Earl “Madman” Muntz is the type of all-American character that we would have to create had he not already existed. In a career that lasted more than six decades, Madman Muntz made and lost many fortunes, in a bewildering variety of businesses. A few highlights of Muntz’s entrepreneurial endeavors include numerous used car operations, both in his hometown of Elgin, Illinois, and in the Los Angles area; new car Chrysler-Plymouth and later Kaiser-Frasier dealer; television manufacturer, air conditioning manufacturer; all-aluminum house builder; motorcycle and motor home rentals; motorhome builder (“Muntz’s Mobile Mansions”); 4-track, (“Stereo Pac”) 8-track and cassette player builder and distributor; satellite dish manufacturer and distributor; wide-screen television builder; videocassette machine distributor and early cell phone promoter. Plus automobile manufacturer.
Earl W. Muntz was born in 1915 and died in 1987. He was married seven times, had a daughter named Tee-Vee (she preferred “Tina”) and lived in a house above the West Hollywood hills in which everything, including the pool table, was painted or upholstered in white. At one time he dated comedian/actress Phyllis Diller. In the early 1950s, Muntz developed a television set that retailed for a then unbelievably-low $99.95, when competitor’s sets cost three and four times as much. His tuners contained just 2 IF stages when 3 or 4 were considered necessary by other TV manufactures. Old time electrical engineers still refer to cheapening out a product as “Muntzing” it. By 1953, Muntz television sets were the fourth largest seller in the US, and sales reached a reported $55 million dollars. It was against this backdrop that Earl Muntz decided to become an automobile manufacturer.
Frank Kurtis was a well-known builder of Indianapolis and Championship style race cars as well as “Specials,” which were built on a limited basis. Muntz bought a Buick-powered special from Kurtis, and consequently became intrigued by an ongoing Kurtis project for creating a more mass-production oriented car with flathead Ford V8 power and an aluminum body. Muntz bought the rights and tooling (reportedly for $200,000) for the Kurtis car after just 38 were completed. Thus the Muntz Road Jet was born. Muntz added 13 inches to the frame of the Kurtis, taking the 100-inch wheelbase to 113 inches. The flathead gave way to a Cadillac 331-cubic-inch V8 with 160 brake horsepower. A back seat was added and the production at the former Kurtis plant in Glendale, California, was underway.
Major changes were not far behind, as the Muntz factory was quickly moved to a plant in Evanston, Illinois, after a reported 28 cars were built. The Jet was stretched an additional 3 inches, the aluminum body gave way to steel, and the Cadillac powerplant was changed to a Lincoln flathead V8 modified with solid lifters. Muntz had taken a real, live American sports car and turned it into an odd-looking boulivardier. Think steel-bodied Cobra with room for the kids in the back seat and a hopelessly out-of-date motor.
All Muntz Jets were built with a removable “Carson” top; no soft top was offered. The Jet came with factory-installed seat belts and a padded dash. Instrumentation included a fuel pressure and vacuum pressure gauge, as well as a tach and speedometer. A GM Hydra-Matic transmission was standard; a manual Borg Warner unit with overdrive was an option. The very last Muntz Jets had Fiberglass fenders for weight savings and a Lincoln overhead valve V8. Muntz claimed that he lost $1,000 on every Jet he built. Production ended in 1954 after less than 400 units (estimates are in the 300 to 394 range) were built.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1952 Muntz Road Jet
Years Produced:1950-54
Number Produced:approx. 350
Original List Price:$4,936
SCM Valuation:N/A
Tune Up Cost:$150
Distributor Caps:$20
Chassis Number Location:Right front frame member; under right front door jamb
Engine Number Location:Right side of crankcase, above water pump (Cadillac engine)
Club Info:Muntz-Kurtis Car Club, Box 12, 1719 Grove St., Glenview, IL
Alternatives:Chrysler Dual Ghia, Ford Thunderbird

Three Muntz Jets have been reported sold at auction so far this year. The first was sold at Barrett-Jackson’s January event for $74,520, and the second sold at the Kruse/eBay Spring Auburn sale for a reported $41,000. The car pictured here sold for $52,000 at the Barrett-Jackson Peterson Museum sale. The first car was a near-#1 ca while the latter two were in condition #2-. Many Muntz Jets are non-restored cars in #5 or #6 condition, and can be found for as little as $4,000 or $5,000. At $40,000 to $50,000, Jets are selling for about the cost of a full restoration. If the values of decent cars stay strong, expect to see more garage finds being restored. That’s the way the market works.
The Muntz Road Jet is just a whimsical footnote in automobile history. Orphan cars and limited production cars are always a roll of the dice when it comes to value and continuing collector interest. For many of a certain age, Earl “Madman” Muntz represents a more innocent time and place, and a part of a lost past, whether real or imagined. For the new owner of this car, an SCM subscriber and concours organizer, a trip down his personal memory lane behind the wheel of his Muntz is now his for less than the price of a Lincoln Navigator. In our opinion, that’s a fair price to pay to make a fantasy come to life.—Dave Kinney

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