Frank Kurtis, a famous builder of Indy racecars, decided to build an American equivalent of the Jaguar sports car for the street on a 100-inch wheelbase. The business for these two-seat cars continued from 1949 through 1950, at which time Kurtis chose to sell out to millionaire used car salesman and TV manufacturer Earl William “Madman” Muntz.
Originally, the Muntz Jets were built in California at the same small facility that Kurtis had used, but the Muntz version of the car utilized a 13-inch longer wheelbase for four seats, and a big Cadillac V-8 engine. The bodies were aluminum, which was costly, and cars were essentially hand-built with fiberglass removable tops. Shortly thereafter, Muntz opened a factory in Evanston, added three inches to the wheelbase and substituted a Lincoln V-8 engine due to his friendship with Benson Ford, CEO of Lincoln-Mercury and brother of Henry Ford II. Muntz claimed that 394 were built, while historians say the number was more like 198. Unlike his other business ventures, Muntz lost about $1,000 per car.
The cars were costly at just under $4,500, but could be ordered in many hues, including Mars Red, Lime Mist, Stratosphere Blue with one car custom ordered in bright chartreuse with mahogany planks affixed to the rear deck, like a yacht. Purchasers could order upholstery of alligator, emu, leopard, or snake skin. Wire recorders (this was before tape recorders had been invented) and radio-telephones were also available at extra cost. In the back seat armrests, you could have a cocktail bar built in. By 1953, the base price of the car had increased by $1,000, and Muntz still lost money on every one.
Cocktail bars aside, the cars were seriously fast performers with 0-50 mph attainable in about 6 seconds, and with a Hydramatic automatic transmission, no less. Top speed was as much as 125 mph, significantly faster than many cars then on the road. Options for speed merchants included ¾ race cams, extra carburetion and other speed equipment.
Muntz also added standard seat belts, padded dashboard and ice chest, plus began having the Jets painted in pinks, yellows and purples to garner additional attention. After all, the purpose of these flamboyant cars for the buyers was to be noticed, and most of the cars were sold in Hollywood new. Needless to say, with the performance, looks and panache of the Muntz Jet, not to mention rarity, there is still a following for the cars and they are considered to be highly collectible.
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