Oftentimes, automobile collectors will pick one marque as their favorite; and then, they'll fill as many buildings as they can with variants of it; but not many collectors have chosen the legendary American make of Harry Stutz.
When they do, those collections aren't large ones, due to the fact that Stutz didn't make a lot of cars, to begin with, and thus fewer survived than most other serial production cars. Harry C. Stutz, the founder, was able to see his company produce 759 cars in its first year, 1913, increasing production to just 2.207 by 1917. Frederick E. Moskovics arrived in 1926 to take the company over from its founder; and introduced new open and enclosed auto “Safety Stutz” models that same year. By 1933, production of Stutz automobiles was somewhere under 50; exact production figures, are unavailable.
However, given the history of Stutz, any collection of them is important. Harry Stutz, based in Indianapolis, built a racing car with his name on it, in just five weeks, to prove the durability of his gearbox/rear-axle unit. He then entered that car in the first Indy 500 and finished eleventh; thus, was born the company's slogan, “The car that made good in a day.”
Moskovics followed in those footsteps. A Stutz Black Hawk Speedster finished second in the 1928 24 Hours of LeMans.
That's what led people from around the world to take notice of an auction in Port Townsend, Washington, up in the upper left part of the United States, on May 21. The offerings were a collection of 24 early American automobiles, including 8 Stutzautos, and a diverse collection of Stutz spares parts, literature and photos. Other manufacturers included Buick, Cadillac, Chalmers, Ford, Lambert, Locomobile, Mitichell, Oldsmobile, Pierce-Arrow, Studebaker and Tourist.
The 1919 Tourist model K side-entrance touring car from the Short collection. It sold for $155,500. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
Bonhams & Butterfields did the honors and when things were done, the final tally was almost $1.5 million in sales.
The collection was the legacy of the late Donald M. Short of Port Ludlow, Washington, who'd passed away of leukemia in 2002 at the age of 74. He'd been a real estate investor until his retirement; but he remained a Stutz aficionado until the end; after buying a model K, back in 1953, at the age of 26, according to his wife, Lynette.
“He didn't buy a car unless he could drive it. He paid $300 for that model K and drove it off the dealer's lot.” she said. “Don loved speed. He once had the (Stutz) Bearcat up to 105.”
Lynette Short said that her husband, “Started with Ford model Ts and went up,” and he liked the Stutz because “it was a heavy car, went very fast and was just an extra good kind of car.”
Mr. Short developed his a network to assist in his acquisition and maintenance of his collection; including a relationship with Ralph Dunwoodie of the Harrah's Auto Collection. That led to a good collection of spare parts and several automobiles from the collection, including a 1920 Bearcat in 1976.
When the varied collection of Brass Era cars of Alexander K. Miller, of East Orange, Vermont was auctioned off in 1996 by Christies, Don and Lynette Short were in attendance; and purchased engines and other spares, in order to keep their collection of cars functioning.
A 1920 Excelsior/Greuter four-cylinder overhead camshaft engine for a Stutz. It was believed to be the only surviving four cylinder designed by Charles "Pop" Greuter. It sold for $8,775, including buyer's fee. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
Malcom Barber, CEO of Bonhams and sales auctioneer, was certainly the right man to sell this collection; since he personally owns a 1903 Peerless 5-passenger touring car, a 1902 Curved-dash Oldsmobile and a 1914 Cadillac 50 horsepower touring car. While he works from San Francisco, California, he still maintains an apartment with a garage in the United Kingdom and “that's the important bit” he said.
On Saturday, May 21, the auction started off with service and sales literature, photographs, spare parts and even bodies. Since the parts and body parts are difficult to find, yet crucial to a restoration, the bidding was intense and some of the prices achieved exceeded estimates made, before the auction. For example, three magnetos netted over $13,000; a set of Solarclypse head-lamps sold in excess of $12,870; and a beautiful radiator badge sold for a bid $1,150 (final price, $1,170 with buyer's fee). That badge had been estimated to bring just $150.
It was a portent of what was to come, with the automobiles themselves.
Bob Hylend, who knew Don Short for 20 years, looks over the 1920 Stutz Bearcat that sold for $159,000, including buyer's fee. The Bearcat had once been in Bill Harrah's collection. (Photo by Terry Parkhurst)
The first car on the docket was a 1929 Stutz Blackhawk L-6 two-passenger Speedster; powered by an in-line 8 cylinder engine, it was identical in most respects to automobiles that raced at Lemans, circa 1929 to '32. Bidding ramped up quickly and when the hammer came down it had sold for $159,000 – a record setting price. This automobile would stay in the States, as it reportedly sold to an American bidder. The previous record for a 1929 Blackhawk was $92,000.
Lot #602 was a 1920 Bearcat from the Harrah's collection – the same automobile that Don Short had taken on a joy ride to 100 mph. It sold for a record setting $260,000; with the previous record being $64,625. It reportedly sold to a buyer in the Far East, via a bid entered by telephone.
Lot #604 was the very same 1924 Bulldog 6 that started Don Short's love affair with the marque. It sold for a record-setting $79,560; with the previous record being just $44,650.
Another ex-Bill Harrah automobile, Lot #619, a 1907 Locomobile model E, five-passenger touring car, sold for $155,500; the previous record – via Bonhams itself – was $125,000.
Lot #614, a 1919 Pierce-Arrow series 31, 38 horsepower with an unusual four-passenger roadster body, sold for $141,200 (including buyer's fee).
When the auction was over, auctioneer Barber said, “Despite the remote, albeit gorgeous location, collectors and enthusiasts participated en masse,” adding,”We're pleased with the results and witnessed the continuing strength of the collector car market.”
That's what rarity and good staging will do for an auction. So while the Short collection has been distributed to others, around the globe, the legacy of Stutz has been preserved for future generations. - Terry Parkhurst
For complete results, look at http://www.bonhams.com