Stutz Black Hawk

For most car companies, you only get one chance – one chance to make good; one chance to spread a great reputation, one chance to build what you want.

Harry Stutz, famed for the low-slung, high-performance-bodied early Stutz Bearcat, among others, founded the Stutz Motor Car Co., in 1915 and its success was good. It never sold in the numbers of say Ford's Model N or even the famed Model T, but there are few out there today – unless you're a club member of a real history fan – that remember Henry Ford's 1906 Model N, while innovative, was actually an upscale vehicle or that the Bay State Franklin, built in Framingham, MA, sold strongly for two years before it faded into history.

So, it wouldn't have been at all surprising for the Stutz Motor Car Co. and its offerings to disappear into history when the doors closed at the end of the 1930s.

Not so, though, as one of Harry's relatives, working with New York banker James O'Donnell and famed designed Virgil Exner, worked to revive the Stutz nameplate and they did in 1968. The first models were slated to roll off the assembly line in 1971-2 and they had hoped to establish a real dealer network in the next year. The prototype was announced at a press conference at New York's Waldorf in 1970.

The backers had sunk $300,000 into the early prototypes and they produced a high-performance, high-powered luxury vehicle, offering it for the (then) exorbitant price of $23,000, although the return wasn't bringing the profit they had hoped (factoring in inflation, if someone were to try to develop a vehicle for Stutz today, it would cost roughly, the initial investment would be about $2 million and each copy would cost about $130,000). Indeed, during its second year of production, 1972, the price of the the second year the Stutz Black Hawk, as the modern design was called, would be doubled to $43,000, an almost unheard of price in that era.

If you look at the 1972 Stutz Black Hawk, you can see the hand of Exner in the design. It was a weirdly forward-looking, retro for the day. Looking closely at the design, it featured a single huge headlight on either side of heavily chromed grille that could better be called a horse collar than a grille, but it was the signature of the vehicle as the grille sloped forward of the heavy chromed bumpers and extended below the bumper line. Another feature of this design and the designer was the reliance on large fog lamps to the inside of the headlamps and large turn signals that were fared into the right and left fender of the Stutz. (Actually, if you look closely, it was also vaguely reminiscent of Buicks and Pontiacs of that era and that actually makes sense since all of the running gear was borrowed from the Pontiac Grand Prix).

That huge chromed center grille also set the line of the hood as it formed a V that swept back to the raked windshield. That raised V formed the center of the hood. The hoodline, which featured, believe it or not, faring for the headlights and each surround then sweeping up into the hood sides and carrying those lines – completing the entire hood piece – back to the windshield.

The right and left fenders featured lamp overhangs that set the beltline for the Black Hawk about mid-body. Yet, if you look closely, you can see a second belt lint that sweeps down through the fenders and doors to the B-pillar. The driver and passenger doors on the coupes – very few sedans were made – carried a reverse angle from the downward sweeping beltline to the bright rocker panels that were aligned with the bumpers of the vehicle. One other feature of the front fender was a reverse angle just forward of the wheel well on each side that carried a decorative louver.

From the B-pillar on through the rear the Black Hawk finished in two rounded quarter/sail panels and into another chromed bumper. The rear window swept sharply to a very Imperial-looking spare tire carrier that projected above the trunk line.

The Black Hawk was a performance contradiction. The 1972 used the standard powerplant of the Pontiac Grand Prix, the 7.5-liter, 455-cubic-inch engine. That engine was tuned to crank out 425-horsepower at 420 pounds-feet of torque and it delivered all of 8 mpg. However, you needed it to move the 5,000-pound vehicle down the road. With this type of power available, you'd think it would do better than an 8-second 0 to 60 run and have a top end higher than 130-mph, but Black Hawk did not. And, since it was using the standard GM running gear of the era (control arms, recirculating ball steering) as well as the standard GM rear control arms and leaf-spring, you really wouldn't have wanted it to because this was the era of the 19-foot land ark that you just pointed in the direction you wanted to go and went. Precise handling was for other cars as you really couldn't tell what the front or rear end of the vehicle were doing because the road-feel was rather vague.

The Stutz revival went through seven iterations in its modern form. From the day it was reborn in 1968 and put out its first prototype in 1970, there was a Stutz Motor Car Company in business until 1987, although only about 700 were ever made.