Love it or loathe it, but the 1971-1988 Stutz had a certain appeal with kings.
In the winter issue of Hagerty Classic Cars, Jim Koscs takes a look at the neo- classics of the 1980s, including the Clenet, Excalibur, Zimmer and Tiffany Classic. The neo-Stutz of that period was something different. Among Stutz owners were the king of rock n’ roll and kings of Saudi Arabia. What’s it like to own a Stutz? Why not ask the man who owns eight of them.
The 1971-1988 Stutz doesn't quite fit the fiberglass mold of most neo-classics, and was in fact a custom, coachbuilt model on a production car’s chassis. And it had a certain appeal with kings.
Elvis Presley, the king of rock 'n’ roll, bought the second Stutz prototype, and then four production versions, before he died in 1977. The following year, King Khalid of Saudi Arabia took delivery of a Stutz Royale limousine built especially for him. Other, less regal Stutz owners included entertainers Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Barry White, Wilson Pickett and Lucille Ball, along with boxer Muhammad Ali, painter Andrew Wyeth and motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel.
The Stutz Blackhawk was inspired by a 1966 Ghia-made prototype that ex-Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner created for an attempted Duesenberg revival. The huge sedan, built on an Imperial chassis, caught the eye of New York financier James O’ Donnel. He owned the trademark for Stutz and hired Exner and his son, Virgil Exner, Jr., to adapt the Duesenberg design to a coupe that would be built on a Pontiac Grand Prix chassis. (Collector Joseph Bortz owns the Duesenberg one-off.)
The first 26 cars were made, alongside Maseratis, by Italian coachbuilder Padane. Bodies were steel, hand-hammered over wooden bucks. Freestanding headlights, a tall center grille, jutting front fenders and an exposed spare tire on the trunk echoed earlier Exner themes, particularly from the 1961-1963 Imperial. A split, vee’d windshield was a one-year only feature, and the opulent interior could include mink carpeting. The first year cars had unique Kelsey Hayes wheels with Firestone LXX run-flat tires, but these were discontinued when tires reportedly separated from rims. The price for a Stutz in 1971 was $27,000 and rose significantly each subsequent year.
Unlike the classic Stutz, the revival was no sporting machine. That’s confirmed by Stutz loyalist Jim Milliken of South Carolina, who owns eight, including two of the ultra-rare convertibles.
“They were slow and didn't handle well,” said Milliken.
The U.S. was the largest market for the Stutz, with Saudi Arabia second. Milliken bought his first two Blackhawks there in 1984 while working as an engineer and had them shipped home.
“There must have been a hundred in the kingdom,” he said. “Princes and prominent businessmen bought Stutzes to impress the king. I bought mine for 15 percent of the original prices.”
Milliken is well versed in the details of the Stutz. In 1972, production moved to Saturno, which made hearses and armored vehicles. The windshield was now from the Grand Prix, as was the rear bumper and taillights, but as the Grand Prix changed, so too did the Stutz to fit the chassis. Details including taillights would change with regular frequency, according to what supplies Stutz could get.
Milliken owns #38 of the 38 1972 models made. He upgraded his ’72 with a specially built Pontiac 455 with more than 500 hp, he said, and he made the side exhaust functional.
The 17-year run produced about 550 cars, including 50 four-doors built around the Oldsmobile Delta 88 sedan. When the Pontiac Grand Prix was downsized for 1979, the Blackhawk moved to a Bonneville chassis.
“It’s not everybody’s cup of tea,” Milliken said about the Stutz. “Some people love it. Some hate it. That’s what I love about it.”
If you want a Stutz, Milliken suggests buying one soon.
“Cars that are selling are being shipped to Eastern Europe, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia,” he said.