Today we return to our coverage of the reborn, neo-classic Stutz Motor Company, at a time of considerable change in the company’s model portfolio. The “wallet” may be a bit generous, but for some years now the company did produce a handful of different designs.
Since Stutz was revived in 1970, its main offering had been the Blackhawk coupe, both in its original 1969 Pontiac Grand Prix base and its scaled-down B-body Pontiac Bonneville base. But Stutz CEO James O’Donnell always wanted a real convertible in the Stutz lineup. This wish was finally realized with the Bearcat II.
O’Donnell first experimented with a convertible in the canceled Italia prototype, then made a similar car a reality with the introduction of the 1979 Bearcat convertible. Like the contemporary Blackhawk, the new Bearcat was based on the old Grand Prix for exactly one year. Then it became a B-body Bonneville like its coupé sibling.
Not a true convertible, the Bearcat complied with US rollover regulations and had a fixed targa bar. It was a very expensive and very limited production vehicle, and it’s hard to find videos or usable photos of the B-body Bearcat today. But it lived on in its original format until around 1986, when Blackhawk and Bearcat production crumbled into nothingness.
As we learned in our last entry, in 1987 the Bearcat made the leap to the F-body platform and shrank even further to become the most luxurious Pontiac Firebird ever made. A true Stutz convertible, O’Donnell’s topless dream finally came true in the Bearcat II. But it also meant a new direction for what was now the company’s sole offering.
The Bearcat II followed the styling of the B-body Blackhawk and Bearcat as best it could given its downsizing, regulatory requirements and the fact that it was a convertible and not a targa . Up front, the proud chrome Stutz schnoz protruded about as much as it did before as a bonnet extension. Perched next to it were the quad freestanding headlights and driving lights. They have persisted as one of the Stutz’s most notable features and the car’s most Exner-like appearance that has remained.
Considering the location of the indicator lenses, it looks like Stutz carried over the old Bearcat B-body bumper to the Bearcat II. In its sportier new application, it lost half of its chrome trim and was mostly black. It also had a longer cap on the corner that wrapped around the front fender and towards the wheel.
The Bearcat II’s overhang was more noticeable than its predecessor given the car’s shorter wheelbase and the fact that a Firebird’s overhangs were not normally as expansive as those of a rear-drive Bonneville. For the first time on a Stutz coupe, the fender indicator lens migrated into the bumper.
In front of the grille, the double chrome arches that connected the two sections of the bumper have been transformed into a single, more angular bar. In the middle of the grille, the previously chrome vertical slot was often gold on the Bearcat II.
Indeed, gold was a new exterior theme for the II: the color appeared on the wheel centers and wheel lugs which were now a color-matched lace pattern (or sometimes gold). Spectators would instantly notice them as a painted Firebird Trans Am wheel, but the real sons of the old Bearcat wouldn’t have cut it on a sporty coupe in 1987.
A strip of chrome trim along the body started exactly where it had been on the old Bearcat, right next to the grille. He circled the hood and followed the high beam cowls that made up the fender. Then it flowed down the side of the body. In a design twist on the 1970 Blackhawk, the trim strip sat on a protruding character line (remember the B-body version was smooth).
At the rear wheel, the line ran up around the tire and still existed as an extension of the bodywork. He followed a new fullback who was an amalgamation of the first and second generation Blackhawks. The six circular brake lights and turn signals were carried over from this later Blackhawk, but the spare tire returned to its exposed state and protruded from the rear of the car like Exner’s original design.
Everything was on a smaller scale, as the F-body was narrower than the B-body and required less cutting for its smaller tire. Also, the regulations required that the CHMSL stay where GM put it. Stutz got around this problem by creating a ridge above the trunk area, much like a porch step. This ridge faded into the leather tonneau cover for the top when it was stowed and created a wedge shape behind the passengers.
The rear bumpers were a mirror image of the front ones, which helped with parts sharing. Other trim items included the more formal, freestanding side mirrors of a C-body Cadillac Fleetwood and a thick chrome bar along the lower door sill. The chrome bar was for styling purposes only and was as useful as the chrome side exhausts. Said exhausts were capped on the Bearcat II with red to really show how useless they were.
Inside, the F-body Bearcat II wasn’t as far from its roots as the older B-body Bearcat and Blackhawk. For the first time, Stutz ditched their ’70s center console edition and opted for the Coat Everything in Wood and Leather approach. The first step was a thick layer of wood that replaced the Firebird’s cheap GM plastic. The wood trim was real and appeared to be a dark walnut. In the center of the dash was gold writing that read “Stutz Blackhawk II,” but there was no longer an etched ownership plate on the glove box lid.
Stutz removed the stepped look of the Firebird dash and created a smooth surface for the II, with a continuous piece of wood running through the cabin. The vents were circular instead of square on the Pontiac and rimmed in gold. The gauges were backed in a white gold color but were otherwise Pontiac gauges.
The same goes for the HVAC and stereo, which were standard GM fare with new light gold faceplates. The wood trim continued on the center console and around the center console. The console itself was trimmed in fine leather that extended over and around the perimeter of the dashboard. These modifications did make a difference, because the interior of the Firebird in 1987 wasn’t that hot. Thick wood slabs were inserted atop the doors, and the door panels were covered in heavily gathered leather.
The gathers continued onto the leather seats but weren’t as profuse. Speaking of seats, the Bearcat II took after the Bearcat OG of the early 1900s and was a two-seater. The area behind the front seats was upholstered in leather color matched to the rest of the interior. Not just a parcel shelf, Stutz added two pull-out drawers for storage. On the shelf, two custom leather luggage rested on a piece of finely grained leather.
The Bearcat II’s trunk wasn’t exceptionally useful, as Stutz took the already small cargo area of a Firebird, added a trunk lid, then used most of the space for the mounted spare tire. flamboyantly. The limited space that remained was covered with thick carpeting that matched the exterior of the car rather than the interior.
So, did the convertible finally made turn the company’s situation around? No. When the Bearcat II entered production, the rest of the Stutz empire was in steep decline. And by the time it went on sale, the company had a new owner and product portfolio of one vehicle. More on that next time.
[Images: Stutz, YouTube]
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