The History of Stutz, Stop and Go Fast (Part XVI)


We return to our long-running Stutz historical coverage today, with a few of the odds and ends vehicles that were never the headliners of Stutz’s brand portfolio. During the Seventies and Eighties, the Blackhawk and targa roof Bearcat funded some other fun ideas that occupied the thoughts of company CEO James O’Donnell.

In our last entry, we covered what was perhaps the strangest offering of the latter Stutz entity, a C/K era Suburban that concealed a mounted machine gun in its interior. The armored SUV was subsequently turned into a gun-free dictatorial parade sedan with targa roof, and a trunk. The be-trunked Suburban also donated its shape to an upright regular sedan and six-door funeral transport.

And while the Stutz Suburban takes were intended for foreign heads of state for security and coup d’etat purposes, the Stutz sedans were directed at the company’s more traditional American customer: Someone who feared no peasant uprising but did enjoy flashy styling and lots of elegance. Introducing the Duplex.

Named like an affordable housing choice, this particular big and luxurious Stutz stated its approximate function in its name with a reference to the two lounging accommodations front and rear. And like the Bearcat that took so long to realize (and even longer for the true convertible Bearcat II), the four-door Duplex was one of the initial aspirations of O’Donnell.

An early take on the Duplex idea was shown in one of the earliest Stutz brochures, a black and white picture of a large sedan from a rear 3/4 perspective. It had an interesting name printed above it: Ministeriale. The black four-door was a modification of a 1969 Cadillac, the Fleetwood Brougham. The donor car retained most of its original shape, with some additional fender sculpting that ran along the character line and behind the wheel.

It was accompanied along the side by the addition of more fender sculpting that started just before the rear wheel and wrapped around the wheel arch. Said arch lost its fender skirt for Stutz duty. Stutz did the most transformation to the Cadillac via the company’s extra thick roof treatment, applied to add extra C-pillar heft and formality and to shrink the rear window.

At the lower corners of the rear window, faux luggage straps were affixed to the trunk. They continued down the long trunk lid before they terminated just short of the bumper. The trunk lid itself was raised considerably from the donor Cadillac, in order to make the Duplex look like a different car and to conceal the Cadillac’s tail fins.

The trunk took on a near bustleback profile with a defined crease at its rear edge, and a steep rake on the trunk lid headed down to the bumper. Inset into the center of the trunk lid was a large Stutz emblem. It’s a bit hard to tell from the grainy photograph, but it looks as though the Cadillac’s rear lamps remained unchanged.

Stutz contracted with coachbuilder Coggiola, so the Ministeriale was a legitimate consideration for the company’s sedan offering. However, the Italian-made prototype advanced beyond the initial stages. Before long Stutz gave up on the Ministeriale and moved on to the Duplex design that was more on-brand.

What’s interesting is how the Stutz brochure presented two different sedans, but both labeled Ministeriale. One had a Cadillac rear, and another clearly wore Blackhawk styling and a Pontiac rear. The latter pages of the brochure used the Duplex name for the sedan and ensured it was made from a Fleetwood Brougham.

However, even in the earliest brochure and press photos, the Duplex design was clearly a Pontiac derivative, not a Fleetwood. The interior looked to be of Pontiac origin, though was not the same as the Blackhawk. Most notably the Duplex used an angled shifter mounted on the center stack. In the end, it’s unclear if Stutz used a Fleetwood chassis with Grand Prix interior parts, or stretched the Grand Prix platform for its purposes and then attached the Blackhawk body panels. We’ll probably never know.

The Duplex that resulted was an almost identical styling copy of the Exner-designed Blackhawk, but with an additional set of doors and a longer roof. Its interior was not as opulent as the Blackhawk and lacked much of the thick wood door paneling and ruched or tufted leather seating. The car was painted a dark reddish-brown for its publicity shoot, where a lady in a fur coat and her driver were hilariously superimposed onto the lawn of a Tudor mansion. The Duplex absolutely seemed less special than the Blackhawk.

The design that became the first Duplex was built about the same time as the Blackhawk concept (that was sold to Elvis). Both were made by the same coachbuilder in Italy – Carrozzeria Padane. Recall that Padane built only the earliest Stutz cars circa 1970, and production transitioned to Carrozzeria Saturn by 1972. There are precious few press photos of the Duplex, but its early 1970 build timeline is evident through the use of doomed run-flat Firestone LXX tires, which we’ve covered previously.

Shortly after the Blackhawk debuted in 1970, Stutz was ready with its four-door follow-up. The press release proclaimed the Blackhawk was already popular with celebrity icons like Elvis and Dick Martin, even at its $24,500 ($189,451 adj.) ask. To complement such an illustrious ownership group with a four-door car, the Duplex saw an appropriate price increase.

It asked $32,500 ($251,312 adj.) in 1970, and the eye-watering figure was presented along with the new sedan at the New York International Auto Show. O’Donnell showed off his new sedan on April Fools Day, 1970. At the time, Stutz’s PR company assured there was over $9 million ($69,594,285 adj.) of back-ordered vehicles, but the company was increasing production. History showed that figure was a bit of an exaggeration because $9 million would have meant 367 Blackhawks were sold within the first couple of years. In fact, the company sold roughly 617 total cars between 1970 and 1995.

After the Duplex was introduced in New York, it didn’t prove to be the instant hit that Stutz expected. The model was quickly renamed a couple of times and transitioned from Duplex to Limousine, and in 1973 changed its name to Duplex again. 1974 was the last time Stutz offered a Duplex. In its four or five years on offer, there were either one or two examples of the Duplex built including the launch car. As only one has ever surfaced online, that’s the quantity we’ll assume is correct. Let’s talk about a criminal.

The aforementioned reddish-brown Duplex was chassis number 364856, and it found its way into the hands of a wealthy buyer in Salt Lake City. The buyer was George Norman Junior, a millionaire who invested in many things. Unfortunately, one of the activities he invested in was embezzlement, and that’s how he ended up on the run as a federal fugitive. The Stutz fan abandoned the Duplex at one of his homes and disappeared on March 13, 1973.

For the next 23 years, he evaded authorities, who were after him for defrauding the Rocky Mountain Bank for $500,000 ($3,430,704 adj.). U.S. marshals caught him accidentally at a motel in Tennessee, where he had just exited its restaurant with his wife as agents parked. During his time on the run, he conducted legal business so as not to arouse suspicion, and federal authorities believed he earned about $50 million legally between 1973 and November 1996 when he was captured. Agents suggested he’d have got away scot-free if he just fled the country.

The Duplex was auctioned to pay back the people Norman robbed, and it moved to Florida. Its new Floridian owner painted it white and added wire wheels and a dark blue interior. It was later painted black, and its rare Kelsey-Hayes wheels were reattached.

Though the Duplex was a complete failure by any metric, the ever-perseverant O’Donnell was not prepared to give up on his sedan dreams – he tried it again at the end of the Seventies. We’ll pick up there next time.

[Images: Stutz]

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