ROGERS PARK — Fritz Stotz is happiest when driving his replica 1914 Stutz Bearcat.
"This is my Stutz — S-T-U-T-Z — Bearcat," said the 77-year-old Stotz, of Rogers Park, sitting on the bumper of his beloved, yellow sports car from another era.
The original Bearcat, built by Harry Stutz in Indianapolis, sold for $2,000, when a Model T Ford sold for about $500.
"It was a rich man's play toy," Stotz said, and "by the grace of God" he was able to buy a replica for "an undisclosed amount" in 2007.
Wearing goggles and a leather helmet, Stotz often attracts gawking onlookers.
"I like your car!" said a young teen from the window of a passing SUV when out on a ride one August afternoon. A wide-smiling Stotz replied with an "ahoooga!" from the Bearcat's horn.
He says it happens all the time.
While driving through the intersection of Devon Avenue and North Broadway in Edgewater last year, two cops pulled him over for talking on his cell phone.
They were so enamored with his car — even taking photos of each other sitting behind the wheel — that they seemed to forget to ticket him, he says.
"It’s always been a love affair," daughter Sheryl Stotz said. "For the past few years he has just been so happy. He’s really enjoyed this car because it makes him smile and other people smile — He loves to show it off."
She said she grew up with three brothers — two of them are now professional motorcycle racers.
If something had a motor, she said, "we owned it."
"My father lived out in the garage when he wasn't at work," she added.
She recently visited her dad at a car show, but missed a turn while on the way and ended up driving by Stotz on his Bearcat.
"I looked at his face as he was driving that Stutz Bearcat on a beautiful day," the 56-year old said. "I have never seen him so happy. It just made me fill up with happiness and pride for him."
Rick Glickman, who hosts Monday Night Car Shows, a weekly show at the Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, said some people call it the "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" car.
"The fun [thing] is he puts on the goggles, the caps and the coats" with his girlfriend, Glickman said. "When they come to the show, they're making an appearance. They just add fun to wherever they go."
Stotz, a retired life insurance salesman, said he grew up on the Northwest Side, where he drove his first car at age 3.
His dad had a 1938 Packard, he said, and somehow he crawled into the drivers seat and hit an ignition plunger, setting the car into motion.
"Here's little Fritzy hanging onto the steering wheel and the car happened to be in gear," Stotz said. "My parents look out their window and saw this Packard moving along the curb lane at a slow rate of speed, and it should not have been moving at all!"
He was rescued from the runaway car, but didn't drive again until age 12.
Now his Stutz Bearcat replica is his car of choice.
"People say, 'How often will I drive it?'," he said. "Every chance I get."