Earl “Madman” Muntz was renowned as a used-car and cheap-television pitchman, but even his salesmanship couldn’t change the fate of his Muntz Jet convertibles and roadsters. Built from 1951 until 1954, somewhere between 394 (Muntz’s own claim) and 198 (today’s generally accepted number) examples were produced, but of these, only four were true to Frank Kurtis’s original two-seat, short-wheelbase roadster design for the car. Last Friday,chassis 53M602, an award-winning 1953 roadster restored under the consignor’s stewardship, sold for a fee-inclusive $205,000 at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island sale.
The Muntz Jet may never have been had Earl Muntz not paid a 1950 visit to Frank Kurtis’s workshop to check out a custom-bodied Buick. There, he noticed an aluminum-bodied sports car that Kurtis sold as the Kurtis Sport, available to customers in kit form, or with a flathead Ford V-8, or, for additional money, with the drivetrain of the buyer’s choice. Muntz was quick to realize the potential of such a car with consumers, though his vision was heavier on luxury than Kurtis’s own. Seizing the opportunity, Muntz bought the rights to, and the tooling for, the Kurtis Sport, and began producing cars from a California workshop in 1951.
Assuming buyers wanted the practicality of a rear seat, Muntz stretched the car’s wheelbase from 110 inches to 113 inches (and later, to 116 inches), and initially cut a deal for Cadillac to supply V-8 engines for the project. In keeping with Muntz’s flashy personality, his convertibles could be ordered with a snakeskin vinyl interior, and each came fitted with a cloth-wrapped removable hardtop for all-year functionality. The downside to this design is that trips sans top had to be planned in advance; with no room to carry the top onboard, rainstorms meant seeking cover or getting wet.
The first 28 Muntz Jet convertibles were built in California, but after this initial production run, Muntz moved his operation to Illinois. The change brought with it the increase in size to a 116-inch wheelbase and the change to a Lincoln side-valve V-8, likely as a cost-cutting measure. Despite a selling price of $5,500 (more than the $4,144 charged for a Cadillac 62 convertible), Muntz reportedly lost $1,000 on every Jet sold, and by 1953 his days as an automaker were numbered.
To diversify his product offerings, Muntz turned to Frank Kurtis’s original design and began producing Muntz Jet roadsters. Like the original, these utilized a 110-inch wheelbase and provided seating for driver and passenger only, but in keeping with Muntz’s luxury aspirations, retained the Lincoln V-8 mated to an automatic transmission. Just four of these Muntz Jet roadsters were known to have been built before the Muntz Car Company ceased operation in 1954.
Chassis 53M602 has a documented 50-plus-year ownership history, and was acquired in complete but non-running condition by the consignor in 2000. An extensive restoration project ensued, during which the car’s original dark blue finish (found beneath layers of additional paint) was duplicated. The “Boa” vinyl interior, a Muntz factory option, was reportedly recreated using new old stock materials. As a concession to driveability, the restored Muntz was fitted with a more contemporary carburetor, a custom exhaust and a stouter differential; despite these deviations from stock form, the car was displayed at the 2004 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, and later took Best in Class awards at the 2005 Palm Beach Concours d’Elegance and the 2012 Keeneland Concours d’Elegance.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Kurt Ernst.
If 1949 was the year that put Buick at the forefront of elegant, modern, postwar design, then 1950 has to be the year that should have seen–if anything–mild facelifts that only improved the new look from Flint. This, in fact, happened to some degree, as is often the case when a complete redesign is a few years into the future. But of all the mechanical advancements and visual updates that appeared, it was the new face of Buick that stole the headlines. Upon introduction, the graceful waterfall grille had morphed into the bucktooth Buick overnight.
In previous incarnations, the vertical grille bars–significantly slimmer, mind–were positioned behind the upper grille bar, or mustache, and the bumper. For 1950, the grille bars, nine individual pieces, began at the upper grille bar in traditional fashion, and then were extended over and around the bumper. No longer just a static design element, the vertical bars inadvertently (perhaps?) doubled as bumper guards, which were mounted via bolts through the bumper and the bumper support bar. On paper, the combination bumper-grille was full of positives: The Buick front office claimed that, in the event of a collision or minor impact, damaged bars could be replaced individually–rather than the whole unit of previous years–thus reducing repair costs. But aside from the love-it-or-hate-it response the grille received from buyers, problems arose.
Each of the nine bars is uniquely different from one another (and as a result, all have different part numbers). Due to the contour of the bumper, bars left of the center vertical cannot be repositioned to the right, and vice versa. Additionally, each bar received a second, single digit number, and they were arranged in a descending, center-out configuration beginning with bar number seven in the center. Except that number six was skipped, zero was a factor and the end bars were numbered eight and nine (odd numbers were on the left side of the vehicle, even on the right).
Rather than being mere lightweight trim, the bars were relatively hefty and cumbersome by comparison. Furthermore, they had to be ordered on an individual basis, and they occupied more stock room shelving than the previous grille assemblies. More than anything, the design proved to be more costly than originally thought. Before model year production had ceased, and with the novelty quickly wearing off among buyers, it became apparent that reverting back to an updated recessed waterfall grille would need to be done for the 1951 models. Buick retained that grille until the 1955 model year.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Matt Litwin.