1979 Stutz Blackhawk (image: conceptcarz.com)
(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.
Related CC reading: The Drawing (and Toy Cars) That Launched the Neo-Classic-Brougham Era: Virgil Exner’s 1963 Stutz Revival
Awesome looking car! I’ve only seen one Stutz Bearcat. And it was a two door coupe.
If it was a two-door coupe it would’ve been a Blackhawk. The Bearcats were convertibles.
Dead-marque revivals like these are to me like counterfeit Rolexes (forgetting the hideous styling). Duesenbergs in particular were special not because of their bodywork, however fine, but because of their mechanical engineering.
Imagine if Fred & August patented the 4-wheel hydraulic brake system introduced on their Model A. Then they might’ve stayed in business off the royalties Chrysler et al. would’ve had to pay, w/o having to sell out to E.L. Cord.
I hate, hate, hate, hate these cars!
It’s those wretched lights! If it weren’t for sealed-beam regulations, they could have put a decent set of flush glass headlights on these things.
Yes, other than the lights, these are so refined and tasteful.
Well played, sir. Well played.
that “Defender/Bear” is just a complete affront to the senses. not only did it have stacked rectangular headlamps, it didn’t even attempt to hide what vehicle they belonged to. the rest of it is just a crime against humanity.
The contrast of these to that patina-ed Camaro is just stunning.
However, by the end of new-Stutz’s run, GM had closed the gap – the late-70’s Trans Ams were an awful lot closer in spirit to these…
Now there’s a thought – do any of you CC Photshop experts want to try to put a “Screaming Chicken” hood decal onto one of these Stutzes?
You’ve obviously never seen the 1982 movie Night Shift?
If you’ve never seen it, there is a Stutz IV Port, with a Trans Am chicken on the hood, featured fairly prominently in the movie, its about morgue workers that become pimps.
You beat me to the punch! I came here to post about that movie and one of my
favorite parts 🙂 Remember Bill also had that matching jacket? Awesome.
I had forgotten about the matching jacket!
According to Wiki, one of the 12 (!) different engines available — ranging all the way from a Ford 302 to a Cadillac 500 — was Pontiac’s T/A 6.6.
Twelve engines… in pretty much the same model… in only 16 years of production. That’s got to be some kind of a record. But probably not a good one.
I don’t want to make too fine a point of it, but these are complete crap.
Hopefully, I don’t offend anyone with this opinion. My stylistic ideals are more along “Bauhaus” principles: form follows function. A bit of ornamentation is o.k. like in Jaguar S-type.
There is one place where this Stutz will look good: in front of a Hugh Hefner establishment. I can imagine him approaching the thing in his paisley garb.
No offense by me. I always considered these neo-Stutzes symbols of wretched excess. When I lived in Laguna Beach in the late 70’s-early 80’s, a gay couple who owned an expensive crystal store in town had one of these Blackhawks, outfitted with a large Lalique crystal eagle hood ornament. You couldn’t miss it driving around. Gauche, at best.
Yeah, that sounds about right. Liberacemobiles all the way…
Now, I’m a big fan of gaudy Broughamtastic Caddies, Lincolns, and other such Detroit land yachts but that is waaaaay beyond the pale. There can certainly be too much of a good thing. The first step to gawdawful is the dealer added on stuff at the behest of some chain smoking, definitely seen better days cougar along the lines of cars already shown on this site. Padded vinyl tops w/ double opera windows and/or landau bars, Rolls tacked on grills, crappy tacked on chrome where it doesn’t belong etc. Then, you have the Eldos that are featured in the old Blacksploitation Super Fly flicks. Then you have things like the neo-Stutz. Ick. Out of all those pics, I would say that the limo version pulls off the look the best and actually kind of looks cool but I’d still rather have a straight-up Fleetwood.
I can appreciate it as a historical artifact and without a doubt, it would turn my head if I saw it going down the road.
The only car that was even more vulgar and overdone is a Bugazzi, complete with fake oriental rug carpets and what I think are gold tone toilet paper roll holders for door pulls. Please do not look one up when children are in the room.
I’m not sure if I like these or not. I guess if they sold that was what mattered.
The company is still in business? Selling parts I guess, I should check out the link.
A nicely written article, but I would like to point out one thing. You refer to the continentals on the Stutz’ as a “toilet seat” and “faux spare tire”. Unlike Exner’s continentals stuck onto trunk lids when he worked at Chrysler, the Stutz continentals cover the ACTUAL spare tire. The center is open, and what you see is the actual wheel.
I’ve personally seen a Blackhawk with the trunk open, and the big horseshoe-shaped opening for the exposed wheel. The spare tire sitting front and center really compromises the trunk space.
One other point, that Duesenberg prototype was built on an Imperial chassis, a 65 or 66. It still exists in private hands, is an unrestored survivor, and used as an occasional driver by the owner.
Exner also did a prototype Bugatti revival car, built on a real vintage Bugatti chassis. It still exists as well.
Interestingly, on at least one of Exner’s Chrysler show cars, the “toilet seat” not only covered the spare, but had an elaborate electro-hydraulic mechanism to lift the spare out of its bay automatically. I don’t know if Exner ever proposed that for production, although I can well imagine what accounting would have said.
Awful,epecially that Defender Bear abomination.I thought the 58 Lincoln was the ugliest American car but these eye sores make it a thing of beauty.Kill them with fire before they lay eggs!
A very interesting topic. This comes as a bit of a CC effect as I was just in the old Stutz building last week. The old Stutz plant in downtown Indianapolis (actually the new Stutz plant, which was built to increase capacity in the mid 1910s) remains mostly intact and now serves as an office community for the artsy and creative.
As for the car itself, I would sooner have a 75 Caprice. Those who know me know that this is not a compliment to the “Stutz”, which is no more a real Stutz than I am.
I’ve passed that building a million times. I’m pretty sure there’s a bar there, or used to be called the Loading Dock, I saw my cousin’s band play there a few times.
All I know about these cars are they’re ugly as sin and Elvis bought 5 of them, including one of the prototypes. Sinatra wanted to buy it too but wouldn’t allow publicity photos so a Elvis got it.
At first I thought these were April Fools jokes, but it’s a little late. I really can’t think of one American production car ever built that was uglier than any of these. Hideous? Where can I start. It’s like these were designed by the guy who did the Family Truckster in the Vacation movie.
Need I say more?
I have actually seen those around where I live in L.A. And as a kid I thought it was a tacky car and now in my middle age, still a tacky car! The yellow one, but all that other garbage looks like it came from that Dog-awful cartoon, the Thunderbirds. And seriously, photo #7 a wanna-be Rolls Royce, or should I say, a poor man’s Rolls Royce with added hideous running boards like that? I have seen real Stutz cars and they are works of art. The new ones are works of isht!
By the way, that thing looks like a Volvo 240 with added bling, the chrome cheap @$$ chrome covered steelies. I would rather take the bus than be laughed at driving this trash.
Stutz, pleasssssse! Don’t pimp my ride!
The Stutz Bearcat is better looking in two door coupe form than in sedan. With the sedan, the body looks too much like an upgraded version of a Cadillac of the same vintage.
Probably because they changed the body less. Unfortunately it looks like GM took inspiration from the near-vertical rear window of the IV-porte
There’s such a thing as too much good taste. When everyone was driving a Corniche or a 450 SLC or a 911 SC, the Stutz added just the right amount of outré to the roadscape.
What are you to do if you are an up an coming successful pornography publisher and a regular luxury car is just too pedestrian?
Get a Stutz of course!
Its like XXX Hardcore Brougham.
Funny you said that Carmine….in the Nicolas Cage movie “8MM”, James Gandolfini’s character, the sleazy porn producer owns one of these Stutzes
Yes, I remember that too.
I find the original 1969 prototype Stutz to be very pretty, unfortunately the production versions had to make some compromises to get the car made. The prototypes look much sleeker than the later cars, the dark color and large wheels does lend a Batmobile-ish vibe that looks pretty cool.
That is alot better looking than the finished product but if you have noticed the longer overhangs look much better with larger diameter wheels. I learned that lesson by seeing a 73 Monte Carlo with 20 inch wheels when the whole big rim thing was just getting started. It looked proportioned instead of a whale on a skateboard by having the 14 or 15 inch wheels that were factory.
One of the interesting features from the prototype, that makes “the look” in my opinion, were the large 17 inch Firestone LXX tires which never made it into serial production, unfortunately the tires were taken off the market when they were found to be unsafe.
1952 proposal for the Lincoln Continental Mark II by Buzz Grisinger and Rhys Miller. Grisinger credits Miller for the sweeping body accent.
Interesting, very Buick-esque though, which I imagine is why it was rejected.
Who knows. The Buick sweepspear popped up on the 1951 as a heavy chrome moulding, then made its way to the body in short time. What I find curious is the combination of the side contour and the front end. Only have a profile drawing but that termination point is very stutzesque. Conty II as it finally appeared is a mighty fine piece of design, probably just won on its merits.
Actually, 1949’s had it in trim on senior cars, the 1950 Buick already had a sweep in the body line. The roof on the drawing is very Stutz and the taillights are very 1948-1950 Cadillac too.
Ohhhhhh… My second favourite Buick body. Apparently they copped a bit of flak for the taillights.
I stand corrected on the Buick, although as per the Stutz I think the inspiration for this side feature was the 1930s sweeping separate fender, particularly as both had the lower portion sitting ‘under’ the upper portion in relief.
Just one more thing….Dino had 3 of these, including one with the personalized tag, “DRUNKY”, which……he wrecked of course…..
Other famous owners included Dick Martin (1971), Lucille Ball (who got her 1971 Blackhawk as a gift from her husband Gary Morton with a dash plaque saying I Love Lucy – Gary), Sammy Davis Jr. (who owned two 1972, one for himself and one for his wife), Robert Goulet (1972), Evel Knievel (1974), Wilson Pickett (1974), Luigi Colani (1974), Johnnie Taylor (1975), Johnny Cash (1975), Curt Jürgens (1977)(The Spy Who Loved Me must have paid well) Erik Estrada(HAHA) (1978), Larry Holmes (1982), as well as Jerry Lewis, Liberace(OF COURSE!) Willie Nelson, Lou Brock, Isaac Hayes, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Tom Jones, Billy Joel, Elton John, Paul McCartney(REALLY?) Al Pacino, Wayne Newton, Barry White, and H.B. Halicki, John Paul II, Princess Diana (JUST KIDDING about the last 2) and Bob Guccione(not sure, but it fits).
The Shah of Iran reportedly owned twelve.
I wonder if Curt Jurgens’ was modified by Perry Submarines.
I used to see a few of these around LA but now rarely. I think the Excalibur was more successful, and certainly seen around town more often. As one Excalibur site states:
Since 1964, over 3,500 vehicles have been shipped to dealers and distributors around the world. Excaliburs have been owned by many famous people, including Bill Cosby, Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, Dick Van Dyke, Tony Curtis, Shirley Jones, Sonny and Cher, Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, Roberto Duran, and Paul Harvey. One of the most enthusiastic owners is Phyllis Diller – she has purchased four of them. The King of Spain was one of our more recent customers.
At the Petersen several years ago, I found myself next to Phyllis Diller observing a Stutz Blackhawk that was on display. I asked her if she had owned one — thought I’d read that somewhere. “What, one of these?” She laughed that laugh and said no, never. Must’ve confused her Excalibur ownership in my memory with Stutz ownership.
John Paul II!
After putting my lower jaw back into place I continued to read. LOL.
I wonder what Colani saw in this monstrosity. His own designs were futuristic. I happened to get close to his long distance truck last time I was in Europe. It is still a striking piece of art.
I’m trying to decide if this is worse than a Zimmer…
“Exner’s heavy-handed neoclassicism”
Nicely put, author. Heavy-handed neoclassicism is exactly the problem here.
I like the idea of a limited-production superluxe vehicle like this — even a neoclassical one — just not the reality. It would be great to once again have a smallish US company that could fill the hole in the market left by Packard. But such a premium product would have to possess way more aesthetic and engineering substance than these silly peacock things they (rather misleadingly) called a Stutz. You could get basically the same results by taking your ’69 Grand Prix to Les Dunham and telling him to “give it the Superfly treatment.”
I wonder what the Italian coachbuilders felt about this assignment when they got it. I suspect their talented, traditional European body-men must have been aghast at what they were being asked to produce. Their honest reaction was probably along the lines of, “Mamma mia, these Americanos! They have-a all the lire in the world, but they have-a no taste!”
I see the Stutz’s influence being reflected back onto it’s GP donor in Pontiac’s ’71 refresh. By the changing from dual headlights & moving them up along with the revision of the grille.
After all, this was when broughams roamed the parking lots, and nothing was more broughamier than a Bearcat coupe or Blackhawk convertible.
Actually, it was the other way round, as confirmed by the ad for the Bearcat II Convertible.
Also, since this may be the last time Stutz ever comes up around here, does anybody know what’s the story with those chromed extrusions along the bottoms of their doors? No, not the fake lakes pipes; the smooth horizontal bulges just above them. They’re specially noticeable on the four-doors. What the hell are they supposed to be? They look like embryonic running-boards — except of course you can’t actually step on them or use them in any way.
If those side pipes really carried hot carbon monoxide (as opposed to “hot air”) the bulges above the pipes might be explicable as protection against ankle-burns when getting in and out. But as the pipes are only decorative, I have to assume the doors’ mystery-lumps too are pure frippery.
Stutz. It’s a bad Motha Fu “Shut yo mouth!”
Always thought these things looked like they should be drawn on the lined paper in some 12-year-old’s school binder. That kid should be paying more attention in class!
(Shame on you, Exners Sr. & Jr.!)
The proportions of this car remind me of the despised Mustang II, Ford’s attempt to disguise a Pinto as the next Mustang. I’ve always thought that car would have looked just fine were it not for the awkward overhang/wheelbase ratio. The layout looked clownish and behaved that way when they tried to shoehorn a 5 liter V8 under its deceptively long hood. The Bearcat looks like a rich man’s cross between a Mustang II and an Edsel.