Along with fully enclosed sedan and limousine versions, Robbins built two- and four-passenger Speedster models with a 131-inch wheelbase and a massive seven-passenger Speedster on the 145-inch wheelbase chassis for Stutz, all with aluminum bodywork over a wood frame. "I like the looks," says Piers. "A lot of Stutzes don't have all that great lines. This one does." It's hard to argue there, with the long hood, dual sidemounts, four-seat passenger compartment and touring top all properly proportioned.
This car's ownership history can be traced back to the 1950s, when it was used as its owner's second car in the Bronx before gun magnate and noted Stutz collector Bill Ruger bought it. It changed hands a few more times over the years, including spending most of the 1960s in a private museum. When Piers bought the car, it was complete, but its 1950s-era restoration was showing its age. "At the time, the brakes didn't work," he says. "The engine was just okay. I pretty quickly realized that the car had to be gone over. I found the Stone Barn down in New Jersey, a very successful restoration shop. They started a frame-off restoration and the goal was to go to Hershey and win the class, which is what we did the following year."
Rich Fass and his crew at the Stone Barn impressed more than just the Hershey judges, as Lorin Tryon invited Piers and the Stutz to Pebble Beach in 1998, where it earned a third in class trophy, an award repeated in 2011 when Stutz was amongst the featured marques. Prior to its concours turns, the Sharp brothers of Elyria, Ohio, completed the top and the leather upholstery for the interior while Frankford Plating of Philadelphia handled the brightwork.
The smoothness of the Vertical Eight may have first seduced Piers into the BB, but that's not to say that he didn't feel the need to upgrade it, particularly to keep pace with modern traffic. After all, 110 horsepower may have put the speed in this Speedster 84 years ago, when a near-70 MPH average would set a record, but the car still weighs more than 4,500 pounds and, frankly, who wouldn't mind a bit more poke in his Stutz?
To that end, the engine was rebuilt with domed pistons to raise the compression ratio from 5.5 to 7:1, a level almost impossibly high for the street in 1928, but thoroughly benign by today's standards. Stutz's innovative chain-driven camshaft with two self-adjusting tensioners on the chain allows for much higher RPM operation than most other engines from the period.
Since the restoration, Piers, who regularly drives his Stutz Speedster, had a thoroughly re-worked cylinder head fitted to the engine. "I was frustrated with the engine's power," Piers tells us. "So I shipped an extra cylinder head to England, to a race shop called Baynton Jones, and they ground a custom camshaft, along with the cylinder head work. That seemed to really help. I think the level is now up to 140hp or something like that. I had a J Duesenberg, and it's close to a J Duesenberg in power. It's not there, but it's close."
Getting to that high-horsepower figure also involved installing electronic ignition in one of the dual distributors and ditching the factory Zenith carburetor for a Schebler Model S unit. Piers gave the exhaust the hot rod treatment, too. "I have a little bit larger exhaust pipe," he says, "and a muffler without much baffle in it, so it's got more of a throaty sound to it. A lot of people think that there is something special about the engine, like it's blown or something." With a discreet switch mounted under the dash, an electrically activated overdrive on the otherwise stock three-speed transmission greatly enhances the drivability and reduces the top gear from a 1:1 to just a 0.788:1 ratio. According to Piers, "With this overdrive unit in there, at 60 MPH, I am only tooling along at 1,600 RPM. I can easily keep up with traffic on a highway."
If the original Stutz in 1911 was "The Car That Made Good in a Day," then the models equipped with the Vertical Eight, like this Series BB Robbins Speedster, forever stamp Stutz as the innovative and stylish performance cars they are revered as today, an enduring legacy for one of America's most storied automakers.
Mon Nov 11 2013 16:24:43 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)