One of the best looking cars of the 1920s was the Stutz Bearcat. You’ve probably have seen one before but didn’t know what kind of car it was. Do yourself a favor and type “Stutz Bearcat” into Google and take a look. It was basically a glamorous version of the race cars of the early 1900s. The Bearcat was not an inexpensive car, it retailed for over five times what a Model T Ford cost, yet they sold like mad. Thanks to the folks at Hiley Mazda of Arlington, a local Mazda dealer in Arlington, TX, here’s the full story of this unusual car.
About Harry Stutz
Harry Clayton Stutz grew up in the mid-west taking care of the agricultural machinery on the Stutz family farm. When he reached his later teen years, he desperately wanted to build a “horseless carriage” to drive around in. Given his mechanical talents, it didn’t take long before he was building cars. In 1897, he built his first car using an engine from a piece of farm machinery and in 1999, a second one using a gasoline engine that he completely designed and built himself.
Soon Stutz was becoming known in the nascent automobile business and in 1906 he joined the Marion Motor Car Co. as chief engineer. In 1910, Marion introduced a seminal car: the Marion Special Roadster. Designed for racing, the Special had a number of unique features designed by Stutz. One of these was the “transaxle,” which combined the transmission and rear differential into one unit. The Special Roadster was a big hit but it wasn’t long before Stutz wanted to build his own car, a racing car.
Stutz goes to the Indy
Stutz left Marion in 1910 and went about building a race car with his name on it. Automotive historians say the car was a built in just 5 weeks and it competed at the first running of the Indy 500. The driver was Gil Anderson and he drove the car to an eleventh place finish. Later in 1911, Stutz and some other investors founded the Ideal Motor Car Co. to manufacture of the Stutz Model A, a duplicate of the now very popular Indy race car. Soon he was being asked for other car models.
Taking styling cues from the Model A race car, 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 Ideal Motor Car Company
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, the bustling Stutz Motor Car Co. was bought by a group of Wall Street investors headed by Allan A. Ryan and Stutz went on to other automotive ventures.
Fire engines and another Stutz
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 national fire chief’s convention and several cities placed orders on the spot. Like his Stutz Motor Car Co. venture, he sold his interest in the Fire Engine Company and in 1924 focused on the H.C.S. Motor Company. Unfortunately when the great depression hit in 1929, the public’s demand for cars bottomed out. In the mid-thirties, the Stutz Motor Car Company and H.C.S. Motor Company were both declared insolvent and were shut down. Gone forever, was one of the great names of The Classic Era of American automobiles.