Old Car Reports’ Car of the Week is the A.K. Miller 1929 Stutz Model M Coupe.
The story of A.K. Miller is legendary, even outside of Stutz collecting. The Vermont collector was born in 1906 and developed a taste for fine cars â€” what would be considered Classic cars today â€” and began gathering them when they were used cars. Commensurate with his frugal ways, Miller stored his valuable collection in dirt-floor wood sheds and lean-toâ€™s on the primitive East Orange, Vt., farm he shared with his wife, Imogene.
Although great Peerless, Cadillac and Rolls-Royce cars passed through Millerâ€™s hands, it was Stutz he preferred. A 1917 Stutz was Millerâ€™s first car, and he occasionally drove it until he died in 1993. The other cars in Millerâ€™s 40-some-vehicle collection were often parked on makeshift â€œwood stumpâ€ jack stands and left to gather dust while surrounded by spare Stutz parts. Miller would sometimes trade these parts, but he drove a hard bargain to his financial benefit and the misfortune of his fellow trader. It was not until his wife died in 1996 that it became clear what exactly was hidden in the wilds of Vermont, and more than car collectors were interested.
The Millers had essentially lived as recluses on their simple homestead. They had no children, and they had almost no paper trail. Their collection had been known to only a few outsiders, and the handful of people allowed to visit rarely caught a glimpse of more than a car or two. Only visitors from foreign lands were typically offered more than a peek, supposedly because Miller could be assured they were not from the IRS. Indeed, Miller had lived so far off the grid he was able to avoid paying state and federal taxes. He and his wife were also hiding more than cars and income â€” they had buried or otherwise hid millions of dollars in gold bullion and silver ingots around their property.
After Imogeneâ€™s passing, the Millersâ€™ fortune captured the attention of car and tax collectors, and an auction was held by Christieâ€™s, after which the IRS was to receive its due. Police scouted the property leading up to the auction to stop the shovels and metal detectors of treasure hunters, and the curious eyes and hands of car enthusiasts. When the auction was held Sept 7-9, 1996, about 35 â€œbarn findâ€ Stutz motor cars crossed the block, most fetching far more than their pre-sale estimates in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
One of the stand-outs in that sale was a special 1929 Stutz Model M with coupe coachwork by Lancefield of London. Lancefield often bodied Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis, but it also held an association with Stutz of Indianapolis, Ind. The aluminum-sheathed Lancefield coupe body sat low on the Stutz chassis, thanks in part to a worm gear drive setup, but was made to look lower with Lancefieldâ€™s tear drop step plates and trademark low roof, cycle-type front and rear fenders and dozens of louvers that ran the length of the apron that masked the frame sides. In deep black, the masterpiece was sinister.
â€œThey only built five of these coupes,â€ said Richard Mitchell, the Lancefield-bodied Stutz coupeâ€™s present owner. â€œTwo were sold to the Woolworth Brothers and this is one of the two. Of the two cars, only this one was supercharged. There is no record of the others; this is the lone ranger.â€
1996 New York Times article