TRAVERSE CITY — All shook up. That’s the sensation that struck Bob Guenther after he got a look at a ramshackle 1973 Stutz Blackhawk III at the Elvis Presley Car Museum.
“After he passed, the car hadn’t been driven since 1977,” said Guenther, of Traverse City. “All the rubber, all the gaskets, the tires, all that deteriorates.”
It didn’t seem right that the King of Rock and Roll’s favorite car should molder in a Memphis, Tenn., museum, so Guenther partnered with vintage car experts Bob DeKorne of Glen Arbor and Walt Hollifield of North Carolina to preserve the vehicle. They unveiled it at the Charlotte Motor Speedway AutoFair that opened April 3 and runs through today.
Traverse City-based Big Jon Sports and Skilled Manufacturing both donated to the top-secret preservation mission dubbed Operation Promised Land after a 1975 Elvis album.
The 1973 Stutz Blackhawk was Elvis’s third Blackhawk. He wouldn’t let anyone else drive the car, and put more than 8,400 miles on it in three years. It was the last car he was seen driving before he died on Aug. 16, 1977.
Guenther, DeKorne and Hollifield spent 12 weeks buffing paint, replacing worn parts and making sure the updates fit the Stutz Blackhawk’s original build. They even preserved the dirt caked to the exterior with a special sealer, since it was collected by Presley himself.
“We preserved all of its DNA; we didn’t even do anything inside the car because he’s the last person to have touched the inside of the car,” Hollifield said.
Guenther said the Stutz Blackhawk is just the first of many Elvis car restoration projects. The next one is slated to be unveiled next spring, maybe in Michigan.
“We’re going to continue on with the Elvis automobile collection,” Hollifield said. “A lot of people know about Elvis, but many of the fans don’t know he was a great collector of cars or motorcycles — everything that had an engine on it.”