In our last Stutz entry, we saw the famed luxury maker resurrected by an entrepreneurial banker. Still based in Indianapolis, Indiana, the new Stutz Motor Car of America, Inc. built a neoclassic coupe to excite fans of polyester, personal luxury, and a mix of ’20s and ’30s styling cues. the company’s offering was the new Blackhawk, designed in a Baroque Pontiac style by Virgil Exner.
We covered the Blackhawk’s exterior styling in our last episode, so this week it’s time to step into a world of gold, wood and leather. The interior of the Stutz was hand-assembled by the same artisans at Carrozzeria Padane who spent weeks applying coats of paint to the Blackhawk’s thick steel body. Remember that underneath, the Blackhawk was a second-generation Pontiac Grand Prix (1969-1972), on GM’s mid-size G body.
The Grand Prix was in personal luxury mode at the time, and the Pontiac’s interior used a cockpit-style instrument panel where all gauges and buttons were driver-focused. The dashboard protruded beyond the center console and formed a small partition between the driver and the front passenger. Wood trim was limited to a thin strip along the lower edge of the dashboard and an even thinner strip on the doors.
The Blackhawk ditched most of the Grand Prix interior design. The Stutz is different in almost every possible way inside, especially in the first year of the Blackhawk with its split windshield. The dashboard lost all cockpit feel and opted for a flat horizontal design. The construction of the dashboard was complicated by the split windscreen, which meant that the defroster vents and the dashboard itself were angled and came to a point in the middle. More complex and poorer visibility? Sign me up!
Unlike the Grand Prix’s hard plastic, the Blackhawk’s dash was padded and covered in stitched leather. The gauges were Blackhawk-specific, as Padane craftsmen ditched GM’s standard fare. Additional information was provided to the driver via a comprehensive set of gauges, with five additional dials which supplemented the speedometer and tachometer. The text on the gauges was presented in English and Italian, for those who love gasoline.
Placed in the center of the dash, vertical GM climate control levers were featured, along with a clock and cigar lighter. Stutz threw away the GM vents and used his own circular design. Dashboard vents were limited to two (far left and right side), two less than the Grand Prix.
The Blackhawk’s center console was much nicer than the Grand Prix’s and offered a luxuriously padded armrest for the driver and passenger. The window switches were located in the console, rather than on the door. Unchanged was the shifter, which jutted proudly skyward and represented its Grand Prix heritage. He also looked very out of place.
The dashboard and center console offered generous amounts of real wood trim, most often finished in a light-colored (and rare) bird’s-eye maple. Said maple is rare because approximately a percent of the maples reflect the pattern as the crow flies. The wood was featured in a slab on the dashboard and an even thicker slab on the door panels.
Trimmed in gold-plated metal, a “Blackhawk” script was written large on the door to remind occupants that they were in a special place. While maple seemed the most popular color in its first year, the Blackhawk was also offered with walnut or redwood. But the materials weren’t limited to old hardwood: the Blackhawk’s trim was plated with 24-karat gold, in the Liberace tradition.
Blackhawk implemented its own seat design and did not follow the Grand Prix button padding. The seats were upholstered in beautiful Connolly leather hides; fortunately no vinyl was present. The seating surfaces reflected simple reinforcement, which was cleaner and rather more modern than what Detroit was producing at the time. The dashboard material was made of the same leather as the seats and was color coordinated.
Customers of the new Blackhawk chose their interior floor and ceiling materials, as the carpet and headliner could be finished in wool, or that ever-popular headliner material – mink. Luxurious headliners extended to the rear of the cabin, where no seats were found. In the proud tradition of the Stutz roadster, the Blackhawk was a two-seater.
There was often a small liquor cabinet in the rear of the Blackhawk, but the rear trim varied according to customer preference. Behind the front seats, the area around the large rear parcel shelf has been finished in Connolly. All surfaces were padded, while rich leather curved over the intrusive rear wheel arches.
Large checked-in luggage size suitcases were available, also covered in leather and finished in the same color as the Blackhawk’s interior. This luggage could also be duplicated for the trunk, which meant a full set of four large suitcases. The trunk luggage was specially designed and had a very awkward five-sided shape: it had to fit the shape of the spare tire, which entered the trunk and was fixed in his post. Probably, a Blackhawk owner was the only person at the airport with pentagon-shaped luggage. The rest of the trunk was padded and finished in the same fine leather (or fur) as the interior. The trunk lid lifted on gas struts to avoid the ghastly look of dogleg hinges.
Other interesting features of the Blackhawk include automatic lighting controls via Cadillac’s Twilight Sentinel, Cadillac’s automatic climate control and cruise control. The stereo was from Lear Jet and included an eight-track player for your Bee Gees hits. Security was handled by central locking in conjunction with a car alarm. The suspension was air-based and adjustable to driver preference.
With all the wood, leather, booze and over 19 feet of luxury, the Blackhawk needed a big powerhouse. And he had one! Ported from the Grand Prix was its larger 7.5 liter (455 cu in) V8. An engine designed by Pontiac back when GM was still doing this stuff, the 455 was tuned for its Blackhawk use.
A standard Grand Prix with 455 managed 325 horsepower, but in the Stutz the engine was massaged to 425 horsepower. Paired with the standard THM400 three-speed automatic (an epic transmission), the Blackhawk rocketed to 60 in 8.4 seconds. For reference, that year’s Cadillac Eldorado hit 60 in a slow 9.4 seconds. A limited-slip differential was standard equipment to help put the power to the road. Not that it mattered to customers, but the Blackhawk promised eight miles per gallon in standard use.
The Blackhawk also introduced a new tire invention when it launched: Run-flats. The tires were developed by Firestone and called LXX. A run-flat was a promising idea at the time, partly because its design meant manufacturers could use a larger rim. And that meant that the fitting of larger brake discs was possible. The run-flats also meant that the spare tire (integrated into the look of the Blackhawk) was useless.
The Blackhawk was the only car on the market in 1971 to feature run-flat tires. Just as well, because most drivers would have avoided the $100 ($722 adj.) per tire demanded by the special setup. Given their promise of safety, run-flats were key to publicizing the Blackhawk. Again, Stutz was the “Safety Stutz”, as he had been in the 1920s.
But much like Stutz’s assertion of safety when he had dangerous and terrible hydraulic brakes on his cars, there was a problem with run-flat safety. The LXX tires occasionally came off the rim causing a big whoopsie while riding. LXX was almost immediately taken off the market, and the idea of flat tires was dropped by Firestone. There are a few examples of LXX tires today.
Although it was fast (except when the tires fell off), the Blackhawk was slow to be built. Between the six-week paint job, the bespoke body panels and the meticulously hand-finished interior, each Blackhawk took over 1,500 hours. Like the Stutz cars of yore, the new Blackhawk was for the a lot of money in society and the finances that accompany it.
In 1971, the Blackhawk was introduced at a request for $22,500 ($162,533 adj.). The shocking figure was in a different orbit than other luxury vehicles. For example, a Mercedes-Benz 280SL was $7,469 (adj. $53,953) in 1971, while a lowly Jaguar XKE was $5,734 (adj. $41,420). The Blackhawk was more in the league of a Rolls-Royce, but was more expensive than that too. The 1971 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow was only asking for $20,200 (adj. $145,919) and was good value for money compared to the Blackhawk. It should be noted that in 1971 the average American house (probably three-level) cost $25,200 (adj. $182,037).
Given that this was the first resurrected model from a long-dead luxury brand, did the aforementioned big players eschew the Bearcat? Absolutely not, but the clientele was a bit different than it was in the twenties. We’ll stop there for now, see you in Part IX.
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