From age 14, Frank Kurtis immersed himself in the thriving California car culture. His long and storied career began with an apprenticeship at Don Lee Coachbuilders in Los Angeles. There, he developed his talent for fabrication and car building and began working on the side for private individuals and racers. After setting out on his own, he built a successful business fabricating Midgets, Sprints, and Indy race cars. His Kurtis-Kraft cars became the pick of the field from local dirt bullrings to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and between racing car orders, he often created Hollywood movie cars and one-off specials. In 1948, a special commission for a one-off roadster based on a wrecked ’41 Buick inspired Kurtis to design a production sports car. Frank designed the body and chassis and made a deal with Studebaker to supply suspension components and their upcoming OHV V8 engine. The plan called for a reworked Champion frame, with Kurtis handling design and construction and Studebaker handling sales through their vast dealer network. Unfortunately, production delays with the Studebaker V8 killed the deal, and Kurtis turned to Ford to supply flathead V8 engines. The slick and stylish body had elements of Kurtis’ one-off 41 Buick special and was constructed from fiberglass, steel, and aluminum. It was a handsome and capable car, but Frank Kurtis soon lost interest in the project, and he sold the rights to the design after only 15 Kurtis Sports were built.
The man who bought the design was Earl “Madman” Muntz of Southern California. The original showman of the used car business, Muntz pioneered outlandish television ads and fostered his “Madman” persona through a series of zany TV spots and catchy advertising slogans. The Madman schtick was a good act, and his dealerships grew into tourist attractions! Goofball persona aside, Muntz was an astute businessman and talented engineer who later found considerable success designing and selling consumer car stereos and televisions. Muntz was known to do just about anything for self-promotion, so a flamboyant sports car with his name on the trunk was just the ticket to drive even more traffic into his showrooms.
To create the Muntz Jet from the Kurtis Sports, Frank Kurtis stretched the chassis by 13 inches to accommodate a pair of rear seats. Cadillac’s new 331 cubic-inch OHV V8 powered most of the cars, though a few had Lincoln flathead or overhead valve V8s. Softer and more luxurious than the Kurtis Sports, the Muntz Jet boasted semi-unitary construction, removable hardtop, bucket seats with console storage, a padded dash, and an available liquor cabinet and ice chest in the rear. It was one of the quickest American cars of its day and a fascinating precursor to the Thunderbird and Corvette. Unfortunately, the list price of $5,500 in 1952 was enough to dampen enthusiasm, and Muntz ceased production after just 198 Jets rolled off the line. In one last bit of drama, Mutz claimed he lost as much as $1,000 per unit over a run of 394 vehicles, though marque historians estimate the production total closer to be just shy of 200.
This 1952 Muntz Jet is one of 198 built and is offered after nearly 40 years in the hands of one enthusiastic owner. It is one of a handful of survivors powered by the big Ford/Lincoln 337 cubic-inch flathead V8. Finished in sky blue over a dark blue interior, this complete and highly original Muntz is an unrestored, running, driving example suitable for restoration or refurbishing and enjoying as-is. The paintwork is consistent but fair and displays a heavy patina, with a few areas of minor corrosion noted in the lower extremities of the body. The chrome is serviceable for a driver-quality refurbishment, and it is also well-suited to a straightforward restoration. This car’s interior presents in good overall condition, with tidy dark blue upholstery dark blue carpets. The padded dash and pleated door cards are likewise in good order and perfectly presentable as-is. Some details display a heavier patina, including the instrument panel with its array of period-correct Stewart Warner dials, as well as the unique console-mounted radio. There’s some pitting of the original three-spoke steering wheel, which still wears the distinctive caricature of Madman Muntz at the center.
A 337 cubic-inch Lincoln flathead V8 sits under the hood. Officially rated for 152 horsepower, the flathead makes an impressive 265 ft-lbs of torque at just 2000 rpm. Paired with a Hydramatic transmission, it has plenty of grunt to waft the Muntz Jet along with ease. The engine bay is orderly and complete, and it runs and drives respectably well. Overall, this Jet is an ideal starting point for a straightforward refurbishment, a more extensive restoration, or to build into a distinctive and delightfully off-piste car of your dreams for tours and driving events.
Offers welcome and trades considered