When is a Pontiac not a Pontiac? When it’s become one of the Stutz Blackhawks designed by none other than former Chrysler styling chief Virgil Exner. The Pick of the Day is a 1971 Stutz Blackhawk that is one of only 16 surviving examples, according to the St. Louis dealer advertising the car on ClassicCars.com.
While at Chrysler, Exner was responsible for the finned “Forward Look” designs of the 1950s and for a series of some of the most spectacular concept cars ever created in an American automotive design studio.
“Following an acrimonious departure from Chrysler in 1962, he served as a consultant and worked on personal projects,” the dealer says of Exner. “In the mid-1960s, Exner designed a series of so-called ‘Revival Cars,’ which were his interpretations of defunct classic-era automobiles including Mercer, Duesenberg, Bugatti, Pierce-Arrow, Packard and Stutz.”
Exner was able to find financial backing to put his Stutz Blackhawk design into limited production.
“Virgil Exner’s vision of the Stutz Blackhawk was realized as a stylish, high-performance grand touring coupe, using American-sourced components in an exclusive, coachbuilt Italian suit,” the dealer notes.
“In the spirit of the luxurious and exclusive Dual-Ghia of the 1950s, the original Blackhawk was a fully engineered, hand-built motorcar, not a kit or fiberglass replica. The costly production process involved shipping a complete Pontiac Grand Prix (purchased at retail!) to Carrozzeria Padane in Modena, who discarded the entire body and interior. The new coachwork shared nothing with the donor car, and each completed shell got high-quality paint and luxurious leather and wood trimmings to the buyer’s specification.”
Reportedly 25 of the split-windshield “Series I” Blackhawks were produced, and priced at $35,000 each (equivalent to nearly $225,000 today, the dealer points out). The cars were purchased by the likes of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Lucille Ball, and Elvis Presley, who bought the first Blackhawk at its debut at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York (the car is still on display at Graceland).
But even at $35K each, the company was losing money and Exner’s financial backer changed the production setup after the first 25 cars, “compromising the unique proportions of Exner’s original design, but finally becoming profitable. But it is the early, coachbuilt cars that command the most attention from serious collectors.”
The Pick of the Day is one of those cars, the dealer assures.
“This car comes from the private collection of a marque expert and is the subject of an eight-year, nut-and-bolt restoration finished to very high standards.
“The 17th of 25 produced, this car left the factory in black over a black interior, arriving in North America in November 1971. According to Richard Curotto, the former sales manager of Stutz Motorcars in America, he collected chassis number 276571A172808 at the docks in Quebec, drove it across the border, and continued to Manhattan in time for the New York Auto Show for display.”
The car was purchased in the early 2000s by Elvis impersonator Paul Casey, “who cruised the Las Vegas strip in it,” the dealer’s ad notes.
“In April 2009, Mr. Casey sold the Stutz as a tired but running and driving car to Erik Nielsen of California. The most recent owner acquired it from Nielsen 14 months later, and soon embarked on a painstaking nut and bolt restoration. As a respected expert on these coachbuilt Stutz cars, the new owner spent untold hours sourcing the rare and unique parts lost to time and careless owners.
“Carrozzeria Padane also built the Maserati Mistral, Indy, and Bora alongside the Stutz, and many components came from the same bins. But some details were particularly challenging to source, including the original Lear Jet stereo 8-track player and the set of five 17-inch Firestone LXX wheels and tires, of which fewer than 50 sets were produced.”
The dealer points out that the wheels are “included in the sale but are suitable for concours use and low-speed demonstration only.”
The restoration included the re-creation of the original fitted luggage.
The car is powered by a Pontiac 455cid stroked to 461 inches “and updated with Edelbrock heads and intake and a high-efficiency serpentine belt system, although the original pulleys and brackets are included to satisfy the purist. The mighty Pontiac V8 produces 425 horsepower, fed through a 3-speed Hydramatic automatic transmission.”
The car has power steering and brakes and modern air conditioning.