What is the coolest American sports car built before WWII? Two names immediately spring to mind when considering the golden age of motoring: the Stutz Bearcat, king of the brass era, and the Duesenberg SJ, the ultimate car of the Coachbuilding era.
1912 Stutz Bearcat
Some of the pop culture references that have given the Bearcat its due attention would be: In “The Simpsons,” it’s Mr. Burns’ preferred getaway car, and it got a shout out in The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” A race car made for the streets, fenders and lights were added just to make it road legal. Originally equipped with a Wisconsin race engine, it eventually received a Stutz-designed motor with four valve heads good for 80 hp, which is four times the power of a Model T. Buyers had the option of a “monocle” windshield that barely blocked the wind from the driver. Nothing made since the birth of the Bearcat can match up such high performance with such class.
It may not have won the Indianapolis 500, but don’t let that little bit of knowledge deter you from falling in love with the Bearcat. Although it didn’t win any big name races, Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker set cross country records in it twice. The company gave him one for free after he broke a record, driving the Bearcat from L.A. to New York in 11 days in 1915, and just 7-and-a-half days the following year, inspiring the modern Cannonball Run.
1932 Duesenberg SJ
We get the phrase “it’s a doozy” from Duesenberg, but even the Model J looks pedestrian compared to the SJ. The “S” stands for “supercharged,” bringing output for the 7.0l straight eight up to 320 hp, five times the power of the new Ford flathead V8. Just 36 chassis were built, allowing buyers to add whatever custom body they wanted from limousines to boattail speedsters.
Ab Jenkins’ “Mormon Meteor” was one of these cars. Essentially a near-stock SJ fitted with a streamlined body, the car set speed records at the 10 mile, 100 mile, three hour, six hour, 12 hour and 24 hour levels. It handily beat the purpose-built cars fitted with giant aircraft engines. These achievements cemented Jenkins’ efforts to make the Bonneville Salt Flats the place the world went to set speed records while proving that the SJ was the fastest car on or off the track.
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