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.