Sunday, December 22, 2013

Stutz Motor Company

My apologies for getting a late start to posting the regular Sunday automotive musings. Blame it on the season and the weather, we spent Saturday carousing with some good friends and a rainy gloom has fallen over the city, making daybreak seem to arrive sometime around eleven-thirty. Regardless, I've managed to shake the cobwebs off and I thought in honor of last night's festivities I'd do a little holiday piece. No, that doesn't mean images of Santa riding cars or ads extolling the virtues of buying an automobile for your honey's stocking (though I think I'll do both of those in coming holiday seasons). Instead I'm taking a more sidelong approach. As I've mentioned before, Kelly and I belong to several swing clubs and this year one of them held its annual Christmas Ball at the Stutz Building here in Indianapolis which meant we got to spend some time in the company of some great old cars.

The Stutz Bearcat on display at the Stutz Business Center, Indianapolis, IN

The Stutz Motor Company made high-end cars here in Indy starting as the Ideal Motor Car Company around 1911 and produced vehicles all the way up to 1995. Possibly one of the most famous of Stutz's cars is the Bearcat which featured one of the first multi-valve engines to appear in automobiles. 1919 brought stockholder troubles and in 1922 control of the company had changed as did its focus.  The re-imagined Stutz produced "safety cars", that is to say automobiles which featured innovations such as windshields made of safety glass, a low center of gravity for better handling, and the "Noback" transmission designed to hold hills.

The Stutz Black Hawk Streamline LSR Car at the Stutz Business Center, Indianapolis, IN

In 1927 Stutz set the world land speed record, averaging 68 miles per hour over 24 hours and in 1928 driver Frank Lockhart employed a pair of supercharged DOHC 1.5 liter engines to power his Stutz Black Hawk streamline racer.  Lockhart turned in a speed of 198.29 mph in his first pass with the Black Hawk, but in his second run a blown tire resulted in a violent crash which ejected Lockhart from the vehicle killing him instantly.

1973 Stutz Blackhawk at the Stutz Business Center, Indianapolis, IN

Stutz production came to an end in 1935 and didn't resume until 1968 when a New York banker funded Stutz Motor Car of America. In 1970 the prototype Stutz Blackhawk was distributed featuring GM parts. These cars featured all the luxuries the 70's could offer: power steering, automatic transmission, power brakes, electric windows, air conditioning, power locks, electric seats, and all leather upholstery. Initially the venture was successful, Elvis Presley bought a Blackhawk in 1971 and other Stutz owners included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Evel Knievel, Barry White, Lucille Ball, and Sammy Davis Jr. The high cost of a Stutz meant an extremely small production run (less than 700 vehicles between 1971 and 1882).

Wiki-rumors have Stutz currently designing an electric vehicle, but that seems to be wishful thinking. With competitors like Tesla Motors, Fisker, BMW, Cadillac, and Mercedes in the market it seems unlikely that a niche manufacturer like Stutz could make inroads.

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