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“Madman” Muntz’s Luxury Four-Seat Convertible

Earl “Madman” Muntz was a larger than life marketing genius who made and lost several fortunes during his business career selling used cars, televisions and car audio systems and as the automaker the ill-fated Muntz Jet automobile

The “Jet” was a stretched version of the Kurtis Sports Car, designed and produced in limited numbers by racing car builder Frank Kurtis, who sold the design, marketing rights and tooling to Muntz in 1950. Racing driver Sam Hanks was hired by the Muntz Car Company in 1950 to redesign the two-seat aluminum-bodied Sports Car into a luxurious 113-inch WB four-seat convertible. The new $5500 offering in the luxury car market was powered by either Cadillac or Lincoln OHV V-8 engines backed up by a three-speed manual transmission or a GM Hydramatic.

Initial development work and production was in Glendale, CA, but was soon was moved east to Evanston, Ill, and before it was all over the factory moved one again to Chicago. An estimated total of 180 cars were produced in four years, and Muntz lost about one-thousand dollars on each one.

Share with us what you find if interest in the photographs courtesy of the AACA Library & Research Center.

  • Fitted with the optional fiberglass hard tops.

  • Pre-production car with one set of bumper guards and small turn signals and small grilles under the bumpers. 

17 responses to ““Madman” Muntz’s Luxury Four-Seat Convertible

  1. Stylish for their day, it’s fairly obvious why only 180 were built. At that price point, one could easily have a brand new Cadillac Series 62 cvt. or hardtop with money left over. And even if sales gained; Muntz could never have kept up with demand. He simply didn’t have the capacity. Rounded surfaces gave it a smooth look, but it still had that early ‘kit car’ look.

  2. I used to think the term “madmen” came from most ad agencies at one time being located on Madison avenue in new york. But I am starting to think it came from mr. Muntz instead.

    • He called himself that…Ihe made his fortune selling inexpensive TV sets, in his ads he would wear a Napoleon hat with captions saying he “must be crazy” to sell his TVs so low.

    • Despite the claim in the opening of the TV series, the term “Mad Men” seems to have originated not in the ‘50s, but in the series writers’ minds. When queried, ad execs of that time cannot recall any use of the term and a search of print reveals only two obscure uses. The term “mad man” however has been around pretty much forever.

  3. My dad used to talk about “Madman” Muntz fairly often. However, a lot of the talk was about television and radio connections, because my dad was a color television and cable tv pioneer. In the ’50s, my dad and his best friend (my uncle) ran a television sales and repair business in San Jose California, the second such shop to open well South of the San Francisco/Oakland part of the Bay Area. He used to talk about how the Muntz tv sets were designed and built for cheap, and were among the worst tv sets sold in those days. He also said Muntz made a fortune selling them. Only to lose that fortune building the cars.
    I believe my dad may have met Madman Muntz a few times. The way he talked about him, I never could figure out whether my dad did or did not like Mr Muntz.

  4. Thank you, David, for the rear shot of this car. Although I have seen numerous shots of the front, I think this is the first really good, close-up of the back I’ve ever seen.

  5. Thanks to Florida-based collector Gerry Sutterfield, a Muntz Jet has completed the 1,000-mile Colorado Grand several times. David, thanks for all you do. The Old Motor is the highlight of my day, every day!

  6. I remember going with my grandfather to a used car lot near downtown LA. He was handling an estate which owned the lot. I kind of think it was Muntz’s lot. I’d love to know if he had one in that area.

    After I got a license, I used to drive by Kurtis’ shop in Glendale, but I was too shy to stop and go in.

  7. Not withstanding the front grill/bumper or perhaps more accurately the front bumper/grill which I think is too “heavy-handed” for the otherwise sleek little sports car, the car’s a beaut. If I had one in my garage it would be a keeper for sure.

  8. It’s said that Colin Chapman designed his cars’ frames by removing tubes one a a time until the frame collapsed and then replacing that last tube. While that story may be apocryphal, having owned and raced some of his creations, it cannot be too far from the truth. It’s also said that Muntz lowered prices by using the same method to design his TVs, replacing the last part removed. I think these days it’s called decontenting.

    He grew up here in Elgin, IL and his first business venture was a used car lot in town. About 15 years ago someone put together a 90 minute documentary about his career that was given a “Hollywood” premiere at a local ‘20s movie palace with several Jets parked out front and even had someone dressed in a Napoleon costume. Sadly, it looks like the movie received a few more showings and then sank beneath the waves. You’d think it’d pop up on TV somewhere. If you search for madmanmuntzmovie you should find out more if you’re interested.

    • Jay, I had to laugh when you talked of removing “tubes” from car frames until it failed, then replacing the last one removed. One of the stories my dad told me about “Madman Muntz” was that was exactly how he designed his tv sets! More than just the vacuum tubes, capacitors, resisters, and other components. When the picture or sound became bad enough? He put the last one back and began looking at another circuit. The tv sets were cheap, and he sold a bunch of them! But I don’t think they lasted very long. I haven;t seen a Muntz tv set since my dad sold the tv shop about 1959.

  9. I may be wrong (and I usually am), but I recall a Muntz Jet appearing as the title character’s car in the 1951-53 “Boston Blackie” TV show. My family didn’t have a television at the time but my uncle did and he was a great fan of the Boston Blackie films so he naturally watched the television version though he believed that the Kent Taylor version of “Blackie” was inferior to Chester Morris’ original in the movies.
    As for the quality of Muntz’s televisions; he made no secret of the limited reception range of his products but excused it as what his intended market needed. He aimed his sets at working-class, urban families who lived close to the bone and close to the transmitters. In doing so he surrendered the suburban and rural markets to the more powerful and more expensive televisions sold by his competitors. It may sound dumb but Muntz made a lot of money doing things his way!

    • David, I just checked an episode of Boston Blackie on You Tube. His car certainly looks like a Jet, but has a large ornament incongruously on the bonnet, and the grille is very different from the one in these photos.

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