Sunday, November 6, 2016

Stutz Bearcat ~ America's First Sports Car

by Ramona K. Cecil

My husband loves cars, especially vintage cars. I can’t tell you how many hours this past summer and fall we’ve spent perusing car shows. Some of his favorite models among the vintage cars are sports cars. While he doesn’t own one himself, he knows a lot about them and loves looking at them. What he might not know is that the vehicle considered “America’s first sports car” was built in our own home state of Indiana.

The Bearcat, originally “Bear Cat,” made its debut in 1912. A high performance roadster built by the Stutz Motor Company of Indianapolis, Indiana—formerly the Ideal Motor Car Company—the Bearcat was designed to appeal to the wealthy client with a “need for speed.”
1912 Stutz Bearcat - Notice small "monocle" windshield 

A century ago, the Stutz Motor Company was among the most prestigious of car companies, their automobiles highly sought by the rich and famous. Several innovations by company engineers earned Stutz a reputation for building fast, durable, safe, and stylish cars, and made the name synonymous with automotive excellence. The groundbreaking innovations included the most powerful and quietest V-8 engine on the market, the first under-slung chassis, dual overhead cam engine, and the first use of safety glass.
Stutz Wisconsin Engine design

The first car to bear the Stutz name was build in five weeks and then immediately entered in the 1911 Indianapolis 500 race where it finished in eleventh-place, earning the moniker “The car that made good in a day.”

Number 8 Stutz car lined up for a race

A year later the company rolled out the Bear Cat; America’s first sports car. In its debut year, the Bear Cat was entered in thirty automobile races and won twenty-five of them.

1912 Stutz Bear Cat


In 1915 driver Cannonball Baker—for whom the Cannonball Run car rally is named—broke speed records when he drove a Stutz Bearcat from San Diego, California to New York in 11 days, 7 hours, and 15 minutes.

Edwin George "Cannon Ball" Baker in Stutz Bearcat

The Stutz Bearcat put the “roar” into the Roaring Twenties. Along with flappers, gangsters, speakeasies, and raccoon-skin coats, the Bearcat became an iconic symbol of the era. 

Hollywood movie featuring a Stutz Bearcat
1923 Stutz Bearcat

Hollywood fell in love with the Stutz automobiles, but seemed to have a special affinity for the sporty Bearcat, which became a status symbol. In 1923 a Stutz Bearcat cost $2,765.00; almost $48,000.00 in today’s money. Famous owners of the Bearcat included illustrious names like actor Gary Cooper, author F. Scott Fitzgerald, and gossip columnist Walter Winchell. Jay Leno numbers among the current celebrity owners of a Stutz Bearcat sports car.

Jay Leno with his 1918 Stutz Bearcat

Made for speed and beauty, the Bearcat somewhat lacked in comfort. The exceedingly stiff clutch gave rise to the rumor that it was purposely engineered that way to discourage women from driving what was considered a “man’s” sports car.

Despite all the time my husband has spent admiring Stutz Bearcats at car shows while doubtless dreaming of driving one, I don’t see a Stutz Bearcat in our future. But should our fortunes change and my husband find himself behind the wheel of one, I wouldn’t decline an offer to climb in beside him and take a spin around town in America’s first sports car—one of Indiana’s own. 

Ramona K. Cecil is a poet and award-winning author of historical fiction for the Christian market. A proud Hoosier, she often sets her stories in her home state of Indiana.

Check out her website at 


  1. This was very interesting. I've never been to a car show. Maybe one year I will. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks, Debbie! Seems like most every little Fall festival here in the Midwest includes a car show. I enjoy looking at the old cars, but after the first hundred and fifty or so. . .LOL

  3. Love the look of these old cars. Thanks for sharing the history, Ramona.

  4. You're so welcome, Anita. Glad you enjoyed the post! :-)