©2020 courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
In 1949, Frank Kurtis started building an aluminum-bodied 2-seater sports car under his own name. However, by 1950 he sold the operation to Earl Muntz, who made his fortune selling used cars to returning servicemen, as well as Kaisers and Frazers along with his Muntz television sets. He was known all over Southern California for his outrageous radio and television ads that earned him the sobriquet of “Madman Muntz.” The Muntz Jet offered is thought to have been owned by Grace Kelly, although these rumors remain unsubstantiated. It features a removable Carson-type top with a white Iguana-skin-patterned interior and padded dash along with a rare Muntz tape deck. The car is finished in House of Colors purple with just a hint of metallic.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1952 Muntz Jet
Years Produced:1951–54
Number Produced:394 (others claim 198)
Original List Price:$5,500
SCM Valuation:$107,500
Tune Up Cost:$200 (estimated)
Chassis Number Location:Right front frame member
Engine Number Location:Stamping on right front engine block
Alternatives:1954 Kaiser-Darrin, 1952–53 Nash-Healey, 1954 Packard Caribbean convertible
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 235, sold for $117,600, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s Amelia Island, FL, auction, held at the Ritz-Carlton on March 7, 2010.

The story of the Muntz Jet is as much about the man as it is about the machine.

Earl Muntz was born in 1914 and was selling cars when he was in the eighth grade. He became a Chrysler-Plymouth dealer in 1936 and in 1941 opened a used-car lot in Glendale, CA. He soon became the largest used-car dealer in Southern California, partially because of his zany ads. A radio announcer referred to Muntz as “that automotive madman,” and the moniker stuck.

His billboards screamed, “I buy ’em retail and sell ’em wholesale. It’s more fun that way.” His radio ads proclaimed, “I want to give my cars away, but Mrs. Muntz won’t let me. She’s craaaazy.” Financial success followed.

Used cars, TV and the Jet

In late 1945, he became a Kaiser-Frazer dealer. As television was becoming part of the culture, he started marketing inexpensive television sets. He promoted them with sky writers and invented the term “TV,” as by the time a skywriter wrote the word “Television,” the smoke had blown away. In promoting his televisions, he admonished people to “stop staring at your radio, folks.”

In the 1940s, Muntz bought two of Frank Kurtis’ Ford-powered Kurtis sports cars. He liked them so much that he bought all the stock and tooling in the company for $200,000. He stretched the wheelbase to accommodate a back seat and renamed the car the Muntz Jet — and of course fitted a Muntz radio on the console.

They were first powered by a Cadillac V8, but due to expense and high-rpm issues, he switched to new Lincoln V8s. He loved bright, bold colors, so a lot of these cars got candy-apple and pastel hues. Muntz claimed that he had produced 394 cars when he ceased operation in 1954, but the total was more likely a couple hundred.

The Muntz Jet was sold directly to the public and was priced at a hefty $5,500. Muntz claimed he lost $1,000 on each one sold, which is very likely as hand fabrication, advertising and economies of scale were not in his favor. And besides, a 1953 Cadillac convertible was priced at about $1,400 less. Additional factors leading to its demise were the result of the automotive industry moving on and the stigma of driving a car promoted by a “carny pitchman.”

The Muntz Jet was just one of his many endeavors. In addition to new- and used-car operations and television sales, he developed and sold automotive stereos, home air conditioners, videotape recorders and television satellite dishes. He promoted these with his usual unorthodox but successful flair.

His personal life was just as bizarre, as he was married and divorced seven times.

A great example

The Muntz Jet sold by RM Sotheby’s was consigned by Amelia Island Concours founder and Chairman Bill Warner. The car is not his normal fare, and when asked, he stated, “As a youth, I’d spend many Saturday afternoons watching westerns at the local theater. One Saturday, Lash LaRue, one of our western heroes, was out front in his Muntz Jet and gave a number of us a ride around the block. I was hooked.” Bill went on to say that “Lash LaRue always wore black and carried a whip rather than a six-shooter. Think of a modern-day Barry Meguiar with a whip!”

Warner acquired his Muntz Jet about 19 years ago. He installed a fresh triple-carb engine that featured rare Edmond heads that took Bill 14 years to find. It was maintained in exceptional condition, but Warner rarely drove it. The car did, however, appear at numerous events, earning an AACA First Junior Award.

There are a handful of Muntz Jets listed in the ACC Premium Auction Database, and prices range all over the board. A needs-everything example sold at Mecum’s 2019 Monterey sale for $35,750 (ACC# 6908645), and Bonhams sold a well-restored Muntz Jet at their August 2016 sale for $165,000 (ACC# 6806635). The car offered here was well restored with bold livery, was wicked-quick, and based on prior sales, I’d call it well bought indeed.

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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