This past winter’s Retro Classics exhibition in Cologne had managed to assemble a surprisingly large number of exuberant Stutz cars from the 1970s and 80s. The bizarre display was placed right next to Ford’s. The contrast could hardly have been any bigger!
Throughout this past winter, I managed to visit a larger amount of the European classic car exhibitions than I think I’ve ever done before. So many in fact, that I have not managed to report from them all – at least not here on the English ViaRETRO. I did report from the largest and best known Retro Classics which is held in Stuttgart every March, but there’s also a smaller one in Cologne. Yes, Cologne is of course Ford-country, and that’s probably what surprised me the most about vast collection of Stutz. What ever were they doing in Cologne? And furthermore, on a display as big as Ford’s?
I never managed to find out what the actual thought process was behind the Stutz display in Cologne. Which happens to sum up how I feel about the marque as a whole. To be fair though, I must differentiate between the original Stutz automobiles and those which we see here. Between 1911 and 1939 the Stutz Motor Car Company of America produced some truly fascinating luxury cars, and then the brand was resurrected in 1968 as… well, as what? One could be tempted to say as a cliché of a luxury car, or if I were a tad more crude, maybe as a caricature.
It was the retired Virgil Exner who was responsible for the design. He had of course previously designed some of America’s finest cars for Chrysler and Studebaker. The high expectations were converted into something which is probably best described as modern retro (from an early seventies perspective of course): A spare wheel fitted externally on the bootlid, a modern take on freely mounted headlights, an upright radiator grill, not to forget those thoroughly unnecessary sidepipes (yes, they were of course purely for show and not functional). Then continue adding a never-ending list of entirely exaggerated details, most of which were either chromed or even gold-plated, and ta-dah… you have the Stutz Blackhawk.
In some respects, the final result was not without its virtues. The overall proportions were long, wide and low, and there’s certainly something about those first Blackhawks introduced in 1970. However, it’s all based on completely ordinary mechanical components from the contemporary Pontiac Grand Prix, which essentially will do everything a Stutz will – only at a fraction of the price. But the Stutz was super-sized on luxury equipment and offered its rich owners everything from electric windows, central locking, air condition, electrically adjustable seats, cruise control, 8-track stereo, leather upholstery and much more. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first customer in 1970 was the King himself – Elvis Presley. Closely followed by Frank Sinatra.
From there, the fate of the Stutz was sealed, and the list of owners reads like a stroll down the Walk of Fame. These are just some of them:
Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin (who owned three of them and crashed one – with the number plate “DRUNKY”), Robert Goulet (1972), Evel Knievel (1974), Wilson Pickett (1974), Luigi Colani (1974), Johnnie Taylor (1975), Johnny Cash (1975), Lenora “Doll” Carter (1976), Curt Jürgens (1977), Erik Estrada (1978), Larry Holmes (1982), Jerry Lewis, Liberace, Willie Nelson, Lou Brock, Isaac Hayes, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Tom Jones, Billy Joel, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Al Pacino, Wayne Newton, Barry White and the Shah of Iran.
Elvis is said to have owned either three or four of them.
It doesn’t really get any worse – or better. We’re talking proper VIP’s. These individuals could have bought whichever car they desired. Why they chose a Pontiac Grand Prix wearing a rhinestone jumpsuit is simply beyond my comprehension!
The display in Cologne didn’t provide me with an answer to that question either. They built approximately 600 Stutz. One of the cars on display was manufactured in 1985 but remained unsold until 2000. That makes perfect sense to me. But the rest I simply don’t understand. Perhaps some of our loyal ViaRETRO readers can point me in the right direction?