It didn’t take long for the new-fangled motorcar to become a symbol on the status totem – and right at the top for every red-blooded American male was the Stutz Bearcat. Although it became a cherished icon of the Roaring Twenties, the Bearcat had a much earlier genesis.
It was developed by innovative engineer Harry Stutz from the company’s Bearcat Indianapolis racer and launched on the unsuspecting public in 1914. This powerful machine (along with the contemporary Mercer Raceabout) introduced the rugged sports car built for speed and thrills – and very little else. Indeed, production Bearcats could be (and frequently were) raced successfully straight out of the box.
The Bearcat formula was simple enough: large engine + low’ underslung chassis + minimal bodywork = high speed. Weather protection was not part of the equation, and the open-topped Bearcat offered nothing more than a folding ‘monocle’ windscreen. The public offering differed from all-conquering Bearcat ‘White Squadron’ race cars in having mudguards, lights and a trunk, plus a vivid paint job. They were for men only – clutches were brutally stiff and applying the brakes required real strength.
Ironically, by the time Bearcats became every college boy’s dream and de rigeur with the flapper set, Harry Stutz had gone – selling up after a boardroom battle and departing to set up new ventures, producing fire engines and competing without much impact against his former company with look-alike HCS cars. His original Bearcats had ceased production in 1917, but the new Wall Street owners earned on with the well-known brand, cannily making the new Bearcats more user-friendly with the addition of bells and whistles like proper bodywork, chrome bumpers, full-size windscreens and fold-up tops. But the limited number produced and sold bore no relationship to the iconic status subsequently achieved by the Bearcat.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1914 (until 1924)
5.9 l (360.8 cid) T head Straight Four
The original Bearcat could reach 81 mph (130 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in around 29 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
A Bearcat set a coast-to-coast record in 1916, travelling from San Francisco to New York in 11 days over terrible roads – this feat became known as the Cannonball Run, inspiring both outlaw imitations and movies about outlaw imitations.