Motor City

25 July 2015

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Lot 135

1929 Stutz Model M Four-Passenger Speedster by LeBaron

  • Chassis no. M8-43-CY17A
  • Engine no. 30360

Sold for $302,500

113 bhp, 322 cu. in. SOHC inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, solid axle front and rear suspension with semi-elliptical leaf springs, and vacuum-assisted four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 134.5 in.

  • A desirable original “dual-cowl” body style
  • Formerly of the Cunningham, Collier, and Ruger collections
  • Known ownership history since 1937
  • Well restored, with interesting internal modifications
  • A superb CARavan and touring car

As Stutz increasingly developed its single-cam inline eight-cylinder engine in the late 1920s, they also experimented with reaching back to their performance past, building bodies to suit the new engine’s heat. “Semi-custom” offerings were led by two speedster bodies from coachbuilder LeBaron, a two- and four-passenger, both with racing-style “cut-down” front doors and, on the four-passenger model, an optional second cowl and windshield for the rear-seat passengers. It was an ideal performance automobile for its time and attracted the same sort of buyers that had loved Stutz Bearcats in the teens—namely, people like Eva May Johnson.

Miss Johnson was a Mount Holyoke graduate and a California socialite, whose home on Franklin Circle in the Hollywood Hills neighbored many celebrities. She was a passionate sportswoman who golfed and owned fine cars, being a particular fan of Bentleys and a good customer of J.S. Inskip’s renowned New York dealership, which she would visit on the East Coast.

It was during one of those visits in the winter of 1949 that she met renowned American racing driver and enthusiast Briggs S. Cunningham. At the time, Miss Johnson was looking to acquire a convertible Bentley as a potential replacement for this 1929 Stutz Four-Passenger Speedster, which she had owned at least since the late 1930s. Her meeting with Mr. Cunningham was somewhat serendipitous, as, at the time, he was looking for a vintage Stutz for his collection. A fascinating correspondence ensued. Miss Johnson:

This has been my transportation car from 1937 to 1949, marvelous on the highway, but requiring simpatico for traffic competition with V-8s! Corners as well as my Bentley, and while I don’t know the proper term for it, you don’t have to wind it up to get around a corner; you just lean a bit.

In further correspondence, Miss Johnson notes her trepidation regarding selling the car; she clearly had a great passion for her Stutz and was extremely knowledgeable regarding its mechanical specifications and care. She recounted turning down one owner because he intended to hot-rod the car. For whatever reason, whether “put-offitis” on her part or a busy schedule on Mr. Cunningham’s part, the Stutz did not become part of the Cunningham Collection until 1970, two decades after his initial correspondence with Miss Johnson began. Mr. Cunningham had acquired another Stutz by that point, a DV-32 Super Bearcat—“I am not a bit impressed,” Eva May tartly noted—but apparently elected to acquire the Model M as well, whether by sentimental attachment to its owner or for its beauty, who knows.

The car was restored in a subtle combination of cream and coral and remained in the Cunningham Museum at Costa Mesa, California, until its closure in late 1986. During that time, it was featured in Automobile Quarterly, volume 20, number 3; in John Burgess’s book on the Cunningham cars, Connoisseur’s Choice, published in 1979; and in Cunningham Museum postcards.

The Stutz was sold with most of Cunningham’s other cars in December of 1986 to his fellow renowned collector Miles Collier. It was not retained as part of the Collier Collection and was eventually acquired by William Ruger Sr., the Connecticut gun maker and passionate Stutz enthusiast, and restored anew. Mr. Ruger and his son, William Jr., are both known for their efforts to restore cars beautifully as “runners” with maximum potential unlocked from their engines. Accordingly, while this Stutz has an outwardly stock appearance and sound, even under the hood, its Vertical Eight has been rebuilt by Callaway Cars with titanium connecting rods, new aluminum pistons with a 9.5:1 compression ratio, and a cylinder head reworked for improved flow. While the engine is presently normally aspirated in traditional fashion, Callaway reportedly experimented with forced induction, eventually getting some 400 brake horsepower!

Described as a delightful car to drive—and also, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite quick—this handsome Stutz has benefited from care by some of the U.S.’s great enthusiasts, not least among them a vivacious and singular lady.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

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Jake Auerbach

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more