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Stutz Vertical 8
Stutz Bearcat 

Stutz Vertical 8

Like a lingering melody that sticks in your head, the legacy of Harry C. Stutz remained with the car company that bore his name long after he had gone off to other endeavours. So the Stutz Vertical 8, a car that the company's founder had nothing to do with, still bore his unmistakable stamp.

Of course, by the mid-1920's when the Vertical 8 appeared, the Stutz name had become synonymous with automotive performance. Harry Stutz was, first and foremost, an engineer who immediately established his automotive credentials with the 1905 American Underslung. By actually hanging the frame from the axles, instead of the opposite, Stutz was able to give the Underslung a low centre of gravity, not to mention a roguish look compared to the other cars of the day.

With the Underslung on his resume, Stutz moved to the Marion Motor Car Company, which then had a reputation as a builder of sportive machines. But his stay at Marion wasn't lengthy, because he had it in his head to build a motorcar bearing his own name, and we don't mean the Harry.

Not one to start small, Stutz decided that the best place to unveil his new car was at the Indianapolis 500. No, he didn't display it in the infield; he entered it in the race, and when 442 minutes had elapsed, the Stutz finished eleventh. While his car actually failed to bring in the Top Ten finish he had hoped for, Stutz was quick to advertise his new machine as "The Car That Made Good in a Day."

As part two of his plan, Stutz quickly announced that a production version of his Indianapolis racecar would soon be offered by the Ideal Car Company, a firm that soon morphed into the Stutz Motor Car Company. Of course, the most famous offspring of the company was the legendary Stutz Bearcat, one of the seminal American sports cars.

Like most sports cars that would follow it, the Bearcat seemed to revel in its impracticality. Its lengthy wheelbase of 120 inches was topped with just two rudimentary bucket seats, though sometimes a third "mother-in-law" seat found its way behind them. Under the minimalist hood was a six cylinder T-head engine that delivered a remarkable 80 horsepower, thanks in part to its leading-edge aluminum pistons. It was in a Stutz Bearcat that Erwin G. "Cannonball" Baker set the coast-to-coast speed record of eleven days, seven hours and fifteen minutes.

Certainly Stutz was a name in the news prior to America's entry into World War I, and that attracted the attention of a stock market speculator named Allen Ryan. Ryan was a money guy, not a car guy, and he quickly decided that there was money to be made from the Stutz Motor Car Company, and it didn't have to be made by actually selling cars. He bought up a controlling number of Stutz shares, and then he set about inflating its value with grandiose claims of future success.

As an automotive engineer who cared about the vehicles, Stutz was appalled by Ryan's approach to business, but since Ryan held the majority interest, there wasn't much he could do about it, despite the fact that he still held the title of president. Disgusted, Stutz began to peddle his own shares, and the big buyer was Ryan. By 1919 Stutz had cut all ties to the Stutz Motor Car Company, and, taking a page out of the Ransom Olds' book, he built a new car company bearing his initials, HCS. Like Olds' REO, it faded by the mid-Twenties. In fact, so did Allen Ryan, who went bankrupt in 1922.

The Stutz Motor Car Company, though, was saved from the scrap heap by Charles M. Schwab, who at that time served a president of Bethlehem Steel. After an unsuccessful attempt to enter the family car market in the early Twenties, Schwab set the Stutz brand back into the luxury-performance field. His first salvo in that direction was the 1926 Model AA Vertical Eight, designed under the direction of Frederic Moskovics, late of Franklin.

The new model captured some of the essence of earlier Stutz automobiles in its performance and its rakish, underslung look that made competitors look dated. To achieve this, Moskovics specified a Timken worm-drive axle and combined it with a "double-drop" frame that allowed the car to sit lower on its big wheels than competitive cars.

Billed as the "Safety Stutz" and priced at over $3,000, the Vertical Eight also featured hydraulic brakes and rudimentary "safety" glass. Neither high-tech effort proved completely satisfactory, however. The safety glass featured an array of tiny wires cast into the panes, while the originally fitted Timken Hydrostatic brakes proved so unreliable they were replaced by a Lockheed system a year later.

On the positive side of the ledger was the newly designed Vertical 8 engine. It was a single overhead cam straight eight, displacing 287 cubic inches, actually a tad smaller in displacement than the Speedway Six that had preceded it. But the new mill delivered 92 horsepower with the help of "twin ignition" -- two spark plugs per cylinder.

Schwab had invested a huge sum in the development of the Vertical 8, and early on it appeared the investment would pay off. Sales jumped to 5,000 units as luxury buyers heard good reports about the performance of the new Stutz, and its sleek looks were another strong selling point.

In 1927 the company improved the model by increasing the engine displacement to 298 cubic inches and horsepower to 95, but sales actually fell off drastically, due largely to complaints about the Timken hydraulic brakes that were proving to be nightmarishly temperamental. That same year the company used the Vertical Eight with a new cylinder head designed by Ettore Bugatti (Schwab wanting nothing but the best) to power the new Black Hawk speedster, the spiritual descendant of the Bearcat.

But storm clouds were forming over Stutz, and the clouds burst with the stock market crash of 1929. Though Stutz would actually build some of its best motorcars after the crash, it just could not swim against the tide of shrinking demand for super-luxury cars. In 1934 Stutz built just six cars, and by 1939, after a venture into truck manufacture, it was gone altogether. The "Car That Made Good in a Day" had survived the absence of its founder for twenty years.