The Stutz Blackhawk was the luxury car of the elite of the entertainment industry in the 1970s and 80s. It was, for all intents and purposes, the ultimate status symbol.

Elvis Presley owned 4. Dean Martin owned 3. Sammy Davis Jr. owned 2. Lucille Ball, Paul McCartney, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Al Pacino, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Evel Knievel, Liberace, Wilson Pickett, Debbie Reynolds, and many other celebrities each owned 1.

Dean Martin with his 1972 Stutz Blackhawk right after he got it home.

Specifications

Each car was hand-built in Italy and took approximately 1,500 man-hours to assemble a single car. It was basically a hand-built Pontiac. It used a Pontiac Grand Prix chassis, a GM TH400 3 speed transmission, and a Pontiac 455 V-8 engine.

Dean Martin’s 1976 Stutz Blackhawk with the license plate “DRUNKY”.

The interior included 24-carat gold plated trim and bird’s eye maple or burled walnut and redwood. The seats and dash were Connolly leather. It also included mink carpeting and headlining, a cigar lighter, instrument markings in both English and Italian, air conditioning, an electric sunroof, cruise control, a burglar alarm, and a high-end Lear Jet AM/FM eight-track quadraphonic sound system.

Lucille Ball’s 1971 Stutz Blackhawk

The coolest things about each car were that the name of the original owner was displayed in a plaque on the dash and there was a liquor cabinet in the backseat.

Sammy Davis Jr. 1972 Stutz Blackhawk dash plaque

In 1971 the price of the car was $22,500 ($145,000 in 2020 dollars). By 1981, it had jumped to $84,500 ($240,000 in 2020 dollars) with large price jumps almost every year.

1972 Stutz Blackhawk interior

To compare prices in 1971 a Corvette would set you back $5,500. A Cadillac would run you $7,000 fully loaded. A Rolls-Royce was $19,000 and Lamborgini was $20,000. The Blackhawk was the most expensive car for sale up to that point.

The Stutz Motor Company (1911-1935)

John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in a 1915 Stutz Bearcat during the production of The Quiet Man (1952).

The original Stutz Motor Company was based out of Indianapolis, Indiana, and was in business from 1911 to 1935. Even in the original incarnation, these were high-end cars for the wealthy. From 1911 to 1923 Stutz produced fast, sports cars. Over the last 11 years, they produced more of a luxury vehicle.

1930 Stutz SV-16 Monte Carlo

The change in the type of cars they produced was due to a change in ownership. In 1920, the original owner Allan Aloysius Ryan allowed his friends to engage in a stock manipulation scheme. By August 1922 the company was bankrupt and delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. Allan was disinherited by his father, Thomas Fortune Ryan and the company ownership changed to include Charles Schwab (yes that one) and  Eugene Van Rensselaer Thayer, Jr., the president of Chase National Bank. The new owners hired Frederick Ewan Moskowics, who previously worked for Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG). He changed the type of cars Stutz built.

1915 Stutz Bearcat

In 1935 Stutz was a victim of market manipulation again. They filed for bankruptcy in 1937 and were liquidated in 1939.

The Stutz Motor Company (1970-1995)

In 1968 the Stutz brand was revitalized by James O’Donnell, a New York banker. He teamed up with Chrysler designer Virgil Exner to create a new brand for the company. Shortly thereafter, the Blackhawk was born.

The first Stutz Blackhawk prototype on display in 2007

The Blackhawk was produced until 1987. By that time it had sold 600 cars. Stutz produced a few other models in the 1980s and 90s but by 1995 they had ceased production of new cars.

1974 Stutz Blackhawk’s mink lined glove compartment

The First and Second Second Prototypes

The Blackhawk prototype was built in 1970 by Ghia, an automotive design firm in Italy, and cost $300,000 to manufacture this single car. A second prototype was built by Carrozzeria Padane, a different Italian automobile firm that would end up being the one that built these cars for the marketplace.

This second prototype was shipped to Los Angeles, where it was taken to the homes of various stars to show the car to them. If they liked the car they could place an order for one at that time. This worked just fine until the car was taken to the homes of 2 stars: Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

Stutz car dealer Jules Meyers took the car to Sinatra first. Sinatra wanted to buy the Blackhawk in his driveway but was told the car wasn’t for sale as it was a prototype. When Meyers took the car to Elvis’ home in Beverly Hills (1174 Hillcrest Rd.) he too wanted to buy the prototype.

Elvis’ home at 1174 Hillcrest Road in Beverly Hills

When Meyers tried to explain to Elvis that he couldn’t sell the car Elvis responded “How do you think you will sell more cars, when you drive it, or when the people see ME driving it around?”

Jules Meyers recalls:

“Elvis wanted to have the car, I told Elvis that there was a car show, in a couple of days, and that I would need the car for that. It was O.K. with Elvis, so the car was sold. Elvis also agreed to take some press-pictures with him and the car – good for publicity. Frank Sinatra was also interested in the car, but Sinatra would not agree to any pictures of the Stutz being taken with him and he would not agree to the car being displayed at the car-show. So it was obviously the better decision to sell the to Elvis Presley.”

Jules Meyers hands Elvis the keys to the Stutz Blackhawk prototype on October 9, 1970.

Elvis paid $26,500 for the car on October 9, 1970.

In July 1971 Elvis sent his Los Angeles chauffeur, Sir Gerald to get the car washed and the front end was damaged in an accident. Elvis put the car in storage and it was fully restored after his death and is now on display at Graceland.

Elvis Presley behind the wheel of his Stutz Blackhawk prototype car on October 9, 1970. This is in his driveway on Hillcrest.

Frank Sinatra never bought a Blackhawk.

Interior of Dean Martin’s 1976 Stutz Blackhawk.

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