The Stutz name is legend in American car culture. The rise and fall of this famed marque was similar to a number of prestigious car companies that were forced to bite the dust during The Great Depression. But while others have been largely forgotten, Stutz’s legacy lived on thanks to their motorsport success and their exotic, highly advanced engineering. In its original form, Stutz was declared bankrupt in 1937, but in 1968 the brand was revived by an ambitious American banker named James O’Donnell, who, in partnership with leading industrial designer Virgil Exner strove to create a unique American luxury car worthy of wearing the storied Stutz nameplate. Exner, a former Chrysler design chief who had saved the company from bankruptcy by introducing the One Hundred Million Dollar Look in 1955, and responsible for the DeSoto Adventurer and Chrysler 300 among many others, was one of the most prolific and influential designers of the 1950s and 1960s. As a side project, he designed a series of Revival Cars that were his own modern interpretations of defunct brands including Mercer, Duesenberg, Bugatti, Pierce-Arrow, Packard and Stutz. Now, thanks to Mr. O’Donnell, Exner had the backing to put at least one of his ideas into production.
Their first car, the Stutz Blackhawk Coupe, was no mere kit or replica. This was an Italian-American hybrid in the spirit of the luxurious and wildly exclusive Dual Ghia of the 1950s; a fully engineered motorcar, coachbuilt to a high standard. Like the Dual Ghia, there was a costly Trans-Atlantic production process: a complete Pontiac Grand Prix was purchased at retail and shipped to Carrozzeria Padane in Modena where the entire body, including the interior and instruments, was cut off and discarded. A new body was hand built from scratch that shared nothing with the donor car, and luxuriously trimmed in the finest leather and wood.
Padane mainly constructed buses and campers, but alongside the Blackhawk, they also built production Maseratis such as the Mistral, Indy and Bora - so the Stutzes were in good company. A mere 25 Blackhawks were built in 1971 carrying an eye-watering $35,000 price tag. But Stutz was losing money on every single car, and O’Donnel was forced to realize that shipping a complete car to Italy and throwing half of it away was not the best business plan. From 1972, all subsequent Stutz models used the substructure of the GM donor car, and as a result, the delicate proportions of Exner’s original design was compromised. This makes the 1971 first series cars very rare indeed. No other car in the world was as exclusive at the time.
Exner’s signature was clear on the 1971 Stutz. A bold grille and headlight arrangement was inspired by the pre-war era, while the sweeping tail and deck mounted spare tire gave the Blackhawk unmistakably flamboyant looks. To create the luxurious four-door Duplex, Exner deftly stretched the original Blackhawk shape resulting in a grand and impressive automobile with dramatic proportions. The new four-door luxury sedan retained Pontiac power but now rode on a stronger Cadillac platform; setting new standards for extravagance. The unique and stylish Stutz proved popular with celebrities of the era. Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Lucille Ball and, most famously, Elvis Presley were all counted among Stutz owners. In fact, the only cars that Elvis drove personally were his Stutzes.
Marque experts believe that just two Stutz Duplexes were built, and our featured 1971 example may be the only one constructed by Padane. Aside from its fine condition, this car also possesses a rather interesting history. The ID tag displays number 364856, and unusually for a Stutz, the color “Maroon” is stamped into the tag as well. Given that information, it is most likely this car originally belonged to George Norman Jr. of Salt Lake City, Utah. Mr. Norman was a millionaire financier and investor who, aside from his appreciation for expensive cars, was also a federal fugitive for 23 years! The day he was to receive sentencing on tax-related charges, Norman abandoned his defense attorney (one Orrin Hatch), fled in a stolen Pontiac LeMans, and disappeared for the next two decades. Records show that federal officials seized several cars including a Stutz Blackhawk coupe and a “1971 four-door burgundy Stutz”. The cars were sold off to satisfy creditors, and thankfully, the Duplex survived to find a new home in Florida. At some point, it was painted white and fitted with wire wheels. Since then, it has been cosmetically restored with beautiful black paintwork. A set of extremely rare Kelsey-Hayes cast alloy wheels as used by the factory have been located and refitted to the car to return it to its original and authentic appearance.
As a proper coachbuilt automobile, the body fit and finish is quite good. This was one of the most expensive cars in America and Stutz worked very hard to justify their asking price. The doors close with a satisfying feel, and the lines of the Exner-penned body are crisp. Door jambs are finished with stainless panels adorned with “Carrozzeria Padane” insignias and even the hood shut panels are finished in polished stainless. The deep black paint is finished to a high standard, with beautiful luster and reflections. The chrome and bright work, which is believed to be original, shows slight ageing in the form of very light pitting and slight thinning of the plating, but remains very straight and attractive overall.
The stylish interior is trimmed in lovely blue leather, piped in gray. The upholstery remains in excellent order, showing only light use and minimal wear, in keeping with the fine, unrestored nature of the plush cabin. The dark blue suede headlining and carpets are in fine condition, and the interior fittings and switches all present well. The entire passenger compartment oozes character thanks to the wood dash, Nardi wheel, and unique near-vertical positioning of the gear selector, while a mix of Jaeger and Veglia instruments give a nod to the car’s European origins.
The finely crafted Italian bodywork and interior are supported by a stout GM perimeter frame with independent front suspension, a Pontiac-sourced 400 cubic inch V8 (lightly massaged by Stutz for additional power) and a Hydramatic transmission. Under-hood detailing is excellent; with the engine correctly finished in Pontiac blue, ribbed alloy valve covers and chrome air cleaner. This example is a fine driving car with outstanding cosmetics; a unique and attractive hand built example from this fascinating revival marque. As one of just two examples, exclusivity is guaranteed, just as the revitalized Stutz’s founders and clients would have wanted it.