Stutz Blackhawk: See the Ridiculously Luxurious 1970s Car Owned by Elvis Presley, Lucille Ball, Johnny Cash, and More

by Taylor Cunningham

Back in Hollywood of eras past, there was one status symbol that all major celebrities—like Elvis—had to own if they were to be taken seriously by the in-crowd—a Stutz Blackhawk.

The vehicle was the ultimate in class and luxury in the entertainment industry during the 1970s and 1980s. Elvis held his rank as The King by owning the most Blackhawks out of all the elites. During his life, he collected four.

Aside from Elvis, Dean Martin had 3. Sammy Davis Jr. had 2. And Lucille Ball, Paul McCartney, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Al Pacino, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Evel Knievel, Liberace, Wilson Pickett, Debbie Reynolds, and several other people of great stardom all had one.

And the car has an interesting and sorted history behind it.

The Famed Car Company Fell to a Stock Market Scheme—Twice

The Indianapolis-based Stutz Motor Company originally came into being in 1911. And it ran out of the Indiana capital city until 1935. Even then, all of its creations were only geared toward the wealthiest class.

But unfortunately, the company’s owner, Allan Aloysius Ryan, made a risky call when he allowed his friends to take part in a stock manipulation scheme in 1920. Two years later, the illegal hijinks caused the Stutz Motor Company to go bankrupt. And subsequently, the New York Stock Exchange removed it from its listings.

Following the scandal, Allan’s father disinherited him. And Charles Schwab and Eugene Van Rensselaer Thayer, Jr., the president of Chase National Bank, took ownership. They then hired Frederick Ewan Moskowics, who had worked for Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, to reinvent their brand with a new and more luxurious model.

Moskowics got right to work. But as luck would have it, Stutz Motor Company fell to a stock market manipulation once again in 1935. The company filed for another bankruptcy in 1937 and the federal courts ordered that the owners liquidate all of their assets by April 1939. It took nearly three decades for Stutz to make a third return.

In 1968, James O’Donnell, a New York banker, tried—very successfully—to make the Stutz relevant again. To do that, he partnered with Chrysler designer Virgil Exner. And together, they created the Stutz Blackhawk.

Stutz produced the Blackhawk until 1987. And during that time, they only sold 600 of the highly sought models.

Elvis Presley’s Car of Choice May Have Invented the Word Bougie

Each car was custom designed and hand-built in Italy and took around 1,500 man-hours to assemble. The interior came standard with 24-carat gold plated trim and either burled walnut or bird’s eye maple and redwood paneling.

Inside, Elvis and his equals enjoyed mink carpeting and headlining and Connolly leather seats and dash. The original owner’s name was also forever immortalized by a gold plaque on the dash. And, each Blackhawk included a liquor cabinet in the backseat.

To add to the luxury, the cars came complete with features that are common today but unheard of in the day like air conditioning, an electric sunroof, cruise control, a burglar alarm, and a top-of-the-line Lear Jet AM/FM eight-track quadraphonic sound system.

In 1971, the Hollywood stars were forking over $22,500, which would equal $145,000 in 2020, And a decade later, they were going for $84,500, or $240,000 in 2020.