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
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
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
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
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
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.