One of the most iconic automobiles of the 1920s was the Stutz Bearcat. You’ve probably have seen one in the movies but didn’t know what kind of car it was. The design comes from the early race cars of the 1900s that were essentially stripped down automobiles loaded with hotrod accessories. The Stutz Bearcat was not an inexpensive car; it retailed for over five times what a Model T Ford would cost. Thanks to the folks at Bosak Honda of Highland, IN, a full-service Honda dealer, here’s the full story of the unusual Stutz Bearcat.
It started with Harry Stutz
Harry Clayton Stutz grew up taking care of the agricultural machinery on the Stutz family farm. Machinery and engines fascinated him and it didn’t take long before he was building early cars. Stutz built his first car in 1897, and then a second one using a gasoline engine that he designed and built himself.
In 1906, Stutz joined the Marion Motor Car Co. as chief engineer and factory manager. In 1910, Marion introduced the Marion Special Roadster. Designed for racing, The Special had a number of unique Stutz engineered features, one of which was the “transaxle,” which combined the transmission and rear differential. Before long the entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and Stutz decided he wanted to build his own car.
Stutz goes to the Indy
The first car to bear the name “Stutz” was built in just five weeks and was taken to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first running of the Indy 500. Gil Anderson drove the car to an eleventh place finish. Later in 1911, the Ideal Motor Car Co. was organized to manufacture of the Stutz Model A, a duplicate of the Indy race car.
Taking styling cues from the Model A, Stutz designed and built the first Stutz Bearcat sports car in 1912. The Stutz Bearcat was a true sports car — a powerful engine, multispeed transmission and not much else. Creature comforts were secondary concerns, speed was the first. In fact, its clutch was so stiff that it was rumored the purpose was to prevent women from driving this “man’s racing car.”
The reaction to the Bearcat from the motoring public was fantastic. As a result, in June 1913 the Ideal Motor Car Co. was reorganized as Stutz Motor Car Co., with Harry Stutz as president. With sales through the roof, the demand for Stutz vehicles was so strong that Stutz decided to go public in 1916. The primary reason for this was to acquire capital for an expansion of manufacturing facilities. In 1919, a group of Wall Street investors headed by Allan A. Ryan bought controlling interest in Stutz Motors and Harry Clayton Stutz went on to other automotive ventures.
In 1920, Stutz founded two new automotive ventures, the Stutz Fire Engine Company and the H.C.S. Motor Car Co. Soon it became known that Stutz was just as talented at building fire engines as he was at building race cars. The first Stutz pumper earned a perfect score in a 12-hour test at a fire chief’s convention and several cities placed orders on the spot. Stutz left the fire engine company in 1924 to focus on the H.C.S. Motor Company. In the great depression of the 1930s, the Stutz Motor Car Company was declared insolvent and was liquidated by 1939. Gone forever, was one of the great marques of The Classic Era.