1926 Stutz AA Speedster owned by Steven Gittelman
WHAT MAKES IT INTERESTING
When the wealthiest Americans wanted fast, durable, safe and stylish cars in the Roaring 20s, they often turned to Stutz, a marque built between 1911 and 1935. Gittelman says his one-of-a-kind Speedster was custom-built for inventor and war hero Cornelius Vanderbilt III and wife, Grace, and was designed for use at their Newport, Rhode Island summer mansion. “It had a short convertible roof so that Mrs. Vanderbilt could join Sunday parades from church,” he says. “The top only extended part way in the back seat and would fold down when they wanted a completely open-top vehicle. It also allowed Gen. Vanderbilt to stand and wave to the crowds.” This was the first year for Stutz’s “Vertical 8” engine, a 287-cubic-inch straight-eight with 92 horsepower and two spark plugs per cylinder.
HOW LONG HE’S OWNED IT
Gittelman, a biographer of Vanderbilt family members, bought the maroon and red Stutz through an online auction in 2011.
WHERE HE FOUND IT
“I have been a Vanderbilt nut for over 20 years,” he says. “I wrote the biography of William K. Vanderbilt, the fellow who lived up (at his estate) in Centerport (New York). After many years of looking (for a car), and people all over the world looking for me, a friend saw it and sent me the link. It was a Friday afternoon and I went bananas. What a dream come true. It wasn’t the best car that any Vanderbilt ever owned, and it wasn’t priced that way.”
“She hadn’t been driven for 30 or more years,” Gittelman says. “But she was a sweetheart with old lacquer paint and torn upholstery.” He and a friend managed to get the Stutz running and they’re undertaking a gradual restoration. “Little by little, we got her on the road,” he says. “She still overheats, but they all do until you dig into them. A lot of the chrome has been done. The steering wheel has been restored. The upholstery is still ripped, but c’est la vie. She will be a driver. I don’t want to rush the process.”
TIPS FOR OWNERS
“Inherit a lot of money, like a Vanderbilt,” Gittelman advises.
He declines to put a value on the Stutz. Standard 1926 Stutz AA sedans, without custom bodies or historical significance, have sold at auction in recent years for between $22,500 and $44,000.
THE BOTTOM LINE
"I bet there are few guys who can say they are the biographer of the folks who owned the car they are restoring/driving,” Gittelman says. “I waited a long time and I am going to enjoy this one. I have hundreds of photos of them (the Vanderbilts) together and a great story to write. The book will take me five years and the car will last a lifetime.”