From humble beginnings in the rural farmlands of Ohio to the bustling city that was Indianapolis, Harry Clayton Stutz made his way through a winding career path to found the Ideal Motor Car Company in 1911. Ideal’s first product was the Bearcat, a sporty open-top two-seater that Stutz designed himself in just five weeks. After racing at the inaugural Indianapolis 500, Stutz took his racer and made a couple of minor edits, then put it into passenger car production. However, Stutz was a tinkerer first and foremost, so he began to revise the Bearcat almost immediately.
The Bearcat entered production in 1912, in a first run known as the Series A. Ideal Motors was doing well, as the publicity generated by the Indy 500 race made the Bearcat a noteworthy market entry. Ideal’s only car existed in its initial format for less than a year before big changes occurred at both the entity and product level.
Nobody was too attached to the Ideal Motors company name, so in June 1913 Stutz renamed his automobile enterprise after himself. The company was reborn as the Stutz Motor Car Company of Indianapolis. The new company consolidated two separate businesses – Ideal Motors and Stutz Auto Parts – into one organization. More organizational changes were soon to follow, but not before the Bearcat went through some revision.
1913 saw the first changes to the Bearcat, ones which made it more appealing to customers who demanded more modernity and luxury from their automobiles. Called the Series E, the most notable changes were electrical: Lighting was now electric, as was the Bearcat’s starter. Perhaps more importantly, the Series E was the first Stutz to offer a six-cylinder engine. For the hefty additional ask of $250 ($7,172 adj.), the inline-six promised more prestige. The six didn’t provide more power, as it made the same 60 horses as the Wisconsin inline-four (Type A) engine.
Series E was available in more colors too; Stutz now offered three: Monitor Gray, Vermillion, and Mercedes Red. Though the E still went without any doors or roof, it did offer wire wheels. That luxury essential in the blooming American car landscape asked $125 ($3,586 adj.) in 1913.
Ever-present in racing circles at the time, Stutz formed a race team he called the White Squadron. They raced the Bearcat in 1913 and won series races at the national level. The wins provided publicity and credibility boosts to the new Stutz brand. The team won again in 1915 before Stutz disbanded it and withdrew from racing circuits prior to the 1916 race season.
By 1916 the Series E Bearcat was selling at a decent clip but was limited by the company’s size. Sales of 759 cars in 1913 dropped to 649 in 1913, but increased to 1,079 in 1915. Stutz wanted to expand the business and was on target for record production in 1916: The company produced 874 cars in the first half of the year.
But Stutz needed more capital and went fishing for investors. Another new entity was created when a group of said investors banded together to form the Stutz Motor Car Company of America. The new company served as a holding vehicle and purchased Stutz Motor Car Company of Indianapolis in 1916. The new holding company arrangement was created in order to list Stutz stock on the New York Stock Exchange.
The directors of the new entity were Stutz himself, his friend Henry Campbell who was the joint founder of Ideal Motors, Allan A. Ryan, and four other new individuals. Stutz was the president of the firm, and new investor Ryan was the VP. Ryan was important as the prime financier of the new arrangement and had cash since he was a stockbroker in New York.
But Stutz got a bit more than he bargained for in the new holding company, as he had to cede control of his namesake to the new investors. At its base, Ryan was now in control of the company. It didn’t sit too well with Stutz that he was no longer in control, but he’d have to make do with that choice for the time being. The cost of using other people’s money.
After the company reorganized, had their IPO, and received a cash injection, further revisions were made to the Bearcat. New for 1917 was the Series S. Considered the first big update to the model, it was the first time a Stutz was sold with side body panels. The new S rode on the same 120-inch wheelbase as before, but now had a semi-enclosed cabin with sides passengers would step over for entry and egress.
On the engineering front, the S marked a change in power plants, as Stutz began to build their own engines. The new mill was a Stutz-designed 360 cubic inch (5.9-liter) inline-four. With four valves per cylinder, it used a cast block and a nickel crankshaft and cams. With the new, more complete body and an engine of their own design, Stutz pushed the price of the Bearcat higher and started offering other body styles with their own names.
The Series S didn’t last long, as in 1919 the Series G replaced it. Similar in most ways to the S, the G was replaced almost immediately, when midway through 1919, the Series H was introduced. H removed some of the tall side body panel introduced to the Bearcat in 1917, as sills were cut lower to aid entry into the car. Undoubtedly a response to consumer complaints, Stutz steadfastly refused to adopt the modern convenience known as the car door for the Bearcat. Other body styles offered by Stutz were rebodies of the Bearcat. Called Roadster, Sedan, and Touring Coupe, the other Stutz models did have doors.
The Series H made the Bearcat more expensive still, as the price at the conclusion of 1919 was $3,250 ($55,377 adj.). Colors were new for the Series H, though were still the same shades the company offered for some time: Yellow, Royal Red, and Elephant Gray. With their various body styles, things were looking up at Stutz. But all was not well in the boardroom in Indianapolis.
Stutz was still unhappy with Ryan at the helm and did not approve of the way the stockbroker was running the company. On July 1st shortly after the Series H was introduced, Stutz resigned from the company he founded. Stutz took founding partner Henry Campbell with him and went off for greener pastures. The pair founded the H. C. S. Motor Company, named after Stutz’s initials. H. C. S. was in business building cars by 1920 and made it through 1926 before it went bust. Estimates suggest the company made about 3,000 cars.
Stutz started a separate company at the same time that built fire trucks. The fire trucks business fared better than H. C. S. did, but before long Stutz (like always) had moved on to other interests. By 1925 he was divorced and immediately remarried his second wife, and the couple moved to Orlando, Florida. He left his businesses in Indiana under the control of their creditors, and both were liquidated in bankruptcy by 1927. In Florida Stutz started an airplane company, where he designed a new four-cylinder engine. Stutz was visiting his old stomping grounds in Indianapolis in the summer of 1930 and died suddenly of a ruptured appendix at the age of 53. Back to 1919.
With the company’s two founding members suddenly in absentia, Stutz Motor Cars veered off in a couple of different directions. One of them was car-related, but the other was illegal. More on that in Part III.
[Images: Stutz, YouTube]
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