Ruskin

A superb example of the 1935 Morris Ten-Four is that owned by Australian enthusiasts Colin and Glenyn MacDonald who entered the car in the Morris Register’s 2000 Rally at Ballarat in April.

For readers in the United Kingdom it is interesting to compare the Australian Ruskin body with its standard Cowley-made contemporary.

Most Morris cars of the period to be seen in Australia, would have bodywork from one of the many coachbuilders who took advantage of the policy of allowing the import of motor cars in chassis form while complete cars carried a penal import duty. One such body builder was Ruskin Motor Bodies Ltd., of Dudley Street, West Melbourne in Victoria.

Ruskins evolved out of the early Melbourne motor business of Tarrant Motors which appeared during the first decade of the 20th century, spawning several operating subsidiaries including Smith’s coach building business in Queensbridge Street, South Melbourne in 1903. Four years later the motor body department moved to larger premises in Exhibition Street, Melbourne and adopted the title the “Melbourne Motor Body Works”.

Ruskin 1

PHOTO: 1938 Morris 12/4 Series III Coupe with Ruskin Body

In 1909 larger premises in Lygon Street were acquired when contracts were obtained from Fords. There followed further expansion with a new factory in Lonsdale Street during the First World War. In 1925 the Ford contract came to an end when Ford built their own plant at Geelong and the Melbourne Motor Body Works concentrated an the manufacture of bodies for a range of British and American car chassis. In 1929,the trade depression hit hard and a workforce of 400 fell to just 40. In February 1930 the company changed its name to Ruskin Motor Bodies Pty Ltd. The new name was derived from that of the famous English author, John Ruskin (1819 – 1900), and the company exemplified its ideals from the quotation by that author . “All works of taste must bear a price in proportion to the skill, time expense and risk attending their invention and manufacture. These things called dear are, when just estimated, the cheapest. They are attended with much less profit to the artist than those which everybody calls cheap. A disposition of cheapness and not for excellence of workmanship is most frequent and certain cause of the decay and destruction of arts and manufacture.”

As “Ruskin Motor Bodies Pty Ltd,” bodies were made on numerous chassis and it would have been during this period that Colin MacDonald’s Ten Four was bodied.A contract was made with Morris Motors Ltd. and another with Hudson for their Tarraplane chassis. These two make accounted for much of the firm’s workload up to the outbreak of the war when, in common with most of the Australian motor industry, the company because involved in defence requirements, increasing its workforce to 600 in the process.

Ruskin 2

PHOTO: Cowley built Morris Ten-Four of 1935, wood frame body with pressed steel panels by Fisher & Ludlow.

Ruskin 3

PHOTO: Comparsion of styles. 1935 Morris Ten-Four with Ruskin body owned by Colin and Glenyn MacDonald.
Some of the export models were supplied with disc wheels as shown here.

The immediate post-war years were given over to the continuance of the pre-war Hudson contract and there was probably little bodybuilding for Morris in view of a contract that was signed with the Austin Motor Company in 1945 to build Austin 8 h.p. tourer bodies.

Two years later Austin Motor Company bought the bulk of ordinary shares and obtained a controlling interest in Ruskin, changing its name to Austin Motor Co. (Australia) Ltd in 1948. The merger of Austin & Morris to form the British Motor Corporation in 1952 would eventually, in 1958, see the greater part of the plant and equipment be transferred to then B.M.C. plant on the site of the former Victoria Park race course in Sydney, New South Wales.

Harry Edwards

Bibliography and Photographic credits
The Journal of the Morris Register, Autumn 2000, Vol.16 No.7