Harry Stutz

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Harry Stutz

Harry Stutz with Earl Cooper and Gil Anderson
Harry Stutz (center) with Earl Cooper
(left) and Gil Anderson (right).

The Ideal Motor Car Company

Harry C. Stutz (born 1876 in Ohio - died 1930) is remembered today as being one of America's greatest automobile entrepreneurs, engineers, and innovators. Stutz grew up caring for and repairing agricultural machinery on the family farm. Automobiles and engines fascinated him. Stutz built his first car in 1897, and then a second auto using a gasoline engine of his own design and manufacture.

In 1905, he designed a car for the American Motor Car Company. He soon left the new company and founded the Ideal Motor Car Company, an enterprise that he later renamed Stutz Motor Company. He believed, with some justification, that race success would give his fledgling company much needed publicity - and that meant sales.

The 1915 Indianapolis 500

Stutz went to a lot of trouble to build three cars for the 1915 Indianapolis 500, but they didn't win. He was out to beat the Europeans with a four-cylinder 16-valve engine that owed much to the top end design of the 1914 Mercedes and the bottom end of a 1913 Peugeot. A Stutz started the race from pole position, but it was ironic that after 800 kilometres (500 miles) and five and a half hours, the result was Mercedes-Peugeot-Stutz.

Before Harry Stutz entered the Indy scene, the race had been a triumph for overseas car builders. Jules Goux won the 1913 Indianapolis 500 in a Peugeot and Rene Thomas won the 1914 race in a Delage. It was bad for the American car makers, who had promoted the race as an exciting shop window for their own machinery, so in 1915 it was decided to drop the capacity limit from 7.3-litres to 4.9-litres.

Harry Stutz started work as soon as the new regulations were posted. He was an innovator but he was also smart enough to copy successful ideas where they would fit into his own overall design. Thus his new cars had the Stutz combined differential and gearbox as a refinement of the transaxle he had designed back in 1910. His 16-valve four-cylinder engine reflected Peugeot thinking in the spur drive from crankshaft to cam, and Mercedes ideas in the rocker mechanism and valves. Bore was 48 mm, stroke was 165 mm, and the capacity was 4887 cm3. It had a three ball bearing crankshaft and developed 97 kW (130 bhp) at 2800 rpm. Wheelbase was 2743 mm (108 inches) and the car weighed 997 kg (2200 lb).

Gil Anderson and Earl Cooper

A minimum average speed of 130 km/h (80 mph) for the two qualifying laps was more than 18 of the 40 entries could manage, and when qualifying started Dario Resta set the pace in his GP Peugeot at 158.53 km/h (98.5 mph). Then Ralph de Palma went out in his new Mercedes, one of the cars that had swept the board in the 1914 French Grand Prix. It had been shipped just two weeks before the British blockaded all German ports. De Palma ran his two laps off just 0.1 mph faster. The three Stutz cars had yet to run. Gil Anderson was the driver the fans were waiting for. A Norwegian by birth, he had raced a new Stutz four months earlier against the dying 7.3-litre formula cars in the Grand Prize at San Francisco and finished fourth. He had always driven Stutz cars and he was known as a charger.

But Harry Stutz had other ideas. He told Anderson and Earl Cooper that he wanted them to qualify at 156 km/h (97 mph) and they dutifully made the field at 155.1 km/h and 155.6 km/h. The fans were puzzled. So, probably, were Anderson and Cooper who knew the cars would run faster than Harry's target pace. Then Howdy Wilcox came out in the third Stutz with instructions to go for the pole and take it at 159.3 (99 mph). His two-lap average was 159.11 km/h (98.9 mph) and the new Stutz was on pole for the 500! Ralph De Palma had the option of a second run in the Mercedes but he decided to stick with his spot in the middle of the front row between Wilcox and Resta's Peugeot. Cooper and Anderson started on the second row beside a 1914 Sunbeam driven by Jean Porporato.

The race was scheduled to run on Saturday, May 29 but driving rain for two days kept the 33 starters from the Speedway until the Monday. Even as the cars lined up a fine rain mist was blowing across the track but it was drying in the wind and when the flag finally dropped Resta grabbed the lead. Wilcox had been given his "hare" instructions from Stutz and going into the second lap he swept past the Peugeot. It lasted only two laps before a valve spring broke, the big Stutz labouring on with three cylinders and Wilcox dropped back. Anderson, then third behind the Peugeot, was then given the "go" sign and he swept into the lead setting a loping pace in front. With 80 kilometres (50 miles) gone, he had a 32 second lead on Resta. De Palma and Porporato were 2 seconds down on Resta, with Wilcox (obviously not suffering too badly minus one pot) and Cooper in line astern.

Tyres were to bother Anderson at Indy and haunt the Stutz team for the rest of that season. After 75 miles, Anderson could see his front covers fraying and the canvas starting to show. Four laps more and he pitted for a one-minute tyre change that let Resta into the lead. Tyre failures were to cost Anderson eight pit stops, and Cooper four. They also cost Harry Stutz the race. Resta had the race in his pocket but on the 137th lap with 260 kilometres to go, he blew a tyre and spun the Peugeot. He limped to the pits for new tyres all round and De Palma took the lead in the Mercedes. Resta was second but the high speed spin had upset his steering, and Harry Stutz was out at the pit wall urging Anderson and Cooper to speed up and apply pressure to the leaders, and never mind the tyre wear.

The Stutz pressure tactics came close to the big pay-off. Three laps from the finish the engine note of the Mercedes took on a dramatic change. A connecting rod had broken and as De Palma rattled over those last laps, still leading, the flailing rod end punched two holes in the Mercedes crankcase. But De Palma held on and won the 1915 500 in his stricken car, averaging 144.6 km/h (89.84 mph) and collecting $22,600. The Stutz team finished third (Anderson), fourth (Cooper) and seventh (Wilcox), their only consolation being that they were the first Americans home and the only Americans to challenge the continuing supremacy of the Europeans. Oddly, those efforts earn little more than passing reference in historian Griff Borgeson's book. The Golden Age of the American Racing Car.

The Indianapolis 3 Car Stutz Team

Indianapolis marked the first appearance of the three-car Stutz team (although Anderson had raced the prototype in San Francisco earlier) and during the remainder of the season they ran the board tracks and dusty road courses across the States. Tyre problems robbed them of wins on the two-mile Chicago Maytown board track, but fortunes picked up when Anderson and Cooper scored a pair of one-two victories in two 30-mile races on the Elgin (Illinois) road course. Resta wasn't at Elgin with his Peugeot but on the Fort Snelling concrete speedway he turned up with Bob Burman in a sister car. Both French cars went out with engine failure leaving Anderson and Cooper to stage a side-by-side grandstand finish after 500 miles of racing.

The 350-mile Astor Cup on the banked board track at Sheepshead Bay (NY) resulted in another Stutz one-two victory. Cooper's car had swallowed a valve after 46 miles and De Palma (in a fourth Stutz built during the season) was sidelined with a seized piston at half distance. Harry Stutz had proved his point. His cars were winners, even if they hadn't managed to win the big one and he withdrew from racing to concentrate on filling orders for production cars. The four works cars were sold to Earl Cooper, the works driver, as a job lot for $5000 and he raced each of them for a year before selling them for $5000 each.

Losing interest in car racing, Harry Stutz became one of the major players in the creation of the Stutz Fire Engine Company, as well as the H.C.S. Motor Car Company in 1919. In 1929 he formed the Stutz-Bellanca Airplane Company, but died the following year. And what of the old racing cars he had created? After the 1915 season the Stutz name was really only carried by the car that Cooper happened to be racing at the time, according to research by noted American auto historian Charles Lytle. As the cars were sold, they appeared under different names with different owners until the formula changed in 1920 and the capacity limit dropped to 183 cu in. (three-litres).

Best-known of these Stutz privateers was Cliff Durant, who bought the ex-Anderson car which had won one of the Elgin road races and the Astor Cup at Sheepshead Bay. For some reason this car was known as Number 7 although according to Lytle the car didn't carry that number when it raced in America. Durant entered the Stutz for the 1919 500 as a Durant Special and Eddie Hearne drove it to second place behind Howdy Wilcox in a Peugeot. The fact that a four-year-old car could finish the classic 500-mile race in second place was a legacy of the war, but the decision to drop the Indy limit to three-litres came because Carl Fisher, the track owner, feared that lap speeds were rising too high.

The car ended up in New Zealand, racing as Number 7 - and Harry Stutz ended up being buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.
Gil Anderson behind the wheel of a Stutz at the 1915 Indy
The Stutz at Indy in 1915. Behind the wheel is Gil Anderson.
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