Moment of Indiana History

The car that made good in a day

The car that made good in a day...the Stutz Bearcat.

In creating the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Carl Fisher and his partners conceived of the track as a proving-ground for the latest models generated by Indiana’s flourishing auto industry.

The opportunity was not lost on Harry Clayton Stutz, whose hastily assembled prototype performed so well at the inaugural 500, it launched a car company. With the logo, “The car that made good in a day,” the Ideal Car Company was born in Indianapolis in 1911.

By this point, Ohio-born Stutz had already devised the mechanism still in use in today’s front-wheel drive vehicles. His Stutz Auto Parts Company, which sold the so-called “transaxle”, merged with Ideal in 1913, and ramped up production of several luxury coupes based on the legendary racecar.

The “Bearcat” became Stutz’s flagship model, built by hand to customers’ specifications and capable of speeds up to 80 miles per hour. Even though the price of the 1916 “Bearcat” was a relatively exorbitant $2,550, demand necessitated the enlargement of the factory at 1000 North Capitol Avenue, from which 2,200 cars rolled out in 1917.

After gradually divesting himself of Stutz, Harry went on to found the HCS Motor Car Company, and also began manufacturing fire engines, a thriving enterprise in an era when fire departments were retiring their old horse-drawn pump trucks. By 1926, however, both HCS and the fire engine company fell prey to the anemic economy. Harry moved to Orlando, Florida, passing away in 1930.

Under new ownership, the company he had founded enjoyed a flurry of orders for the luxury Stutz Vertical Eight, Series AA, and endured the notoriety of a fatal crash by the Stutz Blackhawk at Daytona during an attempt to set a new land speed record in 1928. The stock market crash and ensuing Depression finally brought Stutz to a halt in 1939.

The original factory building was purchased, and preserved, by Eli Lilly, and currently enjoys new life as the Stutz Business Center, a home to artists and small companies. Stutz luxury cars were revived in the late sixties, and sold about 50 models a year—to clients from Elvis Presley to Evil Knievel—until the brand folded in 1988.

This essay was drawn from the following source: McDonald, John. P. Lost Indianapolis. Chicago, Illinois: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.

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