Tom Ruggles’ once-in-a-lifetime barn-find languished in a College Hill garage for 40 years before he chanced upon the rare 1909 EMF 30 touring car. The previous owner had taken it out of a barn near Udall in 1952, planning to restore it.
“But he never got anywhere close to getting it running,” said Ruggles, a well-known antique car collector.
“Mechanically, it was fairly complete, but the body was all wood and it was completely deteriorated. The fenders were rusted clear through,” he recalled. He bought the EMF in 1992.
“I had aspirations to start on it right away,” he said.
But as so often happens with automotive restorations, life got in the way. Ruggles still had his first car, a Model A Ford coupe that needed attention, and ironically he found another running, driving EMF that he could take on Horseless Carriage Club road tours.
So the basket case EMF stayed in hibernation … for another 24 years. Having sold his other EMF by then, Ruggles decided to get serious about restoring the first one, hopefully in time to take it to a national EMF gathering.
It was a daunting task, but he was up to it, with the help of his brother-in-law, Dale Sparks, a skilled machinist.
“Without him, I would have never gotten it done,” he said. Turns out, you can’t go down to the local auto parts store and order EMF parts.
“We made well over 100 parts for it from raw materials,” Ruggles said.
The cars were only manufactured from model year 1909 through 1912, selling for $1,250 when first introduced in Detroit. The EMF name derived from the three men who founded the company in 1908, Barney Everitt, a coach builder, William Metzger, a car salesman who may have established the first automobile dealership, and Walter Flanders, who helped set up assembly lines for Henry Ford.
Ruggles’ car is a first-year model 5-passenger touring car with a low serial number in the 3,000’s, out of a total of 80,000 produced. He said at one point EMF, which marketed its cars through Studebaker wagon dealers, was one of the top four auto manufacturers in the United States.
Ruggles estimates that only 200-300 EMFs remain.
“Most people have never heard of one … much less have owned two of them,” he chuckled.
“They were a little notch above the runabouts, the cheap family cars of the day,’ he said. The company prided itself on not assembling its cars from suppliers’ components, but building its own engines, chassis, bodies, lights and ignition systems, he explained.
The EMF produced 30 horsepower from its 4-cylinder engine, compared to the Model T’s 20 horsepower of that time. It also used a unique rear-mounted aluminum-cased transaxle that combined both the 3-speed transmission and the differential into a single unit.
Ruggles started his ambitious restoration project in September 2015. He rebuilt the engine, using late model GM valves cut down to fit the twin banks of cylinder heads.
Perhaps the biggest challenge was rebuilding the wooden bodywork. He used 1/8th inch sheets of pliable birch, laminating them together and bending them to fit the compound curves of the body.
“It was tedious. I had every clamp I owned on it … there were 31 of them on one side of the car,” he recalled. He also had to repair the rusted-through fenders, building new panels, including rolled ribs, welding them into place and then smoothing them so expertly you could never tell they had been damaged.
There was enough original paint left on the body parts that he was able to replicate the dark blue color, which he sprayed over special marine varnish/primer.
“When I got up to steam, I had the body built and painted in two months,” he said. He then enlisted Nadine Ward to reproduce the original light blue pinstriping that accents the car’s body, fenders and running gear.
The EMF is a great representation of the brass era of cars, with shiny yellow-brass highlighting everything from the radiator shell to the big carbide-fired headlights, the curved horn, windshield frame, steering column and gear controls.
Ruggles had sent the big 25-inch wood-spoked wheels off to an Amish craftsman in Ohio to have them rebuilt well before he launched the actual restoration. Ironically, when it came time to do the interior, he was able to employ the nearby Woodlyn Coach Co. of Miller, Ohio, another Amish company, to perfectly recreate the rich black button-tufted leather seats on short notice.
The last piece of the EMF puzzle to be solved was the brass carbide gas generator.
“I had been looking for it for 25 years. The car was already painted and the interior done when I finally found it,” said Ruggles.
Amazingly, he had completely rebuilt the car in 15 months time. Unfortunately, he missed the deadline for the EMF convention, but the car was a big hit at this year’s Starbird-Devlin show, where it won the D’Elegance Trophy.
“I didn’t build it to show … I built it to tour. It actually drives really well. You can cruise at 35-40 mph and it’s fairly stable on the road. When you put that big top up, even on a summer day, you get a lot of shade, so it’s cool traveling. My wife, Dawna, loves it more than any of our other old cars,” Ruggles said.
Mike Berry: email@example.com