1953 Muntz Jet - $119,900
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  • Overview & History
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Movie stars were frequent customers and the bespoke nature of the car (and its hand-built assembly) pretty much ensured that each one was unique.

The story of Earl "Madman" Muntz and his Road Jet can be found elsewhere and it’s a worthy read, but the short version is that a used car and electronics salesman decided he wanted to build a car. He bought Frank Kurtis's design, tooling, and factory, stretched the wheelbase 13 inches, added a back seat, and called it the Jet. The Muntz Jet was more expensive than a Cadillac 62 convertible and as exclusive as anything you could buy in 1953. Movie stars were frequent customers and the bespoke nature of the car (and its hand-built assembly) pretty much ensured that each one was unique. Muntz used a variety of powerplants from other large American luxury cars: the Cadillac 331 OHV V8, the Lincoln 337 cubic inch flathead V8, and towards the end of production, the 317 cubic inch Lincoln Y-block OHV V8, all backed by GM Hydra-Matic automatic transmissions. Muntz claimed he built more than 400 Jets, losing $1000 on each one, but more recent estimates suggest that fewer than 300 were actually built. The Muntz Registry believes that perhaps 130 or so still exist in some form, but only 20-30 of those are complete, running, driving cars.

For many years, the Jet was little more than a curiosity, but that's changed recently as collectors realize that a bespoke, hand-built car designed to be the ultimate in personal transportation is a worthy machine. You'd be forgiven for thinking that Muntz knew nothing about building cars but fortunately Frank Kurtis did, and using his design as base stock has resulted in a rather entertaining car, both to look at and to drive. We don't have much history on this bright red Jet other than it comes from a large collection where the former owner bought it because he'd never seen one before, but in more than a decade of ownership, he never drove it. His shop performed routine maintenance work to keep it healthy and ready to roll, and it does run and drive rather well today. Most of the restoration was done prior to his ownership and it was well done overall. The paint shines up beautifully, the bodywork underneath is about as straight as you can expect (Muntz reportedly used several hundred pounds of lead to get each car to fit together and it was that hand labor that made the cars so expensive), and it's obvious that the restoration was done to a standard befitting an expensive car, not a clown car. Nice chrome, neat details like the twin Appleton spotlights, split V windshield, and jet-inspired taillights add to the look. And yes, this is a very LOW car—parked next to a 1946 Cadillac convertible, the Muntz is easily six inches lower.

Surprisingly, Muntz took it easy on the exterior chrome, although those big wrap-around bumpers define the car’s look. Lovely Muntz script logos will at least give onlookers something to Google on their phones and the V-shaped windshield hearkens back to another era but looks right on the low-slung Jet. The taillights are close to the originals but they’re modern LEDs for improved visibility on today’s roads and the squared-off fender skirts work rather well with the design, don’t you think?

Was the Jet the first American car to feature bucket seats and a console? Maybe. The boxed rockers provide support in lieu of a frame (this is a uni-body car) so you step over the sills and then down into the car. The result is an upright driving position that's like sitting in a chair in your living room despite the low roof. There's a full array of Stewart-Warner instrumentation in an engine-turned panel, and while all the gauges appear to work, I find their accuracy to be suspect—I think that's kind of fitting for a car like the Muntz, although I have no idea why it has two water temperature gauges AND an oil temperature gauge. The upholstery is not white, it's alabaster, so the off-white mottled look is intentional, and it's in great shape (Muntz loved various patterned and reptile-textured interior materials so this one is relatively restrained). Vertical pleats are right for the ‘50s custom scene that had such an influence on Muntz and even the dash is reminiscent of something you’d see at a period Auto-Rama. There's recent wiring throughout, all the lights and signals work, and the AM/FM/CD stereo head unit in the armrest looks vintage so I think the Madman would approve (although it is not currently operational). There are other neat details like full armrests in the back seat, an accelerator pedal that says "POWER" on its face, and little pop-out ashtrays in the doors. And yes, that's a lift-off hardtop—the Muntz is a full-sized convertible. We didn't remove it simply because we didn't want to take the risk of hurting it, but it comes off with some effort. It also has a good-sized trunk; there is no spare, but the gas filler is in there along with a custom set of carpets.

This particular Muntz is a late production car, and as such it is powered by the 317 cubic inch Lincoln V8 that was all-new in 1953. It has been recently serviced, which shows in the new ignition components and a fresh Holley 4-barrel carburetor on top of the original manifold. The Lincoln engine is plenty muscular and moves the heavy Jet without working too hard and it looks great in Ford Blue paint with chrome accents. Experts will spot the modern dual master cylinder and power brake booster, but there are still drum brakes underneath and the steering is manual but not heavy in the least. The GM Hydra-Matic automatic transmission shifts well, although it’s a little snappy at low speeds and you have to move the lever into the right slot to hit reverse properly. Beyond that, it starts easily, idles well, and runs great. Underneath, there's a new stainless exhaust system with muscular-sounding mufflers and someone obviously spent some time fixing the rear suspension, as it's now a GM 10-bolt with adjustable coil-over shocks—if you look at other Jets, you'll see that they tend to sag in back, especially if there are people in the back seat. Not this one! No rust in the monocoque, it tracks straight, brakes smoothly, and as I said, it's surprisingly fleet for such a big, heavy car. Steel wheels carry chrome spoke wheel covers with a cartoon Madman Muntz on the center caps and a set of 7.60-15 wide whites.

I didn't know what to expect from the Muntz Jet, but I have found that the more I look at this car, the more attractive it becomes. I expected it to feel crude and unfinished and I am pleased to say that I was completely wrong on that count. It drives great! Good power, no quirks, no compromises, and plenty sturdy-feeling as it goes down the road. I thought this would just be some weird car that nobody would really drive but I discovered that it's actually something you can use every day and not feel like you're giving anything up. That I like. The Lincoln hardware underneath makes it reliable and it’s totally complete, something critical on a car made of unobtainium. And where, exactly, are you going to get another one? If you cherish cars built by a single visionary guy, few cars deliver a better story than the Muntz Jet. Call today!

Vehicle: 1953 Muntz Jet
Price: $119,900
Stock Number: 115037
Mileage: 38,659
VIN: 53M531
Engine: 317 cubic inch V8
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Gear Ratio: 3.31
Wheelbase: 113 inches
Wheels: 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps
Tires: 7.10-15 BFGoodrich Silvertown wide whitewall
Exterior Color: Torch Red
Interior Color: Alabaster leather
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