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.