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How Stutz Cars Work

The 1932 Stutz Continental was a far-off dream when the company was founded, but European-design influence helped make it a reality.

The first Stutz built finished eleventh in the first Indianapolis 500 and inspired the slogan "The Car That Made Good in a Day." Stutz was soon building its famous Bearcat and, along with the Mercer Raceabout, introduced America to an early form of the sports car. With big engines and not much bodywork, early Bearcats could easily be taken racing. Both private and factory-backed Bearcats did well in competition and Stutz always traded on a sporting reputation.

Stutz was never a high-volume producer, rising from 266 cars its first full year of production, 1912, to just 2207 in 1917. But the firm was making its own engines by the early '20s: a big 361-cubic-inch side-valve four with 88 brake horsepower and an overhead-valve 75-bhp six. The latter was bumped up to 80 bhp and 268 cid for 1924's Speedway Six. Fours were discontinued the following year.

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Stutz design was old-fashioned by the mid 1920s. European-born, Frederick E. Moskovics arrived in 1925 to take over the presidency of Stutz. Moskovics did for Stutz what Zora Arkus-Duntov would later do for Corvette -- add a European influence that improved performance and handling. Moskovics introduced beautiful new open and closed "Safety Stutz" models the following year.

These carried Stutz's first eight, a European-inspired inline engine with single overhead camshaft and dual ignition with two plugs per cylinder. Stutz called it the "Vertical Eight." Bowing at 289 cid and 92 bhp, it would be the heart of all Stutzes through the final 1935 models. The sole exception was the 1929-30 Blackhawk, a companion line powered by an L-head Continental eight or overhead-cam Stutz six. Though "cheap" for Stutz at a base price of $2395, the Blackhawk managed just under 1600 units. After 1930, its chassis was used for the least-costly Stutzes.

The Vertical Eight was quickly uprated, going to 298.6 cid for 1927, then to 322 cid and 113 bhp two years later. Advertised horsepower would go no further, although actual horsepower might have reached 140 by the end of the '20s. Stutz added to its racing image by dominating AAA stock car racing in '27 and giving Bentley a run for its money at the 1928 LeMans. Stutz chassis engineering changed remarkably little after 1929. For example, the same three wheelbases persisted to the end: 134.5 inches, 145, and, after Blackhawk's demise, 127.5 inches.

Though Stutz couldn't afford a 12- or 16-cylinder engine, it did experiment with a supercharger that lifted the Vertical Eight to 143 bhp. The blower was a huge affair mounted low, ahead of the radiator. Like most superchargers, it was driven directly from the crankshaft. It did the job, but it was noisy and carburetion was a problem.

Moskovics left the company in 1929, but some of the greatest Stutzes were still to come. Stutz followed Duesenberg's approach for 1931 by offering a new 32-valve twincam cylinder head. This had no room for the dual ignition of what was now called the "SV16" (single-valve) engine, but improved breathing gave the new "DV32" (dual-valve) 161 bhp at 3900 rpm.

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The Stutz DV32 chassis provided the platform for over 30 custom body styles from crafters like LeBaron and Fleetwood.

Stutz tried to stem sliding sales in the deepening Depression with revived six-cylinder models, designated LA for '31 and LAA for 1932-33. Offering a standard coupe and sedan as well as five semicustom body styles, the LA sold for as little as $1995, the LAA for just $1620.

Power came from what amounted to a Vertical Eight with two fewer cylinders -- or the same 241.5-cid single-cam engine as the departed Blackhawk. But with just 85 bhp to propel better than 4300 pounds, these cars were hardly swift on the road or the sales chart, and Stutz gave up on them after 1933.

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That left nothing but high-priced cars, which reflected a no-compromise approach to sporty performance but also made Stutz an odd, slow-selling fish in luxury-car waters. Even standard-body models sold for upward of $3000-$4000 -- a lot for "hard times" -- and some 30 custom styles were available on both SV16 and DV32 chassis from high-buck crafters like LeBaron, Fleetwood, Rollston, Weymann, Brunn, Waterhouse, and Derham.

Stutz had offered Weymann's unusual fabric bodies (actually padded leatherette) since 1928; these were light, strong, elastic, and quiet. Compared to steel shells, they soaked up more noise and road shock, and were easier to repair. Weymann bodies didn't last as long as steel or offer much protection in a crash.

Also, many people disliked their dull, pebbled finish and dowdy looks. Stutz offered the well-proportioned Weymann Monte Carlo, a five-passenger four-door "sport" sedan. By 1932 the Monte Carlo was available in aluminum on the DV32 platform, priced at $4895 complete. Stutz also revived the Bearcat name with a boattailed speedster and a short chassis convertible coupe -- both guaranteed for over 100 mph.

The DV32 itself made its debut in chassis form at the New York Auto Show in the winter of 1930-31. Prices were announced at the end of March 1931, and production was underway by July. At about the same time, Stutz reported net earnings of just $20,000 on gross sales of only $100,000 -- pitifully meager, but still preferable to the red ink that had flowed since 1929.

Further changes were announced for 1932 SVs and DVs. The four-speed gearbox gave way to a very rugged three-speed synchronized unit, and freewheeling was a new option. The hot-air manifold was replaced with a hot-water heating system, and an oil cooler was provided. A new trunk rack and dust valance were installed at the rear, bodies were dropped down in a curving line to cover the frame, and single-bar bumpers replaced the previous double-bar design.

Stutz lost $315,000 in fiscal 1932, but continued to stumble on with the same basic lineup of SV16s and DV32s, all little changed. It's hardly surprising then that the company dropped a half-million dollars in 1933 and another quarter-million in '34. Though these weren't particularly huge sums even in those days, the losses greatly accelerated the drain on Stutz's already meager resources.

The original Stutz Bearcat was revived as the Super Bearcat towards the end of the company's life.

Management sought refuge by contracting to build a line of small delivery trucks called Pak-Age-Cars. George H. Freers was appointed chief engineer for this effort, and the first 28 vehicles in a total order of 340 were completed by the summer of 1936. But this wasn't nearly enough to keep things going, so Stutz was forced to declare bankruptcy in April 1937.

By that time, assets totaled $1.2 million and liabilities only $733,000, yet Stutz still couldn't meet its debts. When creditors couldn't agree on a reorganization plan, a federal judge ordered liquidation of all assets in April 1938. That was completed by summer and the Pak-Age-Car production moved to Auburn's idle Connersville plant while Diamond T Truck Company handled sales and service.

For more on defunct American cars, see:

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