During one of his thoughtful walks pondering the Peter Principle (according to which ‘the more you are promoted the less you are competent’) he came haphazardly to the window of his favourite model car shop. This is where he had a close encounter of the one forty-third kind. Falling to his knees he yelled “l have reached the Holy Land” (He had just seen a John Day kit). Back home he started to customise Norev models, particularly Renault ‘4 Chevaux’. Imagine the most horrible large wings, adding V8 engines, dragster tyres, daubed with outrageous colours, sprinkled with some tasteless accessories and you will have a sketchy idea of what they looked like. But against the laws of nature he sold some of those monstrous things!
Already involved in a Dr. Frankenstein-like existence, he joined a strange pagan sect celebrating black masses to the gods of model cars during full moon nights. The other members were Messieurs Le Prevost (Gaffe), Puillet (Mini Racing), Dahinden (Epokit), Esparcieux (Esdo), Liatti (Nestor) and Jean-Marc Teissedre (Boutique Auto Moto and writer of the Le Mans books). Following one of these insane nights, in defiance of two starving kids and a tearful wife, he said something like “Good-bye” to his boss at Renault, found a cellar, cleaned it up with some of his mates and then started working night and day. Drinking coffee, smoking Gauloises, listening to strange music and surrounded by books and drawings the hermit was working on his first model……….
A couple of weeks later he appeared out of the dark cellar, clothes tattered and torn, eyes screwed up at the shock of sudden daylight, he knelt to the ground and stretching up his hands to the sky, clasping a Porsche 911 Turbo Martini LM 1974, he cried “A son is born”. Then he blacked out. This is how AMR started in a gloomy cellar, where there is a will, there is a way.
His wife Marie-Claude dried her tears and wild with love, gave up her safe and well-paid teacher’s job to form with François Bensignor the first pit-crew. Looking forward to the day they would be acknowledged as a top team, AMR released four more hand-built models during 1976, in order to be different from John Day, Jaguar XJ12, Ferrari 365BB, Daimler Double Six and the famous Porsche ‘Pink Pig’. But then a stormy lightning-torn night Marie-Claude was forced to let out the dangerous feelings she was hiding “Hey guys! Built models are fine for sure, but we aren’t being reimbursed for our investments”. Possessed by the devil of model cars André-Marie lit himself a cigarette and answered in his best John Wayne “God damn it, we’ll find a way!”
Thanks to his previous customising experience and inspired by model car lovers who were transforming die cast street model cars into race cars, in 1976 he launched the first transkit. On a Solido base, it was allowing the build of the BMW 2002 Turbo Group 2 race car which had won at the Nurburgring in 1975. The Ruf pagan sect then was slowly becoming converted to the kit religion and it released the Ferrari BB NART Sebring 1975. At this point André-Marie decreed his own commandments.
- You will not model a car you do not like
- You will not model a car for which you have no dimensions, pictures or drawings
- You will not release twelve cars a month because it makes money
- You will not put plasticine on an existing model in order to make a new one
- You will not copy the models made by other craftsmen
- You will not work without passion
- You will do your best to reach perfection and top quality.
A new apostle, in the form of Jean-Pierre Viranet arrived at AMR in late 1976, modelling the X-Tenariv range in order to spread the holy laws among worshippers of single seat race cars. This was the time when a Grand Prix on TV was something more than watching a train of cigarette packets on four wheels in the vain hope you stay awake during two hours so you don’t have to watch the 9 o’clock news in order to see whether Hill or Schumacher won (at that time Olivier Panis was only a child!)
During those days, the AMR team was evident at model car shows through France and Europe being rewarded and earning awards for their work. They spent their time talking for hours about model cars with other worshippers, an occupation which obviously makes you thirsty and the congregation was increasing.
This is why the team left its cellar to move to Vélizy in 1977. François Laplace joined as a builder and Mr and Mrs Crocquefere arrived to take care of engineering and administration. There, the trio composed by Ruf, Bensignor and Viranet released so many model cars (with the helpful Marie-Claude) that I won’t quote any of them like the Corvette Greenwood, Ferrari BB512 Le Mans multi (97) parts kit, F1, F2 and so on. If I were to list them this crazy article would turn into a listing of the whole production, from 1975 to today (1996) there have been at least 500 different models.
Instead I must talk about the Renault 5 Turbo. “Why the hell?” I hear you cry, because this was the model car which allowed André-Marie to get even with Renault. Put it this way you are working for a major car builder because you love cars but they do not appreciate your work and your boss is notoriously incompetent. You are then forced to leave and dedicate your life to your passion. You start being successful with your work, the media are burning incense for you and the company who used to scorn you asks you to make an exclusive model car to be delivered to the purchasers of the real car. If it wasn’t enough, the same year a car you co-sponsor, wins Le Mans (Rondeau 1980). Wouldn’t you be proud?
Well, this is what happened to André-Marie. Success and fame became a drug and, as competitors such as resin kit makers were appearing, the only way to continue providing himself with those feelings was to improve his work. He then introduced photo-etching, created his own (now legendary) hand-spoked fine wire wheels, created a window-box through which the contents of his kits could be viewed and so on. Yet still bad tempered, he became so fanatical with quality and perfection (therefore critically minded), that his impulsive reactions and his lack of diplomacy started to make him, at best, troubles with his mates, at worst, enemies. In 1980 Francis Bensignor and Jean-Pierre Viranet went their own ways. But those were the days when hand-built model cars weren’t assembled by Chinese workers paid with rice, and therefore Ruf had an ever growing order book. So now André-Marie invested in a brand new studio in Grisy-Suisnes and built close to it his family home. But the gods of model cars took umbrage at the continuous expansion of AMR
On 1st August 1981, the AMR team moved to Grisy-Suisnes, a tiny charming village on the east side of Paris, where the brand new studio had just been finished. The factory of about 300 square metres was organized in order to provide room for everything from model creation to shipment. André-Marie while remaining faithful to the white-metal technique, despite the rise of resin, wanted to be free from his main subcontracted nightmare – casting. If any supplier is late, you do not have parts to finish filling the kit boxes and it is not good for business to sell uncompleted models! Not to mention that if you cannot deliver, there is no money………
So everybody was partying following the move. Everybody except the superstitious Marie-Claude who noticed a bad omen, there were 13 around the table. Dress the guests with togas, kick the children and the wives away, replace them with men, glue hair on André-Marie’s bald patch and you might see a supper that took place 1981 years ago. Marie-Claude was not pessimistic in vain. The curse of the Gods of model cars was on its way again, ready to halt AMR’s extraordinary success in its tracks. While the shadows were more and more menacing over the factory, André-Marie enticed his good friend Arthur Habechian from his job, and together they visited Western Models and the Claudio Riva (Meri Kits) foundry, to discover the dark secrets that these regular casting men were hiding. Back in Grisy-Suisnes, Arthur, now known as Habart Moulages and Paul Dukas, the sorcerer’s apprentice started working.
But experience just talks when you intend to cast white metal with A.M.R.’s quality criterion. If the interior and small parts were easy, the body was tricky. Taking advantage of this, the Gods of model cars threw down a lightning bolt on the A.M.R. team sending to hospital (for 2 months) the only man able to cast bodies. This obviously stopped A.M.R. from selling anything.
Considering that the investment on the studio and the machinery involved required a loan and running expenses, a hole appeared in the accounts. Amazingly the bank manager was not friendly anymore, but the production started again and the hole being used to throw money in was rapidly in danger of swallowing the whole of the north-east of France. The two kids started noticing that meat was not appearing as often as before on the family menu! In the 80’s, AMR was releasing kits and built-up model cars by Jean-Paul Magnette. André-Marie was trying to find extra money and kept on releasing kits for Boutique Auto Moto under the brand BAM-X (Le Mans prototypes), Minichamps (Porsche 356 and 911 mainly) and Annecy Miniatures (Ferrari P4, 412P). At the same time resin kits were becoming a real competitor, cheaper and faster to release following race results. So in 1984 AMR started a limited edition factory releasing built models available on subscription – like the Martini Renault delivery van and the Ferrari SWB California. This was so successful that a new builder had to be found. And this guy who had to reach Magnette’s skill level was Thierry Pinel. Keen on English pop music and sharing Ruf’s passion for cars, practicing the same kind of sarcastic humour “l’ours toulonnais” (the bear from Toulon) started his job at AMR building the limited edition of the Vaillante LM 61.
In 1985, Ruf entered into partnership with his best customer, Paul Günther Lang (Danhausen Minichamps) and created AMR Diffusion. This company was delivering cars modelled by André Marie but built in Germany. The idea was to provide cheap but nice models. Sadly for model car lovers the models themselves became so poor (by AMR standards) that they were not going to last a century. Thanks to Mr Lang, AMR worked for the German car industry releasing promotional model cars so the order book was full. Apparently things were going well but the barrel was still bottomless. It was very hard to finish the month especially the last 30 days (even in February).
In 1987 the Rufs, wife and husband, were seriously thinking about stopping their kids (Antony and Magali) from studying in order to sell them as pit face workers. To avoid this Zola’s conversion, André-Marie offered to sell Lang the AMR brand and factory for one symbolic French franc and this move saved the kids from slavery. Once the account was set to zero and, after serious investments, AMR kept going. The team was collaborating with the successful businessman who now drowns the market with a new release a day. They kept going with built models, a new crew was engaged (among them Olivier Thuet who went on to work for Le Mans Miniatures), and they kept going with kits, releasing for example a new GTO improved by technology with ‘‘only” 106 parts to assemble it. Yes indeed Ruf was not the boss anymore but the relationship with Lang was very friendly. As industrial (die cast) model cars were starting to be successful again, Lang started producing Max Models (Sauber Mercedes C9, C11). Being built in China they were really making money. The time spent by a craftsman will never be as profitable. Business being business, being more and more involved in industry Lang offered several people to buy AMR but nobody did. For some reason that it’s useless to write about now, Ruf and Lang’s relationship became bad.
In December 1992, to everybody’s surprise, André-Marie and Marie-Claude having started work at 8 am got sacked at 9 pm. Of course, Christmas wasn’t merry at all. André-Marie was almost dead despite the efforts of his wife, children, employees and customer’s support. You might hate him but how would you feel if first you had to sell a company you have worked hard to build up in order to provide for your children, and second if you got sacked from it? It might be French romanticism but it remained an incurable trauma for the people who dedicated their life to their passion. Knowing them I can swear on the Holy Four Small Wheels that they never worked to make money. OK Ruf has got many flaws but he is not greedy, to him money is just a means to enjoy music, cigarettes and good wines.
However enough romanticism, let’s get back to the saga. Among the people witnessing the fall of AMR there was a guy making opening parts conversions on AMR base models. This was a unique opportunity for him to grow into a major model car company. There were 17 years of experience and controversial but established reputation to recoup. André-Marie who had been waiting for the bailiff’s everyday, not to mention being slightly gullible, established a company with this persuasive person. A couple of months later, with most of the AMR crew on board, Le Phoenix were fluttering their wings. But very fast the beautiful bride turned into what André called “a nagging wife”. According to André-Marie compromise is for politicians (that is to say the dregs of society) after his wife got sacked again he quit, followed by Michel Croquefere and Thierry Pinel (Olivier Thuet had already gone to Le Mans Miniatures).Your browser may not support display of this image.Every competitor thought they had finally got rid of Ruf and the Gods of model cars had turned their attention elsewhere. Taking advantage of this breathing space André-Marie had a dream – “One day I’ll be back to the successful years! One day kit worshippers and I will be walking hand in hand! Thank God! Free at last! Free at last!!” Supported and well advised by his remaining friends – not to mention his wife – he created in April 1994 André-Marie Ruf Modèles Réduits.
From 2002, A.M.R. models were available via their website. In 2003, he started Titan 1/12th scale built models “At the age of 57, I have felt the need for a new challenge. This new scale has been for me like a breath of fresh air” 1st August 2004, Andre-Marie Ruf died of Leukaemia aged 58.
This article first appeared in Four Small Wheels in 1996 and this edited version is reproduced here with permission of Grand Prix Models
Model List Between 1975 and 2004 Andre-Marie Ruf produced close on 600 models under several brands. We are collating this information and if anyone can provide assistance please get in touch