Rare 1923 Stutz touring heads home

A 1923 Stutz seven-passenger touring, the only known surviving example and found in exceptional original condition, is headed back to its origins - Indianapolis. Like many rarities in the A.K. Miller collection, it was hidden away for decades.
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This long-lost 1923 Stutz still has its original paint, upholstery,
top and carpeting. All of the mechanical parts, including the
engine, gearbox, brakes and electricals, will be rebuilt or
recommissioned.

Edited by the OCW staff
A 1923 Stutz seven-passenger touring, the only known surviving example, was recently acquired by SignificantCars.Com, an established Indianapolis-based collector car brokerage and restoration company. The touring was found in exceptional, original condition, according to the company.

The Stutz Motor Co. was a mainstay of the Indianapolis automotive world when the Indiana city rivaled Detroit for top status in auto manufacturing operations. More than 130 different makes of cars were produced in Indianapolis in the early days of the industry. Stutz cars were produced from 1911 to 1934, and in the marque’s heyday, Stutz was one of Indy’s “Big 3,” along with Marmon and Duesenberg.

Harry C. Stutz was an early automotive entrepreneur, engineer and innovator who grew up repairing agricultural machinery on his family’s farm. Automobiles and engines fascinated him, and Stutz built his first car in 1897, then a second automobile using a gasoline engine of his own design and manufacture. In 1905, he designed a car for the American Motor Car Co., and later designed the first transaxle for use at The Marion Automobile Co. In 1911, he designed and built a new car for the inaugural Indianapolis 500, which finished fifth and earned the slogan “the car that made good in a day.” He founded an enterprise that he later renamed Stutz Motor Co. He was also instrumental in creating the Stutz Fire Engine Co., as well as the H.C.S. Motor Car Co. in 1919. In 1929, he formed the Stutz-Bellanca Airplane Co.

This 1923 touring is special for several reasons. “1923 was a transitional year for Stutz drivetrains, with the appearance of the new Speedway Six, so very few of the KLDH fours were built in 1923,” according to Stutz historian Bill Greer. “This is the only known 1923 KLHD touring car known to survive.” The KLHD four is a very stout T-head engine with four valves per cylinder and dual ignition. The engine replaced the original Stutz engine that carried the company through the 1910s. Local upstart rival Duesenberg came out with a straight-eight passenger car engine at this time, so the rugged KLHD four’s days were numbered early as cars with six or more cylinders were becoming the fashion.

This car retains its original paint, upholstery, top and carpeting. The wood-framed body is in excellent shape, without wood rot; even the doors shut with authority and do not sag. There is no serious corrosion or rust on any part of the car, and it remains complete. All of the original hardware and gauges are present and well preserved. Most of the original paint still has a good amount of gloss, with the exception of the splash aprons and parts of the fenders. Once a part of the legendary A.K Miller Collection, this car spent the bulk of its life in a barn in Vermont.

The legendary A.K. Miller

A.K. Miller was an eccentric recluse who operated Miller’s Flying Service in 1930, in Montclair, N.J. Miller provided mail and other delivery services by means of a gyrocopter, as well as listing “Expert Automobile Repairing” and “Aeroplanes Rebuilt & Overhauled” on his business card. In his later years, he was known for his eccentricities, and his collection of valuable antique cars. After retiring from the Air Force in 1946, Miller and his wife moved to a large farm in East Orange, Vt. It is here that Miller’s eccentricities began to emerge. He exchanged most of his cash for gold and silver bars and coins. He took his gyrocopter apart and stored the pieces inside an old one-room schoolhouse that stood on his property. He also constructed a large number of sheds and ramshackle barns out of scrap lumber and nails that he scavenged from various places. Inside the shacks, Miller concealed his trove of prized Stutz motorcars. While locals knew he had a Stutz or two, and Miller was known to other Stutz collectors, nobody knew the true extent of the collection.

What this miserly lifestyle and ill-kept property hid eventually brought $2.18 million at auction. The 87-year-old A.K. Miller himself died in 1993 after falling from a ladder, and Imogene died of a heart attack in 1996. As no heirs were found, the IRS moved in to assess the value of the estate (taking a particular interest in collecting the years of back taxes the Millers had owed). All told, approximately 30 original Stutz motorcars, a Stanley Steamer, a 1926 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, several Franklins and assorted Volkswagens were discovered throughout the property. The main barn and the various sheds and shacks Miller had constructed over the years hid a fortune in antique vehicles and a huge number of spare parts Miller had purchased from the Stutz company when it went out of business.

A wood pile hid $1 million in gold bullion while $900,000 in stock certificates and $75,000 in silver bullion and coins were also uncovered in various safes and crawl spaces. A huge, three-day auction was held by Christie’s Auction House to liquidate the Miller estate, including the cache of antique and other automobiles, and a cache of other collected items. Today, the A.K. Miller collection is recognized as one of the largest and most well-known collections of Stutz motorcars.

Since the 1923 Stutz touring’s purchase from the A.K. Miller estate, it has changed little. Its buyer had just started work on the car, having the wheels repainted, before passing on. His heirs contacted Significant Cars, which jumped at the chance to acquire the car.

Landing a significant car
Significant Cars owner Shawn Miller has a particular interest in Indianapolis-built cars and has several in his collection. Miller is also a champion of original cars.

“Indianapolis produced some very exciting cars during the brass and Classic era, and having grown up here, it’s only natural to want to investigate that and try to preserve that history. I enjoy preserving things, or fixing them up; it’s a hobby of mine. I like to find things that have been neglected and breath new life into them,” says Miller, who has restored several Victorian buildings in downtown Indianapolis, including an 1880s Veneer Mill that serves as his garage, and more than his fair share of old cars.

“It’s refreshing to find a car like this that has so much of its original features intact. Normally, we have to completely disassemble cars of this vintage and start over. “Our approach to this project will be more towards preservation than restoration — it’s rare to get that opportunity with a car this old.”

All of the mechanical components such as engine, gearbox, brakes, wiring, etc., will be rebuilt or recommissioned, but great care will be taken to preserve the original finish of all of these items. While the upholstery and top are quite stiff and brittle, Miller says, “we have started the soaking process where we apply various emoluments or salves to the leather and other soft material — I think I can save it, although the top may be another story, since it has been in the folded position so long.” Penetrating oil has been liberally applied to all nuts and fasteners that will be removed, so that the originals can be saved and reused if possible.

“We are very excited to get this lovely original car back to its home,” Miller said. “This car represents an important part of Indianapolis automotive history that can now be preserved and enjoyed by future generations. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank A.K. Miller and the previous owner for keeping the car in such good condition, and of course for passing it on to me.”

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