Lifestyle

1932 Stutz SV-16 Derham Convertible


Harry C. Stutz was born in Ohio in 1876 where he grew up caring for and repairing agricultural machinery on the family farm. Fascinated by gasoline engines, he built his first car in 1897 followed by a second effort using an engine of his own design and manufacture.

By 1925 the Stutz Motor Car Company was under the stewardship of Frederick Moskovics, who had left Franklin to become Stutz's new president. Moskovics was responsible for the new Vertical Eight engine in a car that created a sensation among dealers and the public. With eight cylinders and an overhead camshaft, hydrostatic brakes and windshield safety glass, the new model was unlike any other American car of the time. The chassis was just as radical and the cars were noticeably lower than the competition, making them an immediate hit. The SV-16 engine was eventually superceded by the DV-32 with its dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Whatever engine was chosen, a Stutz was elegant, exclusive and less overpowering than the opulence of some other marques.

The Derham Body Co. was established in 1887 in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, initially catering to the horse-drawn carriage trade. In 1905 Derham turned to motor car coachwork and became particularly well known for catering to the requirements of their wealthy Philadelphia-area clientele. One of their trademarks seems to have been fitting low and raked windshields to their designs, thus giving their cars a truly sporting appearance.

The prefix MB on the chassis number of this car would denote that it is an M model with long wheelbase of 145 inches. The engine number followed by HC refers to it being a high-compression motor. Information from respected Stutz owners in the US suggests that a Mr. Kingsleigh in Pennsylvania owned it in the 1960s. Apparently he used the car regularly and was active in club events. Further research indicates that only a handful-possibly five-of these cars were built with this style body, thereby making them exceedingly rare. This car was displayed at the Hershey meet in the US a number of years ago and joined the present collection in 1990.

This Stutz is now in need of some restoration work to bring it up to par, although the body remains sound with good panel fit. The eye-catching paint scheme has flattened over time, although it would no doubt respond to a good polish, and there are various paint chips. The chromework has pitted with age. We are told the rear brakes are seized due to protracted storage and thus the car has not been run recently. Power steering was fitted at some stage to assist driving.

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $86,891, including buyer's premium, at Christie's R?tromobile sale, held February 12, 2002.

This Stutz was part of a Swiss collection being sold at no reserve during Christie's first vintage car sale in France. The presale estimate was $120,000 to $160,000. When the hammer dropped it had sold for an actual $74,375 plus premium. A good deal? It depends. The Stutz name is well respected overseas, thanks mainly to its very European mechanical specs. Aside from Duesenberg, it was the only US marque of the time to offer camshafts in the attic when other American cars kept them hidden in the cellar along with their reliable but unexciting L-head designs. In addition, Stutzs are undeniably good-looking cars and are scarce on either side of the big pond.

This particular car uses the SV-16 engine, so-called because it has two valves each for its eight cylinders. It's a fine powerplant that was the basis for the sensational Stutz effort at Le Mans. It also set numerous top speed and racing records in the US in the late 1920s. Today, however, the SV-16 is somewhat overshadowed by the more exotic DV-32 in terms of performance and collector desirability.

The frozen brakes and the car's non-running status are also definite minuses, although both these problems can be overcome with time, skill and money. The same is true for the paint, which was a shade of orangish red lipstick that clashed badly with the car's maroon leather upholstery. This, of course, can be corrected with a new paint scheme but, again, it's more time and money. Ditto for the rechroming needed.

Some of the deterioration on this and other cars in the Swiss collection could have been easily prevented with some simple maintenance while the cars were in storage. And with the deterioration came a commensurate drop in collector market value, as reflected in the selling price of the Stutz. Rarely do improperly stored cars yield good surprises when they are brought back to life, so it appears that the bidders viewed the immediately apparent issues as just the tip of a mechanical iceberg.

Ordinarily, we'd expect a no-problems, sporty Stutz of this caliber to be on the cozy side of $100,000 at auction. The successful buyer and the underbidders factored all this in and the car was bought leaving a good margin for the necessary investment in its revival. Hence, this should be considered a deal that was fair to all involved.

There's a moral to this story that applies to all collectors everywhere: take good care of your cars or they'll unrestore themselves when you're not watching, and their values will suffer accordingly.-Dave Brownell

Chassis #: MB-PC-1001

Engine #: 32707 HC

Years Produced: 1931-35

Number Produced: Approx. 100

Original List Price: $3,595

Tune-up Cost: $500

Distributor Caps: $25

Chassis # Location: Plate on firewall

Engine # Location: Right side of cylinder head

Club Info: The Stutz Club, 7400 Lantern Rd, Indianapolis, IN 46256 (812) 988-9325

Alternatives: 1932 Packard 904 coupe roadster, 1932 LaSalle convertible


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