1918 Stutz Bearcat
May 5, 2008 8:14 AM
Born on an Ohio farm, Harry C. Stutz had only a grade school education when he went to work, while taking night classes in engineering. By 1897, he had designed and built his first automobile, cobbled out of old wooden buggy parts, and consequently dubbed, "Old Hickory." Stutz moved to Indianapolis to work for a string of automobile companies before landing at American, where in 1905, he won his first opportunity to design a production car, the American Underslung. While most cars of the time mounted the chassis on springs above the axles, Stutz hung his from the axles. Handling was also improved by the car's extremely low center of gravity.
Although Stutz's Underslung quickly gained a reputation for relatively smooth driving and maneuverability, Stutz moved on to another job with the Marion Motor Car Company, clocking hours while preparing to create the automobile that would bear his name. Although his first design utilized a four-cylinder 50 hp Wisconsin racing engine, it did feature Stutz's original transaxle, and many of the innovations introduced with the Underslung. Once completed in 1910, a confident Stutz decided to introduce his namesake by entering the untested vehicle in the first Indianapolis 500. Although the vehicle placed 11th, perhaps due to multiple flat tires which may have been caused by the transaxle's design, Stutz boasted that the car had prevailed without a single mechanical adjustment, and subsequently billed it as "the car that made good in a day."
Capitalizing on the buzz from Indianapolis, Stutz formed the Ideal Car Company in 1911 with help from silent backer Henry Campbell. His intention: to create a production version of his racer in five body styles, one of which, the roadster, would evolve into the legendary Bearcat, designed to compete with the Mercer Raceabout. The Bearcat was a bare bones automobile, primarily consisting of chassis, engine, steering wheel, bucket seats and fuel tank. In 1914, Stutz replaced his multiple-disc clutch with a leather-faced cone, which many regarded as a regression, even though electric starter and lights were made standard features in the same model year. Nevertheless, the Bearcat continued to rack up victories on the racetrack as well as land speed records, and became a favorite with well-heeled young men of the era.
It wasn't until after he retired from racing, that Stutz finally designed an all-original model of the Bearcat for the 1917 model year. Featuring four valves per cylinder with the innovative aluminum pistons, its T-head engine offered an incredible 80 hp, and reached a screaming top speed of 85 mph. Sadly, Stutz's business acumen was not on par with his engineering genius. By 1919 he was forced to sell majority interest in his company to Wall Street, and he soon left the company altogether.