By BENJAMIN PRESTON MARCH 31, 2014
Richard Petty may be known as the King in Nascar circles, but to many other Americans that title is reserved for Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n Roll. One of Mr. Presley’s cars, the 1973 Stutz Blackhawk III he was photographed driving not long before he died, on Aug. 16, 1977, has made its way into the Nascar realm as part of a promotion for the Charlotte Motor Speedway AutoFair which was held at the track from Thursday to Sunday.
In a public unveiling after the car was mechanically refurbished, Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove the car around the Charlotte track last week. Mr. Earnhardt, wearing a pair of gold-colored Elvis glasses, baggy jeans and a red National Guard hoodie, noted that the car must have been cool in its day, but that it wasn’t really his thing.
With a custom body built in Italy on a Pontiac Grand Prix chassis, the Stutz Blackhawk III was an expensive car for its day. According to General Motors paperwork signed by Presley, he paid a $20,000 deposit on the car on Sep. 6, 1974, opting for bucket seats, a leather interior, a sunroof, wire wheel covers, 18-karat gold trim and an AM/FM tape stereo. The car was equipped with Pontiac’s anemic 230-horsepower 4-barrel carbureted V8 engine and an automatic transmission.
Upon learning that Presley’s Stutz had been farmed out for promotional duty at a Nascar track, some Elvis fans were less than pleased.
“It’s sad that Elvis Presley Enterprises took the car out of the Graceland exhibit for this event,” Robin Rosaaen, president and founder of the All The King’s Things fan club in Las Vegas, said in a email. “I remember in the early years at Graceland when this car was out back under the carport area for the fans to enjoy up close and even sit in the drivers seat.”
Disappointment over how the car was used was not limited to veteran fans.
“The car is a piece of history and should of been left alone,” Will O’Rourke, 16, founder of an Elvis Presley fan club on Facebook, said in an email. “You can’t take the Declaration of Independence and sign your name at the bottom of it, because it destroys the history behind it. I really don’t like how the car left Graceland to be driven as some kind of promotion.”
Gary Hahn, vice president of marketing and media for Elvis Presley Enterprises, said in an email that it was his belief that, other than a member of the restoration team who took the car on a brief test drive after this year’s preservation work was completed, no one had driven the car since Presley’s last drive. He said the car was not restored, but “preserved” to bring it back to operating condition while keeping its Elvis-era patina intact.
As the story goes, Presley was driving the car into Graceland after returning from a late-night dentist visit, when someone took what is now known as the last photo of him.
After the AutoFair, the Stutz will return to Graceland, where it will join more than 20 vehicles kept on display there. Mr. Hahn said that in addition to the Blackhawks, the collection of Elvis cars includes a 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood — the famous Pink Cadillac — a black 1960 Rolls-Royce Phantom, a white 1966 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud, a 1975 Ferrari Dino, a 1971 Stutz Blackhawk, a 1956 Continental Mark II, a 1969 Mercedes-Benz Pullman Limousine and a 1962 Lincoln Continental.