Offering very respectable performance, handsome looks, and heaps of elegance, it’s not surprising that the marque Muntz is today regarded as a true collector’s dream classic. Very low production numbers further add to drive up auction prices, and especially in the USA they’ve become very coveted indeed.
Earl Munt first made his mark as one of the pioneers within auto radios during the infant years of this new technology which is of course now taken for granted in any car. Furthermore, his face was recognised in California as he played the role of a somewhat deranged salesman in hundreds of humorous TV-adverts just after the second World War. But Muntz had much bigger ambitions: He dreamt of launching a car under his own name!
After having found huge success selling both cars and TVs during an era where every middleclass family needed at least one of each, Earl Muntz was presented with an offer which he found awfully tempting. The offer came from businessman and car manufacturer Frank Kurtis. His merits are certainly worthy of an article of its own, but we will have to come back to that on another occasion…
In 1950, with an initial capital of 200,000 US dollars from Muntz, Kurtis attempted kick-starting production of a smart, open sportscar which he had designed himself. With only two seats it followed the very latest trend, and under the bonnet Kurtis had installed a Ford V8 flathead. The trusty V8 was fed through an Edelbrock manifold and twin carburettors lending the sportscar a decent lick of speed.
Muntz – who was commonly known as “Madman” Muntz – was by now quite a celebrity around Glendale, California, thanks to the constant exposure through the TV-adverts. One source claims that it was as much as 170 showings every day! No wonder then that people would recognise Muntz on the street. Such exaggerated exposure would most likely only annoy consumers today. But it seemed to work back then, as in 1947, his adverts were credited with the sale of 22,000 new Kaiser-Frazer-cars. Such a vast number made up one in seven of all the cars the company produced that year. That’s some pretty convincing statistics. No wonder there were people who believed Muntz could do the same – or perhaps even better – if the car carried his own name. So the deal was done with Kurtis and in 1950 the Muntz Car Company was established.
Muntz made a few adjustments to Kurtis’ car, whereby it grew to a four-seater and was now powered by a more powerful Cadillac engine – naturally still a V8. The impressive car was dubbed the Muntz Jet. Surprisingly however, Muntz decided not to advertise his new car on TV. Instead he opted for a much more discreet marketing, where he slowly wanted to secure free advertising in magasines for sportscars and popular technology. He achieved this with several cover page issues, and thus far the plan seemed to be working.
To start off with, Muntz’ cars were built in Kurtis’ little factory. The bodies were constructed from aluminium, which also back then was hardly the cheapest option. Every car was largely hand-assembled with the detachable top being made from fibreglass. With a base price of US$ 4,500, the Muntz Jet was hardly targeting the average car owner. Instead, it was marketed to appeal to those who enjoyed being noticed – the rich and famous, and particularly the biggest Hollywood stars of the time.
The Muntz Jet was available in a wide array of special colours which could accommodate even the most discerning customer. One was delivered in a yellow-greenish colour with mahogany wood decorating the rear, mimicking the style of the most exclusive luxury yachts. The colours were given poetic names such as “Mars Red”, “Lime Mist” and “Stratosphere Blue”. Also the list of standard equipment was rather impressive including seatbelts, padded dashboard and even a cooler for your ice cubes. Each customer could equally put their own touch on the interior through a combination of hides from alligators, ostrich, leopards and snakes. They could even spec their new Muntz with a radiotelephone and – naturally – with a cocktail bar, which could be integrated into the armrest for the rear seat.
In 1953, Earl Muntz moved the whole production of the Muntz Jet to Evanston in Illinois, which was where he originated from himself. In conjunction with the move, the base price of the car was increased by all of US$ 1,000 per car. Muntz maintained that 394 Muntz Jets were manufactured during the company’s short lifespan. Yet, various historians estimate that the real number was probably closer to a mere 198 cars, and not least that Muntz most likely lost money on every car he sold. What is undeniable is that by 1954 the Muntz Car Company entered bankruptcy. But before the adventure ended, Muntz had achieved being praised highly for producing a serious, well-built, and very fast car. The Muntz Jet was claimed to accelerate from 0 – 80 km/h in only six seconds – and that with a power sapping automatic transmission – while it would continue all the way to 200 km/h which was certainly faster than most at the time.
The Muntz Jet might not have shone for long, but for a short little glimpse of automotive history it was indeed one of the brightest stars of them all…