1915-1922 Stutz Bearcat


Like the Mercer Raceabout, the Stutz Bearcat was a pure, early American sports car. The body was deliberately kept as light as possible so that performance would be maximized, as this 1918 model suggests. Note the step-over plate to the interior. See more classic car pictures.
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In some ways, the 1915-1922 Stutz Bearcat was a labor of love. By the time Harry C. Stutz got around to the Bearcat, the car for which he is best remembered, he had been designing and building automobiles for at least six years.

In 1906 he had been associated with American Motors of Indianapolis, where he designed a small but pricey 35-40 horsepower four-cylinder touring car. It was not, persistent legend and published reports to the contrary, the underslung model for which American would later become famous. Rather, Harry's chassis was entirely conventional. But it was a relatively fast automobile for its time.

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Leaving American Motors in 1907, Stutz signed on as chief engineer of the Marion Motor Car Company, another Indianapolis firm, best known at the time as builder of the Marion Flyer, but remembered now primarily for its sporty 1913 Bobcat.

Then in 1910, with the backing of a financier named Campbell, Stutz organized the Stutz Auto Parts Company for the purpose of manufacturing a transaxle of Harry's own design. The business evidently prospered, but Harry Stutz wanted to build a car of his own -- and he achieved that goal in 1911 with a racing machine, the very first Stutz car. Powered by a four-cylinder Wisconsin engine, driving through one of Harry's own transaxles, the racer bore no small resemblance to the later Bearcat.

Evidently Harry knew a thing or two about putting his name before the public, for he promptly announced that his car would go immediately, without trial runs or prior testing of any kind, to "the Brickyard," to take part in the first 500-mile race at the new Indianapolis Speedway.

Presumably he knew his car couldn't win, since a number of its competitors boasted much bigger, more powerful engines than the Stutz's 389-cubic-inch T-head. But he had as his driver Gil Anderson, a big, rugged Swede who had competed successfully as a member of the Marion racing team. So Harry expected that his car would at least place within the first 10.

It didn't. Anderson came in just out of the money, in llth place. Now when you think about it, that's not a bad record for a brand new, untried machine. Many a contestant failed to finish that grueling run at all. And the Stutz's time was creditable enough: 500 miles in 442 minutes, with, in Harry Stutz's words, "not a single mechanical adjustment." Flat tires didn't count, of course, and the Stutz had several of those, each one causing a delay while Anderson headed for the pits.

Learn about the creation of the 1915 Stutz Bearcat on the next page.

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1915 Stutz Bearcat

If Harry Stutz's spirits were dampened by his car's failure to win any money for its backers, that fact wasn't noticeable. He immediately billed his machine "The Car that Made Good in a Day." And soon he started to pave the way for the 1915 Stutz Bearcat. With the backing of Henry Campbell, his silent partner, he organized the Ideal Motor Car Company and commenced preparations for a series-built Stutz to be offered to the general public.

The production Stutz, like the racing prototype, was powered by a Wisconsin engine that cranked out an advertised 50 horsepower. A powerplant of Harry's own design would have to wait. Five body styles were offered, including the Bearcat, a competitor to the highly regarded Mercer Raceabout.

Like the latter, it was a bare-bones sporting vehicle consisting principally of frame, engine, steering wheel, bucket seats, and fuel tank. All of the earliest Stutzes shared a 120-inch wheelbase. Then in late 1912, a 60-horsepower, 468-cid six-cylinder series riding a 124-inch chassis was added to the line. This one, too, was available as a Bearcat.

In May 1913, Stutz Auto Parts and the Ideal Motor Car Company merged to form the Stutz Motor Car Company. Business was good though its volume -- like that of most higher-priced makes in those days -- was modest. Between mid-1911 and the close of 1913 some 2,000 cars were sold, yielding a profit of more than $400,000-big money in those days before inflation and before the income tax!

The car was revised somewhat for 1914, with a brutal, leather-faced cone clutch replacing the earlier multiple-disc type in what appears, in retrospect, to have been a backward step. But on the other hand, electric starting and lighting were supplied as standard equipment that year. The Bearcat came in a choice of several vivid colors, an unusual practice for the time. Overall Stutz sales fell slightly, however, to 649, down from 759 the previous season.

There was a new, smaller Stutz for 1915, evidently intended for the motorist who couldn't afford a Bearcat. Known as the Model H.C.S. (for Harry's initials), it was a 23-horsepower roadster priced at $1,475. Production figures are not available, but the fact that the little Stutz lasted only one season presumably tells us all we need to know about its salability. This car, by the way, is not to be confused with the H.C.S. automobile, an entirely separate marque, manufactured by Harry Stutz between 1920-1925, after he left the Stutz Motor Car Company.

Harry Stutz entered three of his cars in the 1915 Indianapolis 500 race. As part of his strategy he made sure that the first two qualified at just under 97 miles an hour. Then the third car came along, qualifying for the pole position at 98.9 mph.

Unfortunately, the lead Stutz broke a valve spring, so the first back-up car advanced to take the lead. But in the end, abnormal tire wear caused the two remaining cars to make repeated pit stops, which probably cost Stutz the race.

Ralph DePalma, driving a Mercedes, took the checkered flag, while the two surviving Stutz racers placed second and third. At the close of the 1915 season Stutz retired from racing, perhaps because Harry's transaxle, though a strong unit and a great performer, abused the back tires unmercifully, forcing drivers to make overly frequent visits to the pits.

Sales, however, looked better than ever, with 1,079 Stutz cars finding buyers that year, followed by 1,535 sales during 1916 and 2,207 for 1917. The future looked promising.

To learn more about the future of the Stutz Bearcat, see the next page.

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1917-1922 Stutz Bearcat

To power his 1917 Stutz Bearcat models, Harry Stutz at last trotted out an engine of his own design and manufacture. Featuring four valves per cylinder, similar to some of the better cars of the 1990s, it developed a whopping (for 1917) 80 horse-power. This revised T-head four would remain in production as late as 1924, replacing both the earlier four-banger and the six-cylinder line.

This new, four-cylinder Stutz borrowed the 130-inch chassis of the late, presumably unlamented Six. This represented a gain of 10 inches over the previous Four. Because the longer chassis was considered inappropriate for a car of sporting pretensions, the Bearcat alone continued to employ the 120-inch wheelbase.

But despite the good news on the sales front, trouble was brewing. Allen Ryan, described as "a young Wall Street sharpie," purchased control of the company. Speculation in Stutz Motor Car Company stock was rife, driving the price up, at one point, to over $700 a share. Harry Stutz sold out and moved to another part of town, where he commenced production of the H.C.S., a direct competitor for the original automobile that bore his name.

By 1921, a depression year, the Stutz Bearcat sold for $3,900, up from $2,300 in 1917. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it hardly sold at all. The following season was no better, despite a $650 price cut. Ryan departed, becoming involved in the promotion of the Frontenac car, but his stock market manipulations soon caught up with him, and in a few short months he found himself broke.

For three years commencing in 1923, Stutz offered a line (eventually two lines) of six-cylinder cars designed by the firm's new chief engineer, Charles S. Crawford, formerly of the Cole Motor Company. Sales started off briskly, but soon tapered off sharply. The great overhead-camshaft Vertical Eight followed in 1926. Sales that year spurted to more than 5,000 cars, but after that it was destined to be downhill all the way.

In the early 1930s Stutz marketed a model called the Super Bearcat, a bobtailed speedster powered by the 32-valve, 156-horsepower DV-32 straight-eight motor. It -- along with the other DV-32s -- was a superb automobile, but the grip of the Depression meant that it came too late to help Stutz. By 1934, production had skidded to just six cars, and the following year Stutz was bankrupt. But Stutz left behind a legacy of great automobiles -- notably the Bearcat.

On the next page, you will find the specifications for the 1915-1922 Stutz Bearcat.

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1915-1922 Stutz Bearcats Specifications

The 1915-1922 Stutz Bearcat is one of the most treasured classic cars of all time. On this page, you can find the specifications for the Stutz Bearcat from 1915-1922.

Engines: T-head I-4, 360.8 cid (4 3/8 × 6-in. bore × stroke), 16 valves, sohc, 80 bhp

Transmissions: 3-speed transaxle; leather-faced cone clutch (multiple-disc prior to 1915)

Suspension, front and rear: Rigid axles, semi-elliptic leaf springs

Brakes: Internal expanding on rear wheels

Wheelbase (in.): 120

Top speed (mph): 85

Production: NA, but probably about 1,000 from 1915-1922

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