Courtesy of Bonhams

In 1950, Earl Muntz bought Indy car builder Frank Kurtis’s design and all the tooling for a 2-seat sports car and renamed it the Muntz Road Jet.

Muntz stretched the Kurtis “sports car” 13 inches to add room for a back seat. The styling was simple but streamlined. With an unerring eye for exposure, he made sure the Muntz Jets were visible, choosing bright paint hues and flashy contrasting interiors under removable Carson-style padded hard tops.

Offered here is what must be one of the best-restored Muntz Jet convertibles available anywhere. The car received a full nut-and-bolt restoration, neatly documented by an abundance of receipts that can be found in the car’s history file.

With wild fabrics and a faux-snakeskin-clad interior and hard top, this historic Americana classic was shown at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2014, and remains in beautiful condition throughout.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1952 Muntz Jet convertible
Years Produced:1951–54
Number Produced:394 (others state 198)
Original List Price:$5,500
SCM Valuation:Median to date, $68,300; high sale, $205,000
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:$25
Chassis Number Location:Plate on frame rail
Engine Number Location:Above oil filter
Club Info:Antique Automobile Club of America
Alternatives:1954 Kaiser-Darrin, 1952–53 Nash-Healey, 1954 Packard Caribbean convertible
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 76, sold for $165,000, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge sale in Carmel, CA, on August 19, 2016.

Earl Muntz was a larger-than-life character. He got his start “flipping” Model T Fords when he was in the eighth grade and later went on to own the largest used-car dealership in the Los Angeles area. His over-the-top billboard ads screamed, “I buy ’em retail and sell ’em wholesale — it’s more fun that way.” He blanketed the airways with radio ads, and one announcer, in between his numerous commercials, called Muntz “that automotive madman.” With that, “Madman” Muntz was born.

From TV sets to Jets

In late 1945, Muntz became a Kaiser-Frazer dealer. By 1947 he was reportedly grossing $72 million a year from all his automotive enterprises. It was about this time that he started marketing inexpensive television sets, and he coined the term “TV,” as his skywriting airplanes had a problem completing the words “Muntz Television” before the first few letters blew away. He sold these TVs in his usual style, with radio ads that blared “…stop staring at your radio, folks.” He even named his daughter “Tee Vee.”

He bought two of Frank Kurtis’s Ford-powered KSCs, which were open two-seater sports cars. Muntz planned to resell them, but he liked them so well that, not unlike the guy who bought the electric razor company, he bought the entire company for $200,000 cash.

Once he owned the project, Muntz stretched the cars’ wheelbase to 113 inches so he could sell them as four-place convertibles. He added a minibar with ice compartments in the rear armrests along with a Muntz radio. He also added seat belts — not as a safety concern, but rather to continue the jet aircraft “Muntz Jet” theme. The removable Carson-like top was held in place with five wing nuts and it took two men and a small boy to remove it.

Jets were first offered with unmodified 1949 Cadillac V8s, but due to cost and problems with the powerplants at high RPM, he switched to Lincoln flatheads. He also switched to an all-steel body, which was less expensive — as well as sturdier — than the aluminum Kurtis was using.

Low production

Muntz did not have a dealer network, as he sold directly to the public. The cars were priced at $5,500, yet he claimed he lost $1,000 on every car sold, which due to the labor-intensive manufacturing process was probably correct. Muntz claimed he sold 394 cars. Others, tracking the body numbers, cite 198 as more realistic.

The styling, which was modern when Muntz bought the company in 1949, was less so in 1953. Also, these cars were priced at $1,400 above a top-of-the-line Cadillac, so sales were never going to be brisk.

“Madman” Muntz’s flamboyant style created his success but also led to his demise. After all, not many people wanted a car named after someone as zany as Muntz. Even Phyllis Diller could only last a year with the seven-times married and divorced man, claiming they were too far apart in their tastes and values.

A good example

The 1952 Muntz Jet offered by Bonhams had been recently restored in an attractive and correct shade of yellow. Overall it was in very good condition.

In perusing the ACC Premium Auction Database, I found that several Muntz Jets have recently sold at auction for around $85,000 each, while a couple of others have been in the low six figures. One sale at Gooding’s Amelia Island 2016 sale, however, stands out, with a $205,000 hammer price. But that car was one of the last built and was powered by the OHV Lincoln V8. It was also one of four short-wheelbase 2-passenger convertibles produced, and as such, using it as a comp would be like comparing apples and oranges.

So, with all that, there are only two logical conclusions that we are left with from this sale: We’re looking at the start of a new upward market trend, or this Muntz Jet, regardless of how well restored it was, sold for well above the current market value. I think we have to go with the latter. Well sold.

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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