322ci DOHC Inline 8-Cylinder Engine
4 Valves Per Cylinder
Dual-Throat Stromberg EE-3 Carburetor
156 bhp at 3,000 rpm
3-Speed Warner Manual Transmission
4-Wheel Lockheed hydraulic brakes
*Among the most awarded American Classics of Modern Times
*2019 Quail Best of Show Winner and 2016 Pebble Beach Best of Show Nominee
*A remarkably designed, uniquely beautiful one-off bodied Stutz
*Stylish with radically low, raked windshield, and extraordinarily long hood
*Meticulous restoration by RM Auto Restoration
A GREAT CAR OF SOUTH AMERICA
With the raging of the Great Depression in the 1930s, the manufacturers of the 'Great Cars' nonetheless found ready markets all over the world. Princely India, in its final full decade of British colonial rule, absorbed untold numbers of the finest chassis and coachwork, built to suit the whims of the Maharaja, a subject that has occupied multiple books. However, there were other markets, equally rich and creative, that have a story yet to be told. South America is one such market. The continent was and remains rich with natural resources, with rubber and oil not least among them, which with the industrial advances of the early 20th Century fueled young wealth and the acquisition of the splendors thereof. The Chopitea brothers, sugar heirs from Peru, made the gathering of Duesenbergs something of a hobby, with the occasional Hispano-Suiza and twelve-cylinder Packard thrown in for variety. Their contemporaries in neighboring countries imported such glories as eight-cylinder Alfa Romeos and supercharged Mercedes-Benzes. And then there were the Stutzes, courtesy of the former Argentinean boxer Luis Angel Firpo.
Firpo visited the United States at the height of his pugilistic career in 1922, stopped by the Stutz factory in Indianapolis, and by the time of his departure had been granted the distributorship for all of South America, with headquarters in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At its economic apex from the teens until 1930, Argentina was the 10th wealthiest nation in 1930.
By the time of the Stutz sales convention in 1928, Firpo was one of the company's star salesmen, exhibiting a dozen models at a salon in Rosario, selling out his entire stock of 28 cars, and informing Stutz president Fred Moskovics he expected to sell twice as many cars the next year year. Unsurprisingly, Firpo enjoyed a particularly good relationship with LeBaron, the coachbuilding firm with which Stutz had a long and fruitful partnership. In his 1970 book, The Custom Body Era, LeBaron veteran Hugo Pfau recounted that Firpo owned a LeBaron-bodied Stutz "for his personal use. He specified that the chassis be driven from Indianapolis to our plant in Bridgeport, so it would be broken in and ready to run at speed when it reached Buenos Aires."
By 1931, LeBaron was part of Briggs, the larger mass-production body firm; designer Ralph Roberts, interviewed by Richard Langworth in Automobile Quarterly, Vol. XII No. 3, noted that "LeBaron's presence at Briggs was a great thing for the boys who were in production work there. They now had a custom outlet. So, if they got bored working out something for Ford or Chrysler, they could go out and do something hot for Packard or Lincoln or Stutz."
Comparison of this car's design against European coachwork of the time shows a lighter hand typical of American styling, with more subtle proportions and a lower top stack reminiscent of Rollston and Waterhouse. Yet close inspection of the body reveals numerous styling and design features uncommon to the more prevalent Rollston Convertible Victoria bodies on the DV-32, and not shared with any other example of comparable coachwork. The body was built with a 'coach sill' that descends to cover the frame, with the door itself opening all the way through the bottom of the sill, serving to visually lower its lines. This striking feature, integral to the beauty of the car, was pioneered by Rollston and likely appropriated by their competitor for this unique body. Yet the body is not built by Rollston yet bears others features not found in a similar combination on any other coachbuilt or production car of the era. These include not only the coach sill design, along with the lower body sill molding which wraps around the entire rear tub of the car.
Further the car features the longest hoodline of any known Stutz, and an especially low, steeply raked windshield which contribute to its superb, almost otherworldly proportions. Richard Lorenzo's 1953 book, Medio Siglo de Automovilismo Argentino ("Half a Century of Argentine Motor Racing"), notes that Firpo would often update older bodies: "Luis Angel always got the "new models." He would change the fenders on the old ones, replacing them with a different design, and then they would be the "new models."" This was clearly undertaken with this Stutz, whose stock fenders received skirting and a beaded molding as evidenced in photos from the mid-1960s, along with likely mechanical upgrades. Examination of the car during restoration decades later revealed witness marks showing the addition of metal to lengthen the hood to its extraordinary proportions, and also showed that the distinctive double bead molding, running along the hood and wrapping around the entire body, was in fact leaded onto the hood and rolled into the metal around the rest of the body.
SURVIVAL, RESTORATION, AND VICTORY
The car survived its time in Argentina largely intact, and three critical photos taken in Cordoba, Argentina in 1967 depict the Stutz on the road although looking aged from its three decades away from its home country.
In 1974 the Stutz was pictured in the Argentine newspaper, Le Clarin, on the occasion of its departure from the country, captioned "ADIOS, AMIGO. With this strange custom of giving life to inanimate objects, more than one resident of Villa Unión, La Rioja, thus bid farewell to this old 1930's-model Stutz. This Stutz that once travelled the roads of that beautiful place, on the other side of Cuesta de Miranda, set off for the capital city of Buenos Aires, from whence it will be taken by boat to the United States, since it was purchased by a collector from Jacksonville, Florida. On Friday of next week it will be at Bellvar 319, its final stop in our country, before returning to the land of its origin."
Sam Sherman, an American 'car hunter' highly active in the period, was reported as the actual buyer, who in recent conversations recalled with certainty being offered the car from someone in Mendoza, but stating that he did not actually take ownership of the Stutz, and it was actually acquired by Robert Marceca.
It was sold by Marceca to Dr. Donald Vesley, a noted collector of the era in whose stable the Stutz shared with not only other examples of that marque, but significant Duesenbergs, Hispano-Suizas, Rolls-Royces, and Mercedes-Benz – including a 540 K Special Roadster which was also sourced from Argentina. A photograph taken upon delivery in Florida further depicts the car with its skirted and beaded fenders, double beltline, raked windshield and other styling features all clearly in place and consistently well-aged.
The car had reportedly emerged from Argentina powered by a Buick engine, and Dr. Vesley sold the Stutz in 1977 with a 1931 Stutz DV-32 engine to William Bools of Cincinnati, Ohio. Mr. Bools worked on the automobile as time allowed, including returning the fenders to the stock Stutz configuration, but with numerous ongoing projects did not have it completed by the time of his passing. On his passing, it was sold to its third American owners, who then commissioned RM Auto Restoration of Blenheim, Ontario, to perform a full concours-quality restoration, preserving many of the car's distinctive styling features.
At the completion of this meticulous work, finished in its stunning livery of blue slate grey with complementing dark blue leather interior, the Stutz was debuted at the 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, gathering an enviable trio of important awards, including First in Class, Elegance in Motion, and, most significantly, a nomination for Best of Show. It went on to receive Best of Show at the Concours d'Elegance of America at St. John's in 2017, at Hilton Head in 2018, and here at The Quail in 2019, the latter of which placed it in the running for The Peninsula Classics Best of the Best Award that year. Additional honors include being judged Most Elegant Open Car at Amelia Island in 2017. Few cars have been so tremendously successful in modern competition, and this car was further highlighted in Matthew Kilkenny's Detroit Steel Artists, published this year.
While every Stutz has its own special gravitas, this example, meticulously restored and tremendously impressive in its design, has a special appeal all its own, testified to by its all-conquering ability on modern concours fields. Luis Angel Firpo would be proud that the greatest of South American Stutzes remains a heavyweight contender.