1928 Stutz BB Black Hawk Speedster
Chassis Number : 92461 Horsepower : 115 Displacement : 8-cylinder, 5.28 L Wheelbase : 131"
By the early 1920s, Stutz had stopped making serious sports cars, nor was it particularly involved in competition. The public, apparently, still had lost the memory of the “Bearcat” type of car.
In 1926, Fred Moskovics took control of Stutz and made plans for a “safety” car, but also started to gear up for a true American sports car. With his engineers, he developed the “Challenger” Black Hawk engine. With this engine and a special chassis, by 1927, Moskovics planned to concentrate on American stock car racing using his two passenger speedster. A four passenger speedster was made as well, we presume that this was meant to be a candidate for Le Mans honor.
After a rocky race season start, in 1928 the Stutz began to show its mettle in stock car racing. It won race after race. When the Black Hawk with the Challenger engine got into production, it entered and won and every AAA stock car race held and without exception, every Stutz that started finished! A serious challenge by the Auburn 8-88 Speedster succumbed to Moscovics efforts with its new engine. In a country where serious stock car racing was essentially ignored since the end of World War I, the fact that the Challenger Black Hawk made such an effort and was so successful against other lesser powered, but still admirable stock cars, was noticed by international admirers.
By 1928, the Stutz was destined to race overseas at Le Mans, but with serious support from its French and English drivers. The July 4, 1927 Rockingham Stock Car Race was the beginning of a turning point. The newly designed Challenger engine was not yet ready but the AAA was interested in having Stutz participate in this race in view of the few serious contestants. One must remember that with the exception of Auburn and perhaps Paige, high performance stock cars were not part of the American auto industry’s agenda. Moskovics was not ready but he suggested that a Mercedes Benz model K be driven by his ace Frank Lockhart to add some excitement. Lockhart performed admirably but, in the end, 8-88 Auburn barley eeked a victory with a stock car record averaging 89.17 mph for the 100 mile race.
Later that month the Challenger engine was in production but it was learned that the newer Auburn was capable of 95 mph. Consequently special pistons higher compression ratios and differential gear options to the specialized worm system with nine ratios were available for the Black Hawks. Souped up to the max, these cars were capable of 100 mph but with sacrifice of some reliability. With the AAA encouragement, a 150 miler was held at Rockingham on September 7, 1927, with now three of the new two passenger Black Hawk speedsters ready for battle, their competition in addition to the usual entries being a new 106 horsepower Packard and a Duesenberg Model A Roadster.
The beautiful boattail Stutz lead from the beginning and within the first ten miles two of them had lapped the fourth fastest car in the race, an Auburn driven by Ralph Hepburn. This was a Stutz 1-2-3-victory and mainly, winning average of 96.30 mph which broke all stock car records from 25 to 150 miles per hour. Simultaneously the two passenger Challengers were winning at Pike’s Peak. At the Charlotte Speedway, Stutz won the first stock car race ever held there averaging 94.24 mph, more remarkable for its great reliability.
Road racing in America then was virtually nonexistent, a fact which continues to befuddle auto historians. When a car was ordered by a wealthy Mexican sportsman, the concept was fascinating to Moscovics who really could not assess the relative reliability of his Black Hawk in a true road race where suspensions, accurate steering, and irregular road surfaces offered different challenges than oval stock car venues. The untested road holding qualities of the Stutz Black Hawk prevailed in Mexico and a victory on September 25, 1927 paved the way for the concept that this chassis could handle European road racing … perhaps Le Mans?
The early history of this car is documented with one owner. It was known to be in A. K. Miller’s hands shortly before World War II, perhaps left there by a GI. The winged decal, with the initials W. P. B., remains in excellent condition on each door. Miller’s pictures from the 1940s show the car essentially as we find it today. The top was always up and remains in good condition, although we removed it for the Match Race exhibition. When I initially saw the car, it was remarkably complete, down to every detail. It had original upholstery, original carpets, even the original firewall asbestos. The dash and all the external features were untouched. Unfortunately, however, it was red! Certainly, no Black Hawk ever left the factory red. However, it was obvious that the red paint was poorly and hastily applied. There was no primer. The adhesion of the paint was poor. In fact, in some places, the red paint could be flaked off and the factory applied black paint was remarkably in good condition.
Dave George blessed the car and, we purchased it at the A. K. Miller auction in Vermont. When the car came to David’s shop, he inventoried it, cleaned out some mouse droppings from the boat tail, and reviewed the car for authenticity. We basically needed nothing! When we attempted to run the car, it was obvious that the venturi of the Zenith updraft had decomposed, a problem not infrequent with this die cast part. David was able to replace the parts necessary to make the carburetor functional.
He then set about a remarkable task of preservation. Utilizing a combination of a heat gun, air pressure and careful pick-and- pick handiwork, he removed all of the red paint. In most places, the original black paint was in excellent condition. There were spots, such as the front apron, which had to be painted and the black bumpers were touched up. Other areas were filled in, but I would estimate that the vast majority of the original paint was intact.
David got the car running properly with very little delving into the mechanical parts. In its current condition, it still shows significant signs of wear. Paint is worn off the door tops by the elbows of the driver and his passenger. There are heavy pebble chips on the front edge of both rear fenders. But, remarkably, the plating on the headlights and radiator cowl was unpitted and virtually new! We left the worn tires in place because they match the rest of the job and realized that this was essentially an exact sister car to those stock cares which raced so successfully, without being beaten, in the stock car seasons of the late 20s, as well as a duplicate of the Stutz in the most famous Match Race.