This 1971 Stutz Blackhawk was bought new by Elvis Presley after his first Blackhawk, a car he bought on sight even though it was a prototype, was crashed by his chauffeur and deemed a write off.
The Blackhawks that Elvis owned became icons in their own right, it’s believed that he had four in total, all in the 1970s, and as mentioned above one of them was wrecked, though it was rebuilt years later.
Fast Facts – The Elvis’ 1971 Stutz Blackhawk
- This was actually the second Stutz Blackhawk bought by Elvis, the first one he had bought was the second prototype ever made, and it was crashed shortly thereafter.
- The unusual looks of the car were penned by retired Chrysler stylist Virgil Exner who had been hired for the job by New York banker James O’Donnell who has resurrected the Stutz Motor Company in 1968.
- Stutz Blackhawks were among the most expensive cars on sale in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, selling for the modern equivalent of $150,000 to well over $250,000 USD.
- This car was owned by Elvis for a number of years before he gifted it to one of his personal physicians, Dr Elias Ghanem, who helped him with detoxing, losing weight, and got him through a nasty bout of pneumonia.
The Stutz Blackhawk
The original Stutz Black Hawk was called “Stutz Black Hawk Special,” it was a streamliner land speed record breaking car built in the late 1920s and powered by twin supercharged 91 cubic inch (1.49 liter) engines.
When wealthy New York banker James O’Donnell was seeking to bring back the Stutz Motor Company in the 1960s he chose the name “Blackhawk” for the first production model, with the two words joined in order to differentiate it from the earlier land speed car.
O’Donnell hired retired Chrysler stylist Virgil Exner to design the car, it was based on the Pontiac Grand Prix and powered by a 7.5 liter (455 cubic inch) V8 engine, mated to a GM TH400 3-speed automatic transmission.
The original bodies were removed from the platform and a new body was built by the skilled artisans at Carrozzeria Padane in Italy from heavy gauge steel, then after 1972 the cars were built by Carrozzeria Saturn, also in Italy. The fact that the cars had to be shipped from the North America to Italy, built using 1,500 skilled labor hours per vehicle, and then shipped back to the USA contributed to their eye-watering price.
Each Blackhawk was given not just an all-new body but also an all-new interior. Gold-plating was everywhere, the carpets were made from imported Australian lambswool, leather upholstery and wood panelling covered most surfaces.
Despite the weight of the first generation Blackhawks they still had relatively good performance by the standards of the time, with its 425 hp engine producing 420 lb ft of torque it could manage the 0 – 60 mph sprint in 8.4 seconds and achieve a top speed of 130 mph (210 km/h). Mileage was said to be just 9 mpg.
A slew of celebrities would own Blackhawks including Elvis Presley of course, who owned four. Other notable owners included Frank Sinatra, Evel Knievel, Lucille Ball, Sammy Davis Jr, Dean Martin, Wilson Pickett, Johnny Cash, Liberace, Willie Nelson, Isaac Hayes, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Tom Jones, Billy Joel, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Al Pacino, and many others.
Production of the “modern” Stutz Blackhawks ran from 1971 to 1987 over seven generations, it’s believed that between 500 and 600 were made in total. Later cars received different engine and transmission options but all of them had 18 to 22 hand-polished coats of lacquer paint, the painting process alone is said to have taken six weeks from start to finish.
The styling of the Blackhawk has always been a little controversial and there are those who don’t believe it has aged well as a neo-classic design. That said there is a dedicated owners group and they only come up for sale rarely – indicating that surviving cars are being held onto tightly.
Elvis Presley And His Stutz Blackhawks
The story of Elvis and his Blackhawks is remarkable, there can be no denying that the Stutz was his favorite car in the 1970s and it would be the last car he would ever drive – with a fan snapping a picture of him returning to Graceland in a Blackhawk on the night that he died.
The story of how Elvis got his first Blackhawk is fantastic, he ended up in a two-way battle with Frank Sinatra for the second prototype that had been built, shortly after it was imported to the USA and before it had a chance to be widely shown publicly.
The first Stutz Blackhawk dealer in the USA was Jules Meyers and he wasted no time in taking the car to Elvis’ Beverly Hills home to show it off in the hopes of getting an order for a future car. Elvis loved it and insisted on buying it immediately, Meyers initially refused explaining that he needed it for car shows to drum up orders and Elvis reportedly said:
“How do you think you will sell more cars, when you drive it, or when the people see me driving it around?”
Before Meyers could acquiesce to Elvis, Frank Sinatra threw his hat in the ring and tried to buy the car. Ultimately Meyers was stuck between the two powerful singers, but the decision was made for him when Elvis agreed to buy the car and allow it to be displayed at a car show the following week, Sinatra refused to allow it to be shown, and thus Elvis was able to buy it.
Sinatra later bought a different Blackhawk, as did his friends Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
Elvis’ first Blackhawk was not long for this world however, it was reported to have been written off in an accident while his his LA chauffeur was out getting it washed. It was put into storage and Elvis immediately ordered another from Meyers which arrived a few months later – the 1971 Stutz Blackhawk you see in this article.
He would order two more cars after this one, a 1972 and a 1973 model, he likely wanted to have one at each of his houses including Graceland of course. He would gift this car to his friend and one of his personal physicians Dr Elias Ghanem.
Ghanem had previously worked with Elvis on helping him lose weight and on detoxing from the cocktail of prescription drugs he regularly took, Elvis spend considerable time living in Ghanem’s home so he could receive care around the clock.
The car now carries a plaque (pictured above) on its dashboard that says:
“Elias Ghanem, A True Friend, Elvis Presley”
It now has just 31,856 miles on the odometer and it comes with a copy of 1971 State of California New Vehicle ID registered to Elvis Presley. It’s a very well-known car in Blackhawk circles and due to its initial ownership by Elvis it’ll doubtless appeal to a wide array of collectors.
The car is now scheduled to cross the auction block with Mecum in November in Las Vegas, if you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.
Images courtesy of Mecum
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