From Legend to Legacy

Whether Harry C. Stutz, creator of the Stutz Bearcat automobile, was aware of this definition or not, there is something very strong and powerful looking about this stately brass era car, the most famous American sports car of its era.

Dream: noun; A visionary scheme; a wild conceit, an idle fancy; a vagary; a reverie applied to an imagery or anticipated state of happiness; as in, “the dream of his youth”.

In 1971, a weekly television series, starring Rod Taylor, aired on CBS.  “Bearcats” was centered on a pair of soldiers of fortune in the American Southwest circa 1914. For the series, Hollywood custom car builder, George Barris, was commissioned to make two authentic replicas of a 1914 Bearcat.  (Barris also made a third car to display at car shows).  For safety and reliability, the replicas had modern engines and running gear.  The pair of replicas used in the show reportedly cost $25,000.  John Boyle owns one of these cars.

Boyle was 16 years old when he saw the first Bearcats television show.  He fell in love with the car and dreamed of owning a true Bearcat 1-day.  The dreams of 16 year olds often have a way of fading.  Over time they forget, or something else captures their fancy, or they convince themselves that it just isn’t possible. In other words, they grow up. But every once in a blue moon, like a dog with a juicy bone, we just can’t shake loose that dream until all the sweet marrow has been extracted.

In 1971 a real Stutz went for $40,000. Young Boyle knew he was out of his league so he bought models (one still resides in his den today), read anything he could find, and kept dreaming.  He dreamed all the way to 1997 when inspiration struck.  Thinking that a replica might be less expensive than a real Stutz, he called Barris’ office and asked if they had any information on the TV Bearcats. He was told they didn’t know their whereabouts. A year later, a friend in the Stutz Club he had joined suggested he call early Stutz expert and restorer, Paul Freehill.

Ironically, 6 months earlier, Freehill had heard from an elderly Philadelphia attorney who was selling off his collection (including one of the Barris cars), and asked if he knew of anyone who wanted it. Freehill told the caller that he didn’t but took his number. It took Freehill several weeks to dig up the number for Boyle who, once in his possession, called immediately.

The car was still available. The owner sent photos and information to Boyle, who sent copies to Hollywood where Barris confirmed it was one of his.  The seller warned it wasn’t mint. The steering box was worn, the tires were bad and the wood wheels were shot. The original paint was flaking from the fenders and the wood dash was cracked with age, but since only three cars of its type existed, Boyle knew it was a now or never decision.  He mailed off a check.

Once in his possession, it was obvious to Boyle that Barris knew how to build a car. The body is formed from 18-gauge steel and mounted on a custom ladder frame. The wheelbase is the correct 120”, however the track is slightly wider than a real Bearcat.... presumably for increased stability and safety.  The brass radiator is interchangeable with a genuine Stutz unit.

The car was built with a freshly rebuilt Ford 223 ci straight 6 and a 4-speed which was like new - not a big surprise since the broken odometer read just 390 miles.  Modern features for its TV role included adjustable air shocks in the rear, and four-wheel brakes with a valve to allow the rear drums to be shut off, enabling the car to fishtail in chase scenes.

It appeared that while the car was mechanically sound, the body needed a complete restoration.  The radiator cap, Motometer, toolbox, and horn were missing. The original taillight had been replaced with a stalk from a ‘40 Chevy, and to add insult to injury, the sidelights, spotlight and steering column had been painted flat black... with a brush. Clearly, there was a lot of work to do. While Boyle became the “general contractor”, Charlie Bucher, a friend, Jeep restoration expert and retired Air Force Master Sergeant, handled the reassembly.

Externally there is not much difference between the real and the replica Bearcat.  Boyle’s car has the same 120” wheelbase; however, the track is about 6” wider (about the width of the two frame rails). The extra width can be noticed if you compare the two head on. On the Barris cars there is a 3” flat portion of the inside fender before it begins its upslant.  Most old car observers are impressed by the front and rear leaf spring hangers. The replica chassis really looks the part. Other than that, the two brake/gearshift levers and their grate on the real Stutz are considerably beefier.  The replica car has a centrally mounted stick shift for the Ford 4-speed and modern gauges.  It also sports a different headlight mounting bracket.  Other than those changes, Barris did a very good job of capturing the look of the 1912-1916 Bearcats.

Mechanically, it’s another story.  They are totally different cars.  The original Stutz had a Wisconsin T-head 4-cylinder engine of 390 ci that put out about 60 hp @ 1500 rpm.  Transmission was a 3-speed. (Beginning in 1914 a 6 was optional for an additional $200).  Brakes were on the rear wheel only. Boyle’s car has the 223 ci Ford straight 6 which puts out about 135 hp @ 4000 rpm.  It has a heavy duty Ford 4-speed, with a very low “granny gear” first.  It’s mated to a Ford 9” rear end.  Brakes are on all 4 wheels. The front drums were painted black to help hide them from the cameras.

Now that Boyle had his dream, he began taking it apart. He stripped the car, bagged the parts, and made notes on how things would go back together. The car was then entrusted to a highly recommended custom paint and body shop.  There, it was stripped to its bare chassis and was repainted in its original colors, creamy white with black pinstripes highlighted by flanking thin red stripes. They also reupholstered the seats, recovered and restored the trunk with new brass hardware.  Boyle remembers spending a long evening polishing 200 brass upholstery tacks.

The new dash would feature a set of gauges with antique white faces and brass bezels, instead of the cheap-looking units that were probably the only style available to Barris in 1971.  The aluminum floor covering was replaced with correct English “Battleship” linoleum.  Boyle actually designed a new metal cover for the angled floorboard beneath the dash to more closely resemble the cast units on real Bearcats.  With the help of a friend in the Stutz Club, he was able to make Stutz-style clutch and brake pedals.  New battery and toolboxes capped off a pair of new linoleum covered running boards with the correct metal trim.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
   
 

 

 

Fortunately, most of the parts and services needed were readily available. Paul Freehill sold Boyle the twin brass fuel fillers and a taillight assembly.  A local company that makes tanker trailers made the new fuel tank. The brass lights and steering column were replated; the radiator was sent all the way to California to a brass specialist while a restored brass horn and new Motometer were found to replace the missing originals.

The car being a replica paid off in some areas, new brake cylinders came from a local auto parts store, something not possible with a real Bearcat. A company in Minnesota rebuilt the steering box. As you can imagine, part of the problem of it being a custom was that no one knew where all the mechanical parts were sourced from.  (Barris couldn’t find the construction records).  A sharp-eyed mechanic was able to identify the master cylinder as a GMC unit so it could be rebuilt.  The wheels, with their unique hubs to match the Ford axles, would have to be specially made.

When the car returned home after a 6-month paint and upholstery restoration, it consisted of just the engine and fenders on the frame. Once on jack stands, Boyle delivered the old wheels to a wheelwright in Oklahoma. Fashioned from hickory, painted to match the car and shod with new tires, they were beautiful... and worth the wait.

Soon after finishing the car in the fall of 2000 Boyle entered the annual Veterans Day parade in his hometown.  He decked out the Stutz in a period WWI theme, mounted a 48 star flag on it and made up posters to “Buy Liberty Bonds”.  He dressed in a costume similar to what Rod Taylor wore in the Bearcats series (army shirt and tan riding knickers, Smokey the Bear hat, black boots) and his wife wore a slightly modified English Army nurse uniform. Since then they have led the parade nearly every year.  He plans to trailer the car to more shows and events.

In late 2000 Boyle met with Barris in his North Hollywood office and handed over photos of the restored car Barris had built nearly 30 years before.  Not only was it a thrill to meet him but he even had the chance to sit in the original Batmobile, another in the long, long lineage of the “King of the Kustomizers” creations.

Would he sell? One should never say never, but after waiting 28 years for this dream to materialize... would you?

Side Bar:

How do you insure a not-so-real Stutz that is worth a small fortune? Boyle asked the previous owner, who, along with the Barris car, insured his 20+ car collection with the same provider. He recommended American Collectors Insurance, and even gave him the name of a particular person to ask for. It turned out she knew the Bearcat’s previous owner very well and personally took care of his policy.  What could have been a very long explanation of what the car is and its special value turned into a hassle-free phone call.

You can discuss your professionally-built replicar or other collector vehicles with an ACI representative at (800) 360-2277.


The “Bear Facts”

The latest roster of the Stutz Club show members own 20 original 1912-1916 Bearcats. Add to that, those in museums and there are approximately 40 cars left in the world.

When they sell, and that’s not often, the real Stutz Bearcats go for $150,000-200,000.

There is approximately 100 lbs of brass on Boyle’s Stutz Bearcat replica.

The TV series display car replica is owned by a Texas collector and is currently being restored. This car differs from Boyle’s in that it has lots of chrome detailing and an automatic.

The other car used in the filming and sister to Boyle’s vehicle was offered at a January 2003 Barrett Jackson auction and was listed as “sold” for $54,520, but further investigation shows that it was returned to its consignor.

Boyle’s car was the main “Bearcat” on the original TV series with the second replica car only used in a couple of episodes.

The original Bearcats weighed 3,000 lbs. Boyle’s replica weighs 2,800 but has twice the power.

Recently, Boyle learned from his sister that their dad’s nickname, on the Glenwood City, Wisconsin high school basketball team, was “Bearcat”. 

Fun web sites connected to this story.
www.stutzclub.org
www.barris.com

www.rodtaylorsite.com

 

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