September 7 and 8, 1996
AK Miller's Front Yard
Consider the strange
story of Alex and Imogene Miller of East Orange, VT.
They eked out an existence on a small farm. Alex would scrounge rusty nails from burnt buildings
to repair his roof. He drove a ratty VW Beetle, and when it died, he found another
even more ratty, and another...the rusting carcasses littered his yard.
Alex died in 1993, and Imogene died in 1996. The local church took up a collection so they could
be buried in the churchyard, and the state began the process of taking the farm for taxes.
That would have been the end of a sad story, except.....
Forget the VW: a '28 Franklin ($4500US) and a '23 HCS($14,500US)lurk inside
While preparing the
estate for auction, the sheriff discovered a cache of
bearer bonds taped to the back of a mirror. That triggered a
comprehensive search of the house and outbuildings. The estate auction
would eventually be handled by Christies, and it would bring out collectors
from all over the world.
1913 Stutz Bearcat went for just $105,000US. Must have been the bad tire.
It seems that Alex
Miller was a Rutgers grad, son of a wealthy financier.
He lived in Montclair, NJ, where he founded Miller's Flying Service in
1930. He operated a gyrocopter (look it up, it's too much of a digression)
for mail and delivery service through the 30's. But the Millers had a
secret, and they moved from Montclair when they needed room for it.
Step behind the wheel of a 1916 Stutz Bearcat. ($155,000 US)
Choosing to live low
profile, and paranoid about tax collectors, Miller
moved to the farm in VT, and took his collections with him. Most of his
cash had been exchanged for gold and silver bars and coins, which he buried
in various locations around the farm. He carefully disassembled his
gyrocopter, and stored it in an old one-room schoolhouse on his property.
he then built a couple of dozen sheds and barns out of scrap lumber and
recycled nails. In the sheds he put his collection.
Have to remember to clean that '20 Bearcat out of the shed. ($50,000 US)
Alex Miller had an
obsession with cars. Not just any cars, but Stutz cars.
Blackhawks, Bearcats, Superbearcats, DV16's and 32's. He had been buying
them since the 1920's. When Stutz went out of business, he bought a huge
pile of spare parts, which was also carefully stored away in his sheds.
A Springfield Rolls Picadilly Roadster ($115,000US). Made in Massachusetts.
Sometimes, he would
stray, and buy other "special cars", including
Locomobiles, a Stanley, and a Springfield Rolls Royce. He never drove them.
He'd simply move them into his storage sheds in the middle of the night,
each car wrapped in burlap to protect it from any prying eyes. Over the
years, the farm appeared to grow more and more forlorn, even as the
collection was growing.
A snappy car: 1921 Stutz Bearcat. ($58,000 US)
Occasionally he would
sell some parts to raise cash. Rather than dipping
into his cache, he would labor for hours making copies of the original
parts by hand.
Stutz factory spares. Cylinders and pistons from a brass era Stutz in forground.
Collectors knew him
as a sharp trader, who had good
merchandise but was prone to cheating. His neighbors had no clue at all,
they thought Alex and Imogene were paupers, and often helped out with charity.
Wheelbarrow blocks a '28 Stutz Blackhawk Boattail Speedster ($78,000 US)
The auction was a three
day circus, billed as the "Opening of King Stutz
Tomb". It attracted celebrity collectors, as well as
thousands of curiosity seekers. The proceeds were in the millions, some
items went for far more than their value in the frenzy.
In the end, the IRS took a hefty chunk of the cash for back taxes, which proves the old adage about the only two sure things in life...
A vanilla '31 SV16 Stutz Sedan ($10,000)
Bargain of the show: a '29 Stutz Blackhawk sedan for $7000 US
A beautiful Stutz DV32 Sedan ($27,500)
Anyone need a new Stutz engine? Still factory fresh.
A'23 HCS ($12,000 US) lurks in the darkness of the barn
A Lebaron dual-cowl Stutz from 1929 ($68,000US)
A '27 Stutz AA Sedan for $6500US
1925 Stutz Speedway Six ($9000 US)
T-Head engine in a '21 Bearcat
Build a '22 Stutz toruing car from this pile of parts for just $10,000US
Copyright © Michael Frank 1996, 2003