Harry Stutz-Builder of the Car that Made Good in a Day

Harry Stutz is the quintessential automotive pioneer.
Harry Stutz

Harry Stutz
Photograph Copyright © The Stutz Club, Inc.
If Hollywood was to write a screen play of a typical early auto magnate, screenwriters couldn’t do better than start with Stutz. From building his first horseless carriage in 1898, Stutz went on to establish his name in the pantheon of auto pioneers. During his 30-year trek in the automobile industry, Stutz had a hand in many automobiles that crossed the American landscape of which the Stutz marque is most well known.

In 1899, Harry Stutz founded the Stutz Manufacturing Company in Dayton, Ohio, to perfect and construct gasoline engines for stationary and vehicular purposes. In late 1902, Stutz sold his operations to the Lindsay Automobile Parts Company of Indianapolis, Indiana. Harry’s involvement with the Lindsay firm was short lived. He is credited with encouraging Frank H. Wheeler and George Schebler to form the Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company in 1904. Stutz became chief salesman for the firm. In late
1905, he designed the inaugural four-cylinder conventional chassis automobile for the new American Motor Car Company.

In 1906, Stutz began a four-year involvement with the Marion Motor Car Company as chief engineer and factory manager. It was at Marion that Stutz began his engagement in racing competition as a promotional device for automobiles. Marion racers were involved in the 1907 Glidden Tour, the July 1909 Indiana Trophy race in Crown Point, Indiana, the 1909 & 1910 races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the October 1909 & 1910 Brighton Beach races. In 1910, Marion introduced the Marion Special Roadster expressly for racing. The Special had a number of Stutz engineered features, one of which was the “transaxle,” which combined the transmission and rear differential. The transaxle would form the basis of his next venture.

In November 1909, Harry organized The Stutz Auto Parts Company to manufacture and sell the transaxle he had designed and patented. Early auto manufacturers were making the transition from chain to shaft drive and some thought it efficient to purchase the whole unit from a specialized manufacturer like Stutz. The 1911 Empire Model 20 reflected Stutz’s influence as consulting engineer with the implementation of new features including the transaxle. Also in 1911 Stutz had a short association with the Nyberg Automobile Works in Anderson.

It was during this time that Stutz formulated his dream of a quality sports car built from assembled high-quality components manufactured by outside suppliers at a price below $2,000. The first Stutz was built in just five weeks and was immediately taken to the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the inaugural running of the 500. Gil Anderson drove the car to an eleventh place finish, and, thus Harry coined the advertising slogan, “The Car That Made Good in a Day.” In the summer of 1911, the Ideal Motor Car Company was organized for manufacture of the Stutz Model A, a duplicate of the Indy race car. Stutz emphasized its 1911 record of competing in two additional “great races” in Philadelphia and Santa Monica without any adjustments. The famous Stutz Bearcat sports car appeared in 1912 for a run of ten years. In June 1913, the Ideal Motor Car Company was reorganized as the Stutz Motor Car Company, with Harry Stutz as president. The demand for Stutz motor cars prompted the construction of a new manufacturing facility at 1002 North Capital Avenue in Indianapolis.

The Stutz “White Squadron” racing team did extraordinarily well in 1915 (its last under factory sponsorship), with victories at Chicago, Elgin, Minneapolis, and Sheepshead Bay. Also in 1915, Cannonball Baker drove a Bearcat cross country from San Diego to New York in a record-breaking time of 11 days, 7 hours, and 15 minutes. Increasing sales necessitated a 1916 expansion of manufacturing facilities, and Stutz made the decision to go public. Also in 1916, a group of Wall Street investors headed by Allan A. Ryan bought controlling interest in Stutz. In 1919, Harry sold his remaining interest in the company that now bore his name to pursue other opportunities.

Later in 1919, Harry Stutz founded two new automotive ventures, the Stutz Fire Engine Company and the H.C.S. Motor Car Company. The Stutz Fire Engine Company was incorporated in May 1919. The first Stutz pumper earned a perfect score in a 12-hour test at a fire chief’s convention against eight worthy competitors. Several cities placed orders on-the-spot for the new units. Stutz grew into a major manufacturer of fire apparatus in the twenties, but it didn’t reach the volume needed to survive. Harry left the fire engine company in 1924, probably to better focus on the H.C.S. Company. After building a total of 302 units, the company closed late in the decade.

The purpose of the H.C.S. venture was to build a quality moderately-priced assembled-car, which was exhibited at the 1920 New York Auto Show. Stutz selected a Weidley 4-cylinder, 50 horsepower engine on a 120″ wheelbase. The early twenties was a perilous time to launch a new auto maker. Sales of the H.C.S. failed to reach the critical mass to become an enduring make and succumbed along with hundreds of other passenger car makes in 1924. H.C.S. Cab Manufacturing Company was announced in late 1924. The cab firm entered receivership in 1927.

In the late 1920’s Harry developed a revolutionary, horizontally opposed, 4-cylinder aircraft engine. Harry Stutz died in June 1930 before this Stutz-Bellanca engine could be commercialized.

Stutz’s comet passed through the automotive universe leaving many traces of his creative genius. The Stutz marque endures today as a classic car and testament to its founding father.

I recommend the following book on Harry Stutz: The Splendid Stutz, by Raymond A. Katzell, ISBN 0965470903 for more information.

Back to: Pioneers – a look at the people involved in Indiana automotive history


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