The Mighty Stutz Model AA Vertical 8
Indianapolis and powerful engines were synonymous with a brand, originally founded in 1911 by Harry C Stutz under a different name ‘The Ideal Motor Company’ and located not far from the world famous speedway that was built just two years previously to help the flourishing motor industry within the State of Indiana.
Stutz built his first car at home in 1898 at the age of 22, he went onto set up a gas engine company the following year. 1905 and after a short time with the American Car Company, designer Fred Tone took over from Stutz and was credited for creating the underslung chassis by hanging the frame under the axles rather than on top. In 1906 Harry Stutz became Chief Engineer at the Marian Motor Company building race and sports cars for the US speedways until 1910 when he decided to produce his own machines. Forming the Ideal Motor Company Stutz entered a car in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 just a few months after starting up, quite an achievement then to finish in 11th place but not what Stutz desired, he was after a top ten finish although still advertised the result claiming ‘’the car that made good in a day’’. Just one year later ‘Ideal’ became Stutz and the high performance sports market became the company’s target with machines such as the Stutz Bearcat. Engineering innovation was foremost throughout the brands lifetime, the Bearcat 4 cylinder engine had 4 valves per cylinder and was one of the first multivalve units produced; Stutz machines began to win the majority of races they entered.
Stutz without its Founder
After the First World War stock market speculator Allan A Ryan had bought up huge amounts of Stutz shares and from 1916 began influencing the company’s direction; profit was his priority not quality, so Stutz cut all ties with Ryan and then left his own company in 1919. Ryan though went bankrupt. It would be unusual today if a company’s founder walked away from his creation and new owners normally speculators or investors kept the original name. With early American motoring giants this occurred much more than you may expect, names such as Louis Chevrolet, David Dunbar Buick (a Scottish plumber turned inventor) and Eli Olds (Oldsmobile) all taken over by the ruthless William Durrant and his General Motors before the start of WW1. The Henry Ford Company was one exception because when that was taken over after the companies directors fired dear old Henry it was renamed the Cadillac Automobile Company which was then swallowed up by Mr Durrant and GM in 1909.
Three investors, one named Charles M Schwab, President of Bethlehem steel company took control of Stutz in 1922. In the early twenties Schwab was looking to push Stutz away from racing and sports production towards family and luxury transport and to assist him to this end Frederic Moskovics was brought into the fold. Moskovics had a proven track record with Maybach, Daimler and Marmon brands and he became President of Stutz in 1925. In 1926 he produced the car featured here, the Model AA Vertical 8, at the time it broke the mould with many features the competition could only dream of; sitting low to the ground with a worm drive axle, hydraulic brakes and special ‘safety glass’ it became known as the ‘Safety Stutz’, it was affordable luxury at just over $3,200.
The company was still enjoying racing success; a private French entry finished 2nd at Le Mans in 1928 behind a 4.5 litre Bentley, the best result for an American car until the arrival of the GT40 in the 60s. That very same year Stutz with-drew completely from factory backed motorsport following the death of multiple champion and former ‘Indie 500’ winner Frank Lockhart chasing the Land Speed Record at Daytona Beach. Driving the Blackhawk Special Streamliner at over 200mph tyre failure caused Lockhart to be thrown from his tumbling Stutz. The Stock market crash and lawsuits put the company in a vulnerable position, the depression that followed also ensured the sales of luxury automobiles would slow if not cease totally. Between 1930 and 1935 it is believed Stutz only sold 1500 cars and was forced into producing a small light delivery van known as the Pak-Age-Car (the driver stood up in) until the doors closed on the Indianapolis factory in 1937. The huge 400,000 square foot building was renovated in the early 1990s and has become a refuge for artists, sculptors and designers with office and studio space in the re named Stutz Business Centre.
The AA Finds a Home
No doubt this Vertical 8 spent some of its early life in Canada. A plate attached to the dash offers ‘Marked by the Dept Public Works Motor Vehicle Branch’ the town of Fredericton, New Brunswick, unfortunately there are no dates but it may well have been exported there from new. It must be fair to assume the car was something of a barn find as it certainly resembled one on arrival in the UK. November 1991 Rearsby Garage in Leicester took delivery of a Stutz Model AA in serious need of TLC, the details are vague but it seems the plan was to remove the ‘Brewster’ body and build some type of special. Maybe the new owner considered the body of the Stutz past repairing and had plans to build a Bear Cat replica we may never know. The car was then taken on by the Painter family who have a long established wedding car business near Shrewsbury; Mike Painter told me his father Alan didn’t visit Rearsby Garage to see the American machine but the Model AA did end up in their care. Alan believed a restoration was a better option than modification and employed the services of Keith Hill Restorations who replaced the Ash frames throughout the car including rebuilding the collapsed roof. The images re-enforce Mike’s point that the Stutz was in a terrible state, apart from the rotten wood the chassis itself had suffered and had virtually rusted through. Once restored many a blushing bride enjoyed their day in the restored Stutz before an advert caught the attention of current custodian Ray Radmall. The Stutz faced the ring, bidders and hammer in March 2008, so a few days before sale day Ray visited Hereford Auction and cast his eye over the Model AA, but to be honest he thought it may well be beyond his price range. A casual chat with an interested party and a kindly gent offered to give Ray a call at sale time which he duly did. There was interest but not to a level the auction house was expecting and two bids later the Stutz had a new home much to the joy of the current owner.
I first saw the Model AA at a local car show and to be honest you can’t really miss it; apart from the obvious bulk a closer inspection reveals many small but lovely details both inside and out. Ray told me it just does short journeys nowadays, less than 500 miles per year and being such a lot of car to drive on modern roads he is happy with that. Acceleration is acceptable but once into 3rd the Stutz copes well with current traffic speeds. Issues have been few and far between, one being the manual advance-retard seized which caused irreparable damage to the distributor. The old unit had to be used as a mould for the new one to be cast and the brake master cylinder required specialist help with replacement seals after it began to leak. Inside the driver is faced with an array of unfamiliar buttons and switches, the gauges are housed in an oval display. The first thing of note is a missing gauge which would have been the clock, long lost in time and located where the speedo is now, which turns on a wheel as you go faster, the fuel gauge also works in a similar fashion and probably not much slower as the 8 cylinder enjoys plenty of fuel. The steering wheel contains the usual pre-war selection of advance-retard for the ignition, a hand throttle, horn and light switch. The starter button is based on the floor and is started with your foot thus freeing up the hands to set the adjustments needed just to enable the mighty eight cylinders to run smoothly. In the heyday of coach-built cars, companies like Stutz would often supply a rolling running chassis, this car has the large ‘Brewster’ designed body, although research shows it may well have not been assembled by them. The rear passengers enjoy a huge amount of space that could easily accommodate six; it felt slightly strange having all this room to one-self. The wood trim is still in great condition along with the ornate trim pieces, beautifully decorated door handles and grab rails help lever yourself from the deep comfortable rear bench. Looking out through the ‘safety glass’ windows lined with metal, the first company to offer such a feature, makes one appreciate why the Stutz promoted Safety and Comfort during this period.
Why a 1926 Stutz
Custodian Ray Radmall shares his thoughts on owning and driving a Pre War Stutz Vertical 8 on today’s roads.
I had nursed an ambition to find an old car in order to participate in the local annual charitable historic and military vehicle show in memory of Jacqui Miles, chairman of the Parish Council for 10 years when she died of cancer in 2005. In 2008 I found myself driving to Herefordshire to cast an eye over what promised to be a fascinating auction; that is where I first saw the Stutz. When I cast my mind back, it is with some disbelief that I now find myself the custodian of such a characterful and spectacular machine. With a hand throttle and foot-operated starter, it represents a significant departure from the modern driving experience. Manual advance/retard, left-hand drive and a crash gearbox contribute to a novel adaption in technique. This is a very heavy long-wheelbase vehicle with great presence. Braking and steering are reminiscent of being master of a small ship. With huge torque, it is very flexible and a joy when on the move. On start-up the big 5 litre straight eight sounds like a Lancaster bomber. Altogether a fascinating insight into a bygone age of motoring.
Stutz Major Moments
The racing success the company enjoyed world-wide came only after the help and engineering excellence of one man. Stutz not previously renowned for the high performance of their products employed the talents of Ettore Bugatti in 1927; he modified the engine ports and manifolds. The redesigned engine enabled Stutz to win the US Stock-car championship; it actually won every race they entered that year.
The name Stutz continued for a further 20 years after the departure of founder Harry C Stutz. In 1932 company president, Edgar Stanley Gorrell was interviewed by Time magazine and was quoted as saying nine separate motor producers had approached Stutz with offers to buy, sell, merge or be merged. Confirming the company would stand alone, Stutz didn’t ‘’warrant or demand a merger.” From 1932 to 1933 production dropped more than 60 percent and in 1937 it was gone.
1926 Stutz Model AA Specifications
Engine: Vertical or Straight Eight 4.7 litre producing 92hp at 3200rpm
Gearbox: Three synchromesh forward 1 reverse
Ignition: Twin Spark (2 plugs per cylinder)
Carb: Twin-choke Zenith
Brakes: Front and rear hydraulic foot operated
Length: 5.45 metres or just under 18ft
Cost New: $3200 or £657 in 1926, additional cost varied on coachbuilder
Weight: Bespoke body dependant just under 2000kg
1926 the year Winnie-the-Pooh was first published by A A Milne and aerosol sprays were invented by Norwegian Erik Rotheim. It was the year of the General Strike in the UK, starting in May; it was over in 10 days although some miners stayed out until November before being forced back to work or replaced. Houdini stayed under water in a coffin for 90 minutes before escaping and Mussolini’s Irish wife broke his nose!