Art of the Automobile

21 November 2013

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Lot 133

1912 Stutz Model A Bear Cat

  • Engine no. A730

Sold for $770,000


  • The car that invented “American performance”
  • One of the earliest built
  • Distinguished provenance


Art has always been about stretching boundaries. It is about starting with the acceptable and pushing it beyond its limitations. It is about taking expectations and blowing them away with audacious fervor. It is about provoking astonishment through unbridled creativity.



By these standards, Harry C. Stutz was an unlikely artist. Perhaps a few in the stands at Indianapolis in 1911 saw Stutz’s creation coming, but they were in the minority, as they were engineers and fellow veterans of the early automobile industry, and they knew Stutz’s genius. The car that he built under his own name averaged 62.375 mph for 500 miles in that first running of the 500, running with only minimal mechanical adjustment and 13 pit stops, with 11 of which being for tires. Though it did not win the race, its durable performance was considered outstanding for a first independent production effort. Stutz took advantage of the notice, promoting his car as “The Car That Made Good In A Day.”



The production version of that car was the machine offered here, the Model A Bear Cat of 1912. (This year only, the Bear Cat was spelled with two words by the factory.) It was powered by a Wisconsin-built mill that Stutz historian Raymond Katzell referred to as “of appropriate size, that had already accumulated a splendid record for stamina and performance in racing.” Harry Stutz’s mechanical brilliance increased the engine’s performance to an estimated 60 horsepower, which was fed to the rear wheels through a transaxle—a technological advancement that was some five decades ahead of its time. When installed on a 120-inch wheelbase chassis with the Bear Cat’s barely-there bodywork, which was just seats and tanks, the Wisconsin T-head four resulted in superb speed from an already extremely lightweight performance-designed chassis.



The sporty Bear Cat was promoted by Stutz to the carbon copy of their racing model. “We are now building duplicates of this ‘car that made good in a day’ with absolutely the same material, workmanship, and design,” boasted the 1912 factory catalogue. True indeed, as men of the era, with money to burn and gasoline in their blood, took to the dirt and board tracks in Bear Cats, setting up a heated rivalry with competitors, most famously the Mercer Raceabout, of New Jersey. Every spectator who knew the dust of a race also knew the taunts: “You gotta be nutz to drive a Stutz!” “But it’s worser to drive a Mercer!”



It was the Bear Cat and its competitors that put American performance on the map. They made American-built cars powerful, brawny, and, yes, even sexy. They did it the same way artists launch themselves, by succeeding against the odds with a mixture of creativity, salesmanship, and talent, and by ingraining into the public’s imagination an image that had never been seen before: the picture of speed, etched in brass and steel.



THE BEAR CAT OF CALIFORNIA



Harry Stutz was by all accounts as brilliant in sales as he was in the engineering department. While most automakers of the Brass Era were regional, Stutz wanted to conquer every market that he could. In addition, the West Coast of California, far flung from Indianapolis though it was, was a hotbed of early automobile racing, and of men who loved big, fast cars and who had the money to own them.



Sales and racing of Stutzes west of the Missisissippi was handled by one Walter Brown, a dealer based out of Santa Monica, who established a Los Angeles-based team of Stutzes in September 1911. Surviving advertisements from The Los Angeles Times indicate that Stutzes were first raced in California at about that time, and they featured the original Wisconsin T-head design of 4¾-inch bore and 5-inch stroke, which would be utilized only on the 1912 Model A.



The car offered here was discovered in California in 1949, and it is, in all likelihood, one of those brought west by Brown. The Wisconsin Engine Company wrote to an earlier owner of the car, in a letter which is on file, and they described this engine, number A730, as having been built for Stutz in late 1910; thus, it found its way into one of the first 1912 models built in late 1911. In addition, this car’s radiator, which has a core appearing to be “sectioned,” is also unique to the very earliest 1912 cars. The chassis beneath shows modifications made only to the Bear Cat model, confirming that this was originally a Bear Cat when delivered from the factory. Combined with the very early engine number, this lends credence to the belief that this is one of the earliest Bear Cats built, if not a prototype.



When found, it had a later gas tank and racing seats fitted, according to noted racing historian Joe Freeman, and the car had no evidence of the double Hartford shock absorbers that were installed on the factory racers; as such, Brown likely delivered this car as a standard Bear Cat, and it was privately entered in events by an original or early owner. It may never have been used as a “street car” when new.



The Bear Cat was sold in 1949, in solid, complete “as-raced” condition, by Earl Jones, of Seal Cove, California, to two brothers in Massachusetts. Fortunately, the brothers did little with the car, and after their passing some four decades later, it was acquired by noted enthusiasts Charles LeMaitre and Arthur Smith. Photographs of the car as they received it show it to be an unmolested racing car, still with its racing tank and seats fitted, and it was very complete.



Mr. LeMaitre performed extensive research into the car’s history with the Harrah library at the National Automobile Museum, as well as with experts such as Joe Freeman, correspondence with whom is included in the file, discussing the car’s possible early racing origins. In fact, legendary Stutz guru A.K. Miller stated to Mr. LeMaitre that this was an original race car. It was during this time that the car’s heritage as an original, California-delivery Bear Cat were confirmed, with the original Golden State registration number still evident, as originally painted on the car’s radiator core. This original radiator has been preserved, and it accompanies this automobile today.



The car was eventually passed to another noted New England collector, who undertook a no-expense-spared, frame-off restoration. The engine was rebuilt by Brass Era guru David Greenlees to extremely close tolerances, with expert machine work in the course of a total rebuild, ensuring not only that every component of the car would be as-original, but also that it would be durable and long-lasting for continued road use. Final assembly and detailing were in the owner’s private shop, with paintwork performed by noted Bugatti restorer Scott Sargent, of Vermont. Exhaustive work went into sourcing correct lamps and trim, to return the Stutz to as near as possible to its original delivery form. Receipts and letters from the hunt, as well as many photos of the car before and during its restoration, are available for inspection.



An expert in early cars, who has had the opportunity to drive it, reports, “The car is delightfully agile and extremely powerful; the steering is light, the brakes are particularly adequate for a car of this nature, and the overall operation is very user-friendly, with a hidden electric starter installed during restoration. The gearing is perfection, as the torque curves are matched impeccably by its transmission ratios. For guys who love driving these early high-horsepower Brass Era cars, this Stutz makes the T-head Mercer seem like child’s play.”



Recognized by Stutz enthusiasts as a genuine Bear Cat, and as an excellent example of the marque, this car’s offering here represents the first time in many years that a true and particularly early Bear Cat has been available. This is the first time that this particular automobile has ever been offered publicly, and it is a very significant opportunity. The excitement of the moment is palpable, and it recalls the thrill that the Bear Cat unleashed upon the world in the early years of motoring.



It is about the engine that starts with a growl and hustles to speed with a steady, ceaseless drumbeat. It is about exhaust that crackles through its open pipe like a roaring autumn campfire. It is about easily experiencing speeds above 70 mph on an open chassis aimed towards the west wind. It is automotive performance art at its most visceral and soul-stirring.

Addendum

Please note this lot should have a diamond notation indicating an ownership interest rather than the triangle notation which indicates a guaranteed lot. Please refer to the catalogue terms and conditions for full explanations of the terminology.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

Cameron Smyth

csmyth@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Cameron Smyth joined RM Sotheby’s as a Car Specialist in 2015, working out of our corporate office and providing assistance on c... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Ian Kelleher

ikelleher@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Ian Kelleher began his automotive career immediately following his graduation from Oberlin College with a Bachelor of Arts in Politica... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Peter Wallman

pwallman@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Peter Wallman joined RM Europe in 2007 following nearly two decades in the international advertising industry, where he was based out ... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more