Friday, June 24, 2016

Stutzes and Baseball! In Downtown Indianapolis: June 24, 2016

In the early days of motoring, the state of Indiana could make a good claim as one of the centres of American auto manufacturing, and the record shows that somewhere in the order of 198 different builders operated in 42 cities. Of course, many of these would have been of minor importance—some mechanics assembling a few cars from parts purchased elsewhere—but certainly there were notable large enterprises. Studebaker of South Bend was one of the longest-lived, Crosley one of the more eccentric, and Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg possibly the most glamorous. But one of my favourites is Stutz, which produced high-quality cars in Indianapolis from 1911 until the Depression shut it down in 1935, with some 35,000 cars having been built.

1914 Stutz racing car at the Indianapolis 500, Earl Cooper at the wheel

The company acquired a degree of fame when one of its new cars finished in 11th place at the 1911 Indianapolis 500 race, giving rise to the company's rather hyperbolic slogan of "The Car That Made Good in a Day."  Wags, of course, retorted with: "You gotta be nuts to drive a Stutz!"

The fabulous Bearcat model was introduced in 1912 and had an impressive racing history, winning 25 of 30 events entered that year.  The company's "White Squadron," whose drivers included the famous Barney Oldfield, won national championships in 1913 and 1915 with these powerful and lighweight cars.  In 1915 Earl "Cannonball" Baker set a transcontinental speed record in a Bearcat, travelling from California to New York in 11 days, 7 hours and 15 minutes.  This inspired the famous Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Day of 1971 (to be Hollywoodized as "The Cannonball Run" in 1981).

1914 Stutz Bearcat
Harry Stutz and the original investors sold out in 1919 to a group headed by steel magnate Charles M. Schwab and the new owners brought in Frederick Moscowics, formerly with Daimler, Marmon and Franklin, to run the operation. The new Stutz models put an emphasis on safety, with safety glass and a low centre of gravity, but the cars still boasted impressive performance for the day, with one of them coming second at the 24 Hours of LeMans in 1927; three more were present in 1929, with one finishing fifth. Stylish bodies were provided by the most noted coachbuilders of the day but ultimately the market for luxury, high-performance cars dwindled after 1929 and eventually Stutz joined Pierce-Arrow, Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg, Marmon and Peerless in bankruptcy.

The factory that was built in 1912 and expanded over the years still exists in Indianapolis. Used by the Eli Lilly company as a packaging centre until 1982 and then left empty for decades, it has been re-purposed as a home for small- and medium-sized enterprises. Opened in 2004, it has some 150 tenants. The current developers note: “The former automobile factory occupies an entire city block with seven buildings, five freight elevators, and 11 loading docks!  Artists, architects, attorneys, graphic design firms, advertising firms, internet firms, engineering firms, and other small business owners enjoy flexible space and lease terms that fit their budget.” 

One of these tenants is a nice little neighbourhood restaurant named, naturally, “Bearcats” and we enjoyed an excellent dinner there. It is primarily a lunch spot as it was empty this Friday evening; the area around it is not very residential. After talking with the staff, the owner of the restaurant took us for a quick tour of the building so we had the opportunity to see Mr. Turner Woodward's (the building developer) own collection of Stutz cars, along with some non-Stutz worthies. Definitely something to see if you are in Indianapolis!

1929 Auburn Boattail Speedster, built for the English market

1929 Stutz Dual Cowl Phaeton

1927 Stutz Safety Sedan

1933 Stutz DV32 Hollywood Sedan

1920 Stutz Fire Truck

1928 Stutz Blackhawk Special, a replica of the car in which Frank Lockhart (winner of the 1926 Indianapolis 500) perished in a crash at Daytona Beach while attempting to break the Land Speed Record.  Stutz left motorsports after this.

Excalibur Series IV pseudo-classic, built in Milwaukee from 1980-1984, powered by a 5.0 litre Chevrolet V8

Any Corvette blog entry needs a Corvette: here is a 1978 Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Replica.  6,502 were built, or one for every Chevrolet dealership!
After dinner, we made our way to beautiful Victory Field, opened in 1996 and considered one of the nicest Triple A baseball stadiums in the country. The Indianapolis Indians (of the International League) were founded in 1902 and the club is the farm team of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The stadium, centrally located in the heart of the city, has 12,000 seats and a large picnic area. It was a beautiful June evening as we watched the visiting Buffalo Bisons defeat the home team in a 1-0 yawner, perhaps the dullest baseball game I have ever seen. But it was great to just soak up the ambiance of the park and afterwards there was a most excellent fireworks show.

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