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.
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.
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.
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.