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Fordie's Favourites - Stutz Model AA Vertical 8

Fordie's Favourites - Stutz Model AA Vertical 8

INDIANAPOLIS; AND POWERFUL ENGINES were synonymous with a brand. Originally founded in 1911 by Harry C Stutz under a different name ‘The Ideal Motor Company’ and located not far from the world famous speedway built just two years previous to help the flourishing motor industry within the State of Indiana.

Stutz built his first car at home in 1898 at the age of 22, he went onto set up a gas engine company the following year. In 1906 Harry Stutz became Chief Engineer at the Marian Motor Company, building race and sports cars for the US speedways until 1910 when he decided to produce his own machines. Forming the Ideal Motor Company Stutz entered a car in the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 just a few months after starting up, quite an achievement then to finish in 11th place but not what Stutz desired; he was after a top ten finish, although still advertised the result claiming ‘’the car that made good in a day’’.

Just one year later ‘Ideal’ became Stutz and the high performance sports market became the company’s target with machines such as the Bearcat. Engineering innovation was foremost throughout the brands lifetime, the Bearcat 4 cylinder engine had 4 valves per cylinder and was one of the first multivalve units produced; Stutz machines began to win the majority of races they entered.

No doubt this Vertical 8 spent some of its early life in Canada. A plate attached to the dash offers ‘Marked by the Dept Public Works Motor Vehicle Branch’ the town of Fredericton, New Brunswick; unfortunately there are no dates but it may well have been exported there from new.

It must be fair to assume the car was something of a barn find as it certainly resembled one on arrival in the UK. November 1991, Rearsby Garage in Leicester took delivery of a Stutz Model AA in serious need of TLC, the details are vague but it seems the plan was to remove the ‘Brewster’ body and build some type of special. Maybe the new owner considered the body of the Stutz past repairing and had plans to build a Bearcat replica, we may never know.

The car was then taken on by the Painter family who have a long established wedding car business near Shrewsbury; Mike Painter told me his father Alan didn’t visit Rearsby Garage to see the American machine but the Model AA did end up in their care. Alan believed a restoration was a better option than modification and employed the services of Keith Hill Restorations who replaced the Ash frames throughout the car including rebuilding the collapsed roof. The images re-enforce Mike’s point that the Stutz was in a terrible state, apart from the rotten wood the chassis itself had suffered and had virtually rusted through. Once restored many a blushing bride enjoyed their day in the restored Stutz before an advert caught the attention of current custodian Ray Radmall.

The Stutz faced the ring, bidders and hammer in March 2008, so a few days before sale day Ray visited Hereford Auction and cast his eye over the Model AA, but to be honest he thought it may well be beyond his price range. A casual chat with an interested party and a kindly gent offered to give Ray a call at sale time which he duly did. There was interest but not to a level the auction house was expecting and two bids later the Stutz had a new home much to the joy of the current owner.

I first saw the Model AA at a local car show and to be honest you can’t really miss it; apart from the obvious bulk, a closer inspection reveals many small but lovely details both inside and out. Ray told me it just does short journeys nowadays, less than 500 miles per year and being such a lot of car to drive on modern roads he is happy with that.

Acceleration is acceptable but once into 3rd the Stutz copes well with current traffic speeds. Issues have been few and far between, one being the manual advanceretard seized which caused irreparable damage to the distributor. The old unit had to be used as a mould for the new one to be cast and the brake master cylinder required specialist help with replacement seals after it began to leak. Inside, the driver is faced with an array of unfamiliar buttons and switches, the gauges are housed in an oval display.

The first thing of note is a missing gauge which would have been the clock, long lost in time and located where the speedo is now, which turns on a wheel as you go faster; the fuel gauge also works in a similar fashion and probably not much slower as the 8 cylinder enjoys plenty of fuel.

The steering wheel contains the usual pre-war selection of advanceretard for the ignition, a hand throttle, horn and light switch. The starter button is based on the floor and is started with your foot thus freeing up the hands to set the adjustments needed just to enable the mighty eight cylinders to run smoothly. In the heyday of coachbuilt cars, companies like Stutz would often supply a rolling running chassis, this car has the large ‘Brewster’ designed body, although research shows it may well have not been assembled by them. The rear passengers enjoy a huge amount of space that could easily accommodate six; it felt slightly strange having all this room to one self.

The wood trim is still in great condition along with the ornate trim pieces, beautifully decorated door handles and grab rails help lever yourself from the deep comfortable rear bench. Looking out through the ‘safety glass’ windows lined with metal, the first company to offer such a feature, makes one appreciate why the Stutz promoted Safety and Comfort during this period.

Custodian Ray Radmall told me what it’s like living with a Pre War Stutz Vertical 8: “In 2008 I found myself driving to Herefordshire to cast an eye over what promised to be a fascinating auction; that is where I first saw the Stutz. It is with some disbelief that I now find myself the custodian of such a characterful and spectacular machine.

“With a hand throttle and footoperated starter, it represents a significant departure from the modern driving experience. Manual advance/retard, left-hand drive and a crash gearbox contribute to a novel adaption in technique.

“With huge torque, it is very flexible and a joy when on the move but on start-up the big 5 litre straight eight resembles a Lancaster bomber!”

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Fordie's Favourites, from p. 19 of issue March 2016
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