1915-1922 Stutz Bearcat

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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