(first posted 4/3/2014) Haven’t we all indulged in wasting some time imagining what Mercer, Stutz, Duesenberg and Packard would be building if they were still in business? Some folks in the sixties beat us to it, and had the wherewithal to turn their fantasies into reality, for better or for worse.
It all started with some renderings Virgil Exner and his son Virgil Jr. made at the request of Esquire Magazine in 1963, of their imaginings of four classic car revivals for the 1960s: Mercer, Stutz Duesenberg and Packard. They were turned into a series of popular scale models, but the only one that actually went into full-size production was the Stutz. (CC’s story on the Exner neo-classical revival origins here)
But not by design. The neo-Stutz actually had its origins in an attempt to revive Duesenberg. Fred Duesenberg was interested in cashing in on the family’s still well-known name, and approached Virgil Exner, which resulted in this “Model D” prototype. In turn, they solicited James O’Donnell, an investment banker, for funds. At the last minute, one of the key investors backed out, and the new “Duesey” was stillborn. But the seed was planted, and Mr. O’Donnell, now busy doing research, discovered the ultra-premium market.
Mr. O’Donnell paid another visit to Mr. Exner, who recommended that they start with a proven GM chassis and drive train. “Ex” liked the new 1969 Gran Prix, and the two met with Pontiac General Manager John DeLorean, and soon they were in the car business. The name was changed to Stutz, because the Duesenbergs were no longer involved, and the Stutz name and trademarks were in the public domain.
Like the later Cadillac Allante, the A-Special body chassis made a round trip to Italy, where a new body and interior was fabricated in Cavallermoggiore before the whole affair was shipped back to the US. The result still bore a Pontiac coded-VIN, despite such touches as gold-plated cigarette lighters and window cranks with Australian lambs wool carpeting.
Being an Exner, it has a “toilet seat,” only it contrived to be functional by doubling as the bumper. The roof was made more formal, but the good proportions of the original GM Styling managed to balance Exner’s heavy-handed neoclassicism.
And much like his last Imperials, the front seems an odd mish-mash of modern styling with cues from the golden age, like the split windshield, upright grille, and another of his favorites, the semi-freestanding headlight. The whole package reminds me of Exner’s stillborn plans for 1962 coming into production, with the overtly baroque forms. Still, Mr. O’Donnell was right; the elites ate them up. Elvis ordered four, but most made do with one. After all, this was when broughams roamed the parking lots, and nothing was more broughamier than a Bearcat coupe or Blackhawk convertible.
And even the elites have children, which lead to the IV-Porte, once again based on a GM product (either a Bonneville or 88 depending on model year) with a good dose of Exner-ism. By now, federal law stated that one had to come up something more formidable than a spare tire for a rear bumper.
Diplomatica and Royale Limousines were fabricated in Italy as well, based on Cadillac running gear. Most of these went to Arabian Potentates. You see, the broughams were finding their lifeblood getting more and more expensive. Times were beginning to change, new forms emerged. Worst of all, the creative vision behind all the ‘Stutzing’ had gone on to the great automotive graveyard, presumably to hawk Grahams, Hupmoblies, and Durants on the stylistic virtues of faux spare tires. And the potentates that bought these automotive versions of tooth grilles needed something to survey their kingdoms with.
However, it appeared that the shark was truly jumped, as what was referred as either the Defender, Bear, or Gazelle was obliviously a Chevy Suburban à la J.C. Whitney. These were only seen outside of the United States. In addition to the convertible top, these could be ordered with machine-gun mounts, perfect for those less than obsequious subjects.
The Blackhawk was resurrected one last time, this time twelve Pontiac Firebirds were fitted with an early carbon fiber body before production withered away, after 617 Stutzes were produced over some twenty years. Curiously, Stutz Motor Car of America still exists in Los Angeles, despite not having produced a car in twenty years. A fitting fate for a ghost, I say.
More Stutz info: madle.org.