forward design of the passenger compartment; both the front and rear passenger seats were located between the axles, which meant a much smoother ride.

In addition, production of the Airflow used interchangeable stampings that could be used on the model’s different body styles. Airflows for Chrysler and Desoto (a Chrysler brand) shared the same deck panel, bumper pan, roof and floor pan stampings; the major difference was that the Chrysler’s front axle was located 7 inches forward of the Desoto’s and required a different set of front end stampings. Despite their revolutionary design, the 1934-1937 Airflows did not sell as well as expected. Chrysler stopped production of the Airflow model for its Airstream, which was built using more traditional body-on-frame construction.

Despite the Airflow’s lack of success, Chrysler was Budd’s largest customer during the 1930s. In 1932 the companies staged a publicity stunt at Coney Island. A 5-ton elephant stood on the roof of an all-steel, Budd-built 1931 Chrysler Straight-Eight sedan. The car’s doors were opened and closed to demonstrate the strength of the all-steel body. (The elephant stood on a specially constructed platform placed on top of the roof, which could not have held the elephant’s weight.)

A number of newsreel cameramen were invited to another Budd-Chrysler publicity stunt a couple of years later. A 1933 Airflow was rolled off a 20-foot cliff (without a driver) and then rolled over onto its tires and driven away. A competitor’s composite-bodied sedan was treated similarly, but could not be driven away because the roof had been flattened by the fall.

The Nash 600

Between 1938-39 Budd engineer Ted Ulrich created another evolutionary automobile design that became the Nash 600. Ulrich had succeeded Joseph Ledwinka after he retired, and Ulrich’s name would appear on numerous Budd patents during the late 1930s.

George Mason was Nash’s president; he had been interested in unit construction for several years. When it was time to design the next Nash, he sought help from the Budd Manufacturing Co. The 1941 Nash 600 weighed 500 pounds less than its competitors and was built using true unit construction, with “numerous formed box sections and welded inner and outer stampings throughout.” Ulrich joined Nash to direct the final development of the 600 and stayed as the company’s chief body engineer through the 1950s.

World War II

The war in the Pacific began in 1931 when Japan invaded Manchuria. Fighting broke out in Europe on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. By the end of 1941, Budd’s 20,000 employees began making war materiel. 

Budd factories produced bombs and artillery shells as well as cargo bodies that were fitted to WC-series Dodge light trucks. Budd was the original manufacturer of the bazooka projectile and the rifle grenade. The company also produced the stainless steel, twin-engine RB-1 Conestoga cargo aircraft for the U.S. Navy. Surplus Conestogas were popular after the war and were the first airplanes used by the Flying Tiger Line, the world’s first private air freight company. (For more information on the Flying Tiger Line, see this FreightWaves Classics article.)