The Stutz Bearcat

Harry Clayton Stutz was a farmer's son with a love of all things mechanical. At the age of 21 he built his first car; and then three years later he built a second one using a petrol engine that he designed and built himself.

Having worked for a number of car manufacturers (including a spell as a racing driver) plus having launched several of his own manufacturing businesses he was getting to be pretty high-profile around his home near Indianapolis and he came to the notice of the original founders of the race track there; and he cooperated with them to design a light, basic, four-cylinder car called 'The Empire'.

what he really wanted to do though was build and race his own car. The first Indianapolis 500 race in May of 1911 was due to start in a few weeks time; within five weeks he had built and entered his own car which was placed 11th, having only stopped for fuel and new tyres. This may not have seemed such a big deal but he was a local boy made good, it was his first attempt at the race and it was his first real racing car which he had put together in such a short time. The publicity he got was very so enthusiastic that he decided to put his car, which he called the Bearcat, into production, inventing a low-slung chassis which lowered the centre of gravity of the car to make it more manoeuvrable and give it better handling. By 1912 the first ones, almost identical to the racing version, were starting to sell.

He still had a successful racing programme however. The 6.4 litre straight four-cylinder engine generating 60 brake horsepower gave a maximum speed of 80 mph.This high speed (for the day) and excellent handling made for a first class race car. During 1912 his car was entered for 30 races and won 25 of them.

All went well until he decided in 1916 that the business needed more capital. He joined up with a stockbroker from New York called Alan A Ryan but under the terms of the deal Ryan pretty well ran the business. Stutz was not happy with the way he did this and so he left in the middle of 1919 to set up yet another new company manufacturing cars and fire engines. By 1929 though he had lost interest in business; creditors moved in and all his businesses were liquidated. He collapsed and died a year later as a result of a ruptured appendix.

The Bearcat has been hailed as the first American sports car, and has been driven by all sorts of exciting people from the Sultan of Brunei to comic characters Monty Burns from 'The Simpsons' and the shortsighted Mr Magoo!

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