Whatever Happened To...? The Muntz Jet

Glenn Arlt

October 08, 2013

You may know Earl Muntz as a pioneer of early car stereo technology. Or you may know him as the madcap California businessman who starred in hundreds of crazy commercials after World War II. But did you also know Madman Muntz sold a car under his own name? In the third installment of a series looking at short-lived automotive marques and models, Glenn Arlt takes a look at this eponymous classic. 

 

Earl

Would you buy a car from this guy? Read on… 

After making his fortune selling cars and televisions in an age when every middle class family had to have them, Earl “Madman” Muntz was presented with a deal he could not refuse from his occasional business partner and Indy car builder, Frank Kurtis. 

The year was 1950, and for just $200,000 Kurtis was trying to unload the production rights for a street-legal sports car he had designed — a two-seater with a 100-inch wheelbase powered by a flat-head Ford V8 with Edelbrock intake manifold and multiple carburetors. 

Madman Muntz was a local celebrity around Glendale, California, thanks to a constant barrage of commercials (as many as 170 everyday). In 1947, he sold 22,000 new Kaiser and Frazer cars, which amounted to one in seven built by the company that year. Figuring he could do equally as well if the car had his name on it, Muntz quickly signed the deal and established the Muntz Car Company in 1950. 

Muntz turned Kurtis’s car into a four-seater, installed a larger and more powerful engine—the 331cid, ohv Cadillac V-8—and renamed it the “Muntz Jet.” But instead of jumping on the television to promote his eponymous “new” car, Muntz decided to take a more discreet marketing approach by relying on free publicity garnered through car-buff magazines such as Sports Cars and Popular Science, the latter of which featured a Muntz Jet on the cover of its September 1951 issue. 

1950 Muntz Jet

That New Car Shine 

Initially built in the same small California facility used by Kurtis, the Muntz Jet was somewhat unique for the time. The bodies were aluminum, which was costly, and each car was essentially hand built with a fiberglass removable top. 

With a starting price just under $4500, the Muntz Jet was never going to be a car for the masses. Instead, the Muntz Jet was for people who wanted to be noticed. Actors Mickey Rooney and Lash La Rue, star of many a Western, were just two Hollywood stars during the early 1950s who took a shine to the style and jet-like contours the Muntz. 

Along with an array of custom colors (including at least one ordered in bright chartreuse with mahogany planks affixed to the rear deck in the style of a yacht), the Muntz Jet could be ordered in a multitude of colors, including: “Mars Red,” “Lime Mist” and “Stratosphere Blue.” Muntz included standard seat belts, padded dashboard and ice chest. Buyers had their choice of interior upholstery, including alligator, emu, leopard, or snakeskin. Wire recorders (this was before tape recorders had been invented) and radio-telephones were also available at extra cost. You could even have a cocktail bar built into the rear seat armrests. 

By 1953, Muntz had moved his production facility to Evanston, Illinois (his home state). The base price of the car also moved as well, to around $1,000 more per vehicle. While Muntz later maintained some 394 Muntz Jets were sold during the company’s short run, historians say the number was probably closer to 198 and that Madman Muntz lost money on every one. 

Muntz Jet 2

End of the Road 

The Muntz Car Company folded in 1954, but not before Muntz was lauded for producing a seriously fast performer. The Jet was capable of going from zero to 50 MPH in about six seconds — and with a Hydramatic automatic transmission. Top speed was 125 MPH, significantly faster than many cars then on the road. Muntz also offered the option of multiple carburetors and other speed equipment. 

With all that performance, good looks and panache, it’s no surprise that the Muntz Jet is considered highly collectible. Their numbers are few, which means real world auction prices are high. According to Hagerty® Valuation Tools, an online resource for determining value trends for any classic car make or model over time, the average sale value for the Jet is around $70,000 with the occasional vehicle selling for as much as $135,000.

Comments

  1. dave keilholtz Guaymas Mexico

    You didnt cover Muntz T.V. I remember the adds on late night TV.

  2. Jeff Pennington Norman, OK

    Funny you should ask. I found one on Oklahoma City Craigslist: http://tinyurl.com/kmajpbd and it appears to be a bargain... Why is he selling? Well, he has 2 of them!

  3. brakeservo Oregon

    As the 'lot boy' at the Van Nuys, California BMW/Jensen/Lotus dealership in the early 1970s I was privledged to meet 'Madman Muntz' in an alleyway right off the intersection of Van Nuys Blvd and Magnolia - by that time he was running an RV dealership and he was dropping a car off at the detail shop in the alley behind the BMW dealer. I was impressed to meet him as the first television set I'd ever seen was my grandparent's Muntz many years before in Wisconsin.

  4. Bobby McMillan Kinston N C

    I still have a Muntz television I accquired in Cleveland Ohio in 1958 not long after I was married. I had bought a new G E television and something happened to it so Itook it to a T V repair shop. After a week I still hadn't heard from the shop so I stopped by to check on it. The man said he was waiting for a part and not knowing what the repair bill would be but he had another T V he would give me in an even exchange. This is how I ended up with a Muntz. I must say it worked fine and I never had any trouble from it. It was in the early sixties when I was living in Winston-Salem N C that I bought a new Admiral entertainment system with color T V no less and the Muntz was put into garage. I now live in Kinston N C and the Muntz is in my attic. For all I know, it still works. Bob

  5. Dennis Williams Newnan, GA

    I had never heard of the Muntz Jet but was very much interested in reading about it. Too bad he had to fold so soon becasue it sounded like a great car.

  6. Don Brown United States

    Isn't Muntz still in Jail?

  7. Dennis Deeds California

    $4,500 in 1950 is equivalent to almost $44,000 in 2013, so the current $70K value is a winner for the Madman.

  8. JIM GOLDSMITH calgary b

    cool

  9. calvin hamilton Glendale, AZ

    Wish I knew then how special those cars were,my friend and I were out looking for tri-year chevys to fix up and came across a broken down garage. I inquired at the next door and the man told me he owned that property as well. He as why we wanted to know, after telling him about our part time business restoring 55-57 Chevy s he said well you wouldn't be interested in the cars out there, At the time I knew of Muntz raidos and the Madman but didn't realize he made cars as well. The man then proceeded to open the double doors of the garage to shed day light on 3 Muntz cars, buried in dust, flat tires, but complete. He said they were running when he lost interest and parked them. To this day I wished we had made him an offer. Good memories of love lost!

  10. jimmie roan san antonio tx

    being and old timer I saw a few of these around years ago, I always liked the jet, along with the other American sports cars built in limited numbers. too bad that modern technology has replaced passion in the automobile industry. I also have one of his first tape players, a four track all chrome under the dash unit, still works and I have about half dozen tapes with it.

  11. Keith Roeber Pewaukee, Wisconsin

    Is this the same guy that used to advertise Muntz TV's ? I remember those as a kid. My Dad said they were junk... My Dad would know.... we owned a Sears Silvertone at the time. The shop had it to fix longer than we had it to watch....

  12. Ed Charles New Jersey

    Nice article! The Muntz Jet is a milestone car. Both Ford with the Thunderbird and Chevy with the Corvette looked to Muntz for some ideas. He put seat belts and a padded dash and radio speakers in the kick panels of his cars. The car was fast and built for the American Luxury sports coupe market. He put Cadillac engines in them to start with then Lincoln 337 cui flatheads. Finally the Lincoln V8 became the motor of choice. In two cars he put Hemi's also.. The car used many of the shelf parts from Ford, Lincoln , chevy truck tail lights and bumper parts of a GM coach bus.Most cars had engines mated to a hydramatic automatic transmission. A few cars had a stick shift manual transmission. A handful came with hot rod carbs and aluminum heads. The chassis was constructed with Ford rails in the front and back with the middle section unibody . A unique car for the times. About 125 have been identified with about 70 in drivable condition.

  13. Gary Ellis Sacramento, CA

    Article's I have read on the Muntz Jet never mentioned the car being made in CA, I read that first production was in Evansville, Ind. then all later cars were produced in Chicago. Also the first 28 cars used a Cadillac engine and those after used a Lincoln V8 with a hydramatic trans. I think Earl Muntz was a gambler and lost big time, some $400k later...

  14. John Stauffer Lancaster Co.,PA

    I saw one at the A.A.C.A. meet in Hershey, PA, yesterday(Sat. Oct 12, 2013)) with a flat head Lincoln engine, so it is an early edition. A local collector has a yellow one.

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