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The Stutz Bearcat was a well-known American sports car of the pre and post World War One period.
Essentially, the Bearcats were a shorter (120" wheelbase vs 130"), lighter version of the standard Stutz passenger cars chassis. It was originally powered by a 390 in3, 60-horsepower straight-4 engine produced by the Wisconsin Motor Company. Common with racing and sports cars of the period, it featured minimal bodywork consisting of a "dog house" hood, open bucket seats, a tiny "monocle" windscreen in front of the driver, and a cylindrical fuel tank on a short rear deck. Production Bearcats differed from the factory "White Squadron" racers by having fenders, lights and a trunk. Factory literature from 1913 describes the Bearcat as "The Stutz Bearcat, designed to meet the needs of the customer desiring a car built along the lines of a racing car with a slightly higher gear ratio than our normal torpedo roadster, has met with great favor with motor car owners and meets the demand for a car of this class."
The original production Bearcat was introduced in the Series A of 1912. The first public mention of the car (then spelled “Bear Cat” ) is in an advertisement in the 1912 program for the Indianapolis 500 mile race. This ad also was the first to use the soon to be famous Stutz slogan “The Car that made good in a day” referring to the Stutz racer’s 11th-place finish in the 1911 Indianapolis 500. As previously mentioned, that was truthful advertising, as the Bearcat was essentially a road-going version of the racer with fenders and lights added. The Series E of 1913 brought electric lights and starting. A six-cylinder option was available for an extra $250.00. The doorless body style would last through 1916. A sales catalog lists the available colors for the Series E as Vermillion, Monitor Gray, and Mercedes Red. Wire wheels were listed as a $125 option.
The Series S Bearcat of 1917 brought the first large change to the model. While it retained the 120-inch wheelbase, its body now featured an enclosed cockpit with step-over sides. It continued to be right-hand drive with external gearshift and brake levers. The main change was under the hood, where a new Stutz-designed 360 C.I. 16-valve 4-cylinder engine resided. It was cast in a single block had a heat-treated nickel crank and camshafts. 1919’s Series G was similar, but the mid-1919 Series H bodies featured cut-down sides to make cockpit entrance easier. The H also introduced new colors, including yellow, Royal Red, or Elephant Gray. By the end of 1919 price for a Bearcat had risen to $3250 (the same price as the roadster and slightly less than the touring coupe). The 1920 Series K was again similar, but prices had risen to $3900 in the wake of a postwar auto sales boom. The 1921 series K featuring a new “DH” engine with a detachable head was introduced, but a switch to left-hand drive in the following KLDH (L for left) meant the end of the Bearcat, since its narrow front seat and cockpit did not leave room for centrally located gear and brake levers. By 1922, the famed Bearcat name was missing from model lists and sales literature. For 1923, the roadster was renamed the Bearcat, but the name would again disappear in 1924.
The Bearcat name was reintroduced in 1931. The depression had not been kind to Stutz, so the name was used as a way to boost sales. The new Bearcat had the DV-28 (28-valve) eight-cylinder engine and each car came with an affidavit saying the car had been tested at 100 mph (160 km/h). It was a small coupe featuring dual side-mount spare tires and a rakish dip in the doors, similar to current (and future) sports cars. The car lasted through 1933. The same year, the model range was enhanced by the “Super Bearcat” powered by the DV-32 engine. Unlike the standard model, it offered full weather protection and higher performance . Sitting on a 116-inch (2,900 mm) wheelbase, it featured a lightweight fabric body built by Weymann. Stutz production ended in 1934.
Overall, its low weight, balance, and power made it an excellent racer. For example, in 1912, Stutz Bearcats won 25 of the 30 auto races in which they were entered. In 1915 a stock Bearcat was also the car used in Erwin "Cannon Ball" Baker's record coast-to-coast drive, inspiration for the later Cannonball Run outlaw race and film spin-offs. Baker drove his Bearcat from California to New York in eleven days, seven hours, and fifteen minutes, shattering the previous record.
Owning a Stutz Bearcat became a famous status symbol for the wealthy of the era. In 1914 it was priced at $2000, much less than some imported European sports cars, but about two to three times the cost of the average American "basic" car (with the Ford Model T of the day priced at $550).
The history and image of the Stutz Bearcat made it one of the better known antique cars to later generations of Americans. It was often associated with the "Roaring 20s" and college students of that period. It was frequently mentioned with stereotypical accoutrements of the period such as raccoon coats and illicit "bathtub gin".
That fame persisted well into the late 20th Century and the car's name was often used by way of comparison by modern makes of cars including Nash, Triumph and Mercury. A Triumph ad asked the question "Is the TR 3 the Stutz Bearcat of the 60s?" and showed a Triumph driver, complete with raccoon coat, next to an early 20s Bearcat, in a campus setting. The Nash ad from the early 1950s has the line.. "For the boy who wanted a Stutz Bearcat." The message being that a child in the 20s would be an adult 30 years later, and would buy a new Nash to satisfy his car lust.
Oklahoma City businessman Howard D. Williams attempted to capitalize on the model's fame. In the late 1960s, he built and marketed a fiber-glass replica of the car, based on the chassis of an International Harvester Scout utility vehicle. It was broadly similar in outline (bucket seats, exposed fuel tank) but differed from the original in having left hand drive and many visual differences. It was aimed at luxury car buyers as a unique runabout, but its high price limited sales. It's thought about a dozen were completed. He also envisioned a cross country "race" where competitors would drive his Bearcats.
Famed Hollywood car customizer George Barris made two much more accurate replicas for the 1971 television series Bearcats!. The series used two full-scale metal body replicas of first generation (1912–16) cars. While externally very close to the original cars, they were in fact built on custom chassis powered by Ford drivetrains and had modern four-wheel brake systems for safety.
Other replicas have been built by individuals.
The Bearcat name was quickly resurrected for the new Stutz Motor Car of America. The original 1967 design of the new Bearcat was based on Virgil Exner's Duesenberg "Revival Car" concept. Because of design difficulties with this convertible Stutz decided to produce the 1970 Blackhawk coupe first.
In 1976, a convertible called D'Italia based on a standard Blackhawk was presented at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The conversion was done by Dan Steckler, working for Stutz in California. Only one D'Italia was ever made, although others have done Blackhawk conversions as well (i.e. customizer John D'Agostino). Evel Knievel and Wayne Newton owned the car respectively.
Because new safety regulations in the US required a redesign with a rollbar, a Bearcat production model with rollbar was not manufactured until 1979. The new Bearcat used the GM A platform shared with the Blackhawk, and was essentially a Targa top coupe. Stutz offered it for US$100,000. The Bearcat switched with the Blackhawk to the GM B platform in 1980, with the exterior continuing the Blackhawk's exposed trunk-mounted spare tire and freestanding headlamps.
In 1987 a completely new Bearcat convertible, called the Bearcat II, was introduced. The base platform was the GM F platform for 1987, with the trailing edge of the spare forming part of the car's rear bumper. The Bearcat II was based on the Pontiac Firebird chassis with 5.7-liter (350 ci) V8 multi port fuel-injected Corvette engine and had a lightweight, dent- and corrosion-proof body made of what Stutz called Diamond Fiber Comp., a kind of carbon-fiber composite. It retailed for US$125,000, including a carbon-fiber hard top for use in winter and a matching luggage set. The German dealer Auto Becker in Düsseldorf offered the car with a 210 bhp 5.0-liter (305 ci) multi-port fuel-injected V8 and a galvanized chassis for 380,000 DM. The 5.7-liter Corvette engine was an option. Just 12 or 13 Bearcat IIs were produced between 1987 and 1995. Notable owners included the Sultan of Brunei, who owned two.
Fictional owners of the Stutz Bearcat
- The unnamed first-person protagonist of Velvet Underground song "Sweet Jane"
- The heroes of the television series Bearcats!
- Mr. Burns, in the Simpsons episode "The Trouble with Trillions". The Bearcat is also a usable vehicle in The Simpsons Hit & Run.
- Commandant Edwin Spangler, Malcolm in the Middle
- Helmut Zeppelin, Orange Crush
- Sam Drucker, proprietor of the Hooterville general store in the TV series Green Acres and Petticoat Junction
- Rafe Berlin, a recently returned war hero and love interest in The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell, a 2005 novel set in 1920 Louisiana by screenwriter Loraine Despres.
- Speed Paxton, a character in F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, A Night at the Fair (1928), drives off in a "Blatz Wildcat" -- a thinly disguised, fictionalized name for the Stutz Bearcat.
- Dirk Pitt, the uncannily capable protagonist of Clive Cussler's adventure novels, mentions a Stutz Bearcat speedster in Raise the Titanic!.
- The heroes of the 1972 cartoon The Houndcats, whose leader was a cat also named Stutz (the car itself was nicknamed "Sparkplug")
- Mr. Magoo is shown to drive a 1924 Stutz Bearcat.
- Anne Rice's novel The Witching Hour, in which Stella rides around with Julien in a Stutz Bearcat to go to parties and brothels.
- Penelope Pitstop named her green car as a Stutz Bearcat XKZ in one episode of The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.
Jake McGrath in the Robert Peck book Here Lies the Librarian which pays homage to the beginning years of the Stutz auto.
- Judd Steiner from 1959 film Compulsion based on the Leopold and Loeb case.
In addition, episodes of the radio sitcoms Life with Luigi and The Burns and Allen Show had stories in which the heroes thereof wound up buying Stutz Bearcats.