In the annals of automotive history, there have been few hucksters, snake oil salesmen, and promoters as bizarre as Earl "Mad Man" Muntz. Muntz made and lost a fortune in the automobile business, first selling used cars to service men returning from WWII and later as a Kaiser-Frazer dealer in Chicago. After WWII you could sell anything with wheels, and the Mad Man did a good job of it. As Kaiser-Frazer's future dissolved, Muntz turned his attention to television and stereos, marketing the Muntz TV, an entry-level home television, and the Muntz four-track stereo, which he sold to Bill Lear. He still had his used car operation in Los Angeles and would advertise about his wares that, "I would give them away, but my wife won't let me." It wasn't enough to sell TVs and used cars; Muntz wanted to be in the manufacturing business. About this time, race car builder Frank Kurtis designed and built a two-seat sports car that featured a modern American V8. Kurtis was pressed for funds; Muntz had money and bought the design. Early cars were two-seaters, but soon after the acquisition, Muntz had the cars stretched into four-seaters, powered by a Lincoln flathead V8. The first cars were built in Glendale, California, but production later moved to Muntz's hometown of Evanston, Illinois. Muntz maintained residences in L.A. and Chicago, and through his flamboyant sales pitches, he was known far and wide. Jokes about him were heard regularly on radio programs like "The Bob Hope Show," "The Jack Benny Program," and "Amos and Andy." He was a self-made celebrity who named his daughter "TeeVee" to promote his later endeavors. Muntz employed actor Victor Mature to hawk his cars to the stars and his TVs to the workers on the movie sets. Muntz Jet serial numbers were erratic but estimates range as high as 394 cars being built. The Glendale cars featured aluminum fenders, hood, and deck lids, and flathead Lincoln V8s with Hydramatic transmissions. Later cars were all steel, and a few of the last had fiberglass fenders. Mature was good at his job, and many celebrities bought Muntz Jets. They included Ed Gardner (Archie from the radio show "Duffy's Tavern"), Mickey Rooney, Mario Lanza, Grace Kelly, Western star Lash LaRue, orchestra leader Freddie Martin, actress Gloria DeHaven (a pink one), and radio personality Alex Drier. To own a Muntz in 1950s Hollywood was a big deal. The list price was $4,500, which was big money, and for that you got a sleek sportster with either a Lincoln or a Cadillac engine. Wild interiors could be synthetic snake or iguana skin, or leather, and you could get a Carson lift-off top, Appleton spotlights, and an engine-turned instrument binnacle with Stewart Warner gauges. The choice of colors was up to the customer, but by and large, they were wild pastels-purple, blue, salmon, pink.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1953 Muntz Jet
Number Produced:394 approx
Original List Price:$4,500
Tune Up Cost:Under $100 DIY
Distributor Caps:$25 approx (Ford or Cadillac)
Chassis Number Location:On right hand front door jamb
Engine Number Location:Depends on engine fitted
Club Info:The Muntz Registry, c/o V. A. Munsen, 21303 NE 151st , Woodinville, WA 98077
Investment Grade:C

Two Muntz Jets were sold at RM’s Phoenix Auction on January 19, 2007. The stock 1953 Muntz Jet shown here netted $68,750; the customized 1952 Muntz went for $134,750.

I’ve owned Muntz s/n M243 for over seven years. It’s metallic purple with a white synthetic iguana skin interior. Mine is an Evanston car with a flathead Lincoln and is purported to be the Grace Kelly car, for whatever that is worth. It cruises pretty well in a straight line, but corners like a barge and stops about as quickly as a Forrestal-class aircraft carrier at full speed.

50 or so driveable cars left

A Muntz has a mixed personality. It can be a sports car (albeit a soft one), or a Hollywood custom-low, sleek, and a bit absurd. It is estimated that there are 50 or so driveable Muntz Jets left, and those who own them are passionate about them. Three individuals I know-Gerry Sutterfield (West Palm Beach, FL), Don Marsh (Columbus, OH), and Alex Quattlebaum (Charleston, SC)-all own multiple examples. Perhaps they know something the rest of us have missed.

The two Muntz Jets sold at RM’s Phoenix auction are really different and represent the broad price range of Muntz cars. The customized car that was built for orchestra leader Freddy Martin (5M-246) was restored to a fine level. It was shown at Amelia Island in 2006, and although the styling is a bit over the edge, the car is perfect.

The $134,750 price was really strong, but perhaps I’m a bit out of touch in this market. On the other hand, this car, built for Gloria DeHaven, was in fair condition. At $68,750, and though missing some trim pieces, it represents a good buy for a rare piece of Hollywood history.

With ’53-’55 Corvettes bringing over $100,000-and in some rare cases, over $200,000-a Muntz is a bargain, and much rarer to boot. Parts are relatively easy to find, as the running gear, suspension, and many trim pieces (door handles, windshield and quarter window frames) are all 1949 to 1951 Ford. Engines are either Lincoln (both flathead and pushrod) or Cadillac. There was at least one Chrysler Hemi-powered Muntz.

Hubcaps are Cadillac sombreros with Muntz center discs, and the bumpers were adapted from a GMC bus. On most cars, the parking and taillights are modified Chevrolet pickup. These cars are subject to rusting, and the doors have a tendency to sag, so it behooves a potential buyer to check carefully under the car at the floors and to examine the door fit. The side windows and top never did fit very well.

For not-crazy money, Muntz cars offer a chance to make an individual statement. You’re buying a near-custom creation, but with more appeal than a pure one-off. It’s powered by a bunch of Ford and NAPA parts, so keeping it running will never be an issue. Most important, every time you drive it, you remind the world of one of America’s flamboyant entrepreneurial personalities.

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