The Bearcat was quite successful for more than twenty years, but unfortunately it was put out of business by the Great Depression of the 1930's along with the Duesenberg, Marmon and Pierce Arrow. It may be its quick and somewhat unexpected disappearance that added a bit to its romantic history.
It was nearly 30 years that the Stutz Company had remained dormant when Virgil Exner went to the O'Donnel Organization in 1968. Exner had been a veteran designer who went to Wall Street to petition for financial and management aid in manufacturing a ‘neo-classic' vehicle by using American engineering merged with the stellar artistry known from Italian coachbuilders. Exner originally wanted financing to create a new Duesenberg and he was part of a group that included Fred Duesenberg, the nephew of the original carmaker. Together they had an eye-catching prototype but were waiting merely on funding before production could begin. Unfortunately for them, the project was not well thought out and was immersed in serious debt. The loan was not approved at this time.
Several months later a financer contacted Exner and agreed to explore the manufacture of a different vehicle. The agreement was made that Exner would be wholly responsible for the designs the financer on the management and the financing. A market study of the luxury car market was first made and conclusions from that study reinforced determination to build a line of custom vehicles with classic lines.
August of 1968, the financer visited Exner in Birmingham, Michigan and viewed a sketch of one that resembled a non-threatening looking Batmobile. This design was chosen the winner, perhaps because the front of the vehicle had a phallic look that created excitement. Additional opinions were received from the Pontiac Division at General Motors were John Z. DeLorean headed the department. DeLorean agreed that the project was feasible and liked the concept. He agreed that the firm pointed lines of the design could only be created by hand.
The next decision was made how much financing to put into the production and how to go about getting it. Numerous questions arose regarding where the prototype would be constructed, what government regulations would need to by complied with and price range should they target. A name was also needed to proceed further. The financer had once had a Greek friend whose father owned a black and yellow Stutz Bearcat. Able to ride in it when he was younger, the financer had never forgotten the sensation of riding in the austere automobile.
Since the original Stutz Motor Company had been dormant for thirty years, the name was now public domain. They were able to use it, but it did take ten years of legal battles and fees, but success was finally won. With an initial capitalization of $100,000.000, the team eventually raised $1,200,000.00, the bare minimum needed for a project of this size. After they raised the capital, the next step in the process was to make the prototype. Exner fashioned a clay model of the new Stutz according to the vital measurement of a 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix. It was extremely important that the new Stutz body fit every centimeter of the Grand Prix, and when finished the clay model had the exact look and dimension of the car to be made.
The manufacturing site picked was in Cavallermaggiore, Italy, which was nearly an hour from Milan, outside of Tourin. The prototype from the clay model was made here and set up for subsequent production.
Stutz only made the handmade coach and the exquisite interiors, but it did not make any engine parts, AC's, radios or electrical systems. Once Exner was pleased with his final clay model, plastic forms or 'skins' were made over the clay model, the process of making the skins destroyed the original clay model, and it no longer exists now. The body parts were placed in a large fixture where a Grand Prix chassis waited for the welding process. In July of 1969 the mannequin was finally completed. The total cost for the prototype was $300,000 and would cost an estimated two million today.
The all new Stutz Motor Car Company of America didn't make any parts of the car except for the hand-crafted interior and the handmade coach. Suppliers had to be found and contracts needed to be negotiated to obtain more than thirty items to complete the production. The GM chassis gives the customer the best of both worlds, especially since parts and service on a GM car is available worldwide. Stutz body parts can be handmade in basically any good body shop anywhere.
Despite most of the vehicle being made based on practicality, a few pure luxury touches were added as well. The metal fittings inside the vehicle, the steering rim, the window controls and the cigarette lighter were all plated with 14K gold. The engine oil dip stick even featured this. With each new Stutz purchased buyers received two gold plated ignition keys.
In December of 1969, the first model was completed. The model was called the Stutz Blackhawk, a two door hardtop, the new Bearcat had to be a convertible. The U.S. government had outlawed the sales of convertibles in the U.S. and a design modification was necessary to comply with these new safety regulations. Unfortunately this kept the Stutz from realizing its full sales potential for a status vehicle.
On January 20, 1970, the Stutz Blackhawk prototype was flown to NYC and made it official debut at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. It made an incredible impression on both the American and the International Press. This was an opportune time for a new luxury vehicle in America, more importantly, a handmade one.
A production Bearcat wasn't manufactured until 1979 and that model used the GM A platform shared with the Blackhawk and it was essentially a Targa top coupe. The following year the Bearcat switched with the Blackhawk to the GM B platform. The exterior continued the Blackhawk's exposed trunk-mounted spare tire. For 1987 the base platform was now the GM F platform with the trailing edge of the spare now forming part of the car's rear bumper.
Elvis Pressley bought the first car sold by the new Stutz Company. He bought three more of these vehicles later. Thought only 12, or possibly 13 modern Stutz Bearcats were ever produced, it was a great example of a plush luxury vehicle.By Jessica Donaldson