New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents -

ur mys­tery car No. 251 this month takes us for­ward an­other 20 years into the 1970s, with a rak­ish two-seater coupé. No clues on this one!

Send your so­lu­tion to ed­i­tor@clas­s­ic­car.co.nz by Novem­ber 25, with ‘Mys­tery Car 251’ in the sub­ject line, or by mail to Mys­tery Car 250 Novem­ber 2016, New Zealand Clas­sic Car, PO Box 46,020, Herne Bay, Auck­land.

Mys­tery car No. 250 was the early 1950s Muntz Jet, of which prob­a­bly 394 were built be­tween 1951 and 1954. There’s a lot of info about them on the in­ter­net and in books and mag­a­zines, some of which is rather di­vert­ing, as Earl ‘Mad­man’ Muntz — the driv­ing force be­hind the cars — was a larger-than-life char­ac­ter whose ex­ploits in the var­i­ous stages of his business life earned him reams of press cov­er­age, im­pos­si­ble to sum­ma­rize in a few dozen words. Look him up — you’ll have fun read­ing about him!

The Muntz Jet project be­gan when noted race and sprint car de­signer Frank Kur­tis backed out of his own 1950 sports car–man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tion. There was lit­tle wrong with the prod­uct — his sports car was lively and han­dled well, but the hand-build process was slow and ex­pen­sive, and, af­ter 36 cars had been built, Kur­tis pulled the plug on the project and sold it on to Muntz, who was able to put more money be­hind it. He kept Kur­tis in­volved on the tech­ni­cal side of the op­er­a­tion, ask­ing him to de­velop the car into a fourseater. This in­volved in­creas­ing the wheel­base length and ad­ding a back seat, plus ex­tra lux­ury fit­tings — in­clud­ing seat belts and dash pad­ding for safety — to make the car more up­mar­ket. A big­ger en­gine was needed to re­tain sport­ing per­for­mance lev­els, and the Cadil­lac 331 (5424cc) over­head-valve V8 with 119kw (160bhp) re­placed the flat­head Ford V8s pre­vi­ously used, while Kur­tis and ex­pe­ri­enced rac­ing driver Sam Hanks worked on keep­ing the han­dling up to stan­dard. Be­gin­ning in 1951, 28 units of the new car were sold, then Muntz moved the project away from the Kur­tis plant to be­gin build­ing the Jet in Evanston, Illi­nois.

The new ver­sion of the car had an­other small wheel­base stretch, steel pan­els re­placed the alu­minium body, and a heavy Lin­coln longstroke flat­head V8 re­placed the lighter Cadil­lac mo­tor, prob­a­bly as a cost-cut­ting mea­sure.

There seems to be quite a clas­sic fol­low­ing now for these ve­hi­cles in the States, with a con­sid­er­able num­ber of sur­vivors that are now worth a fair few dol­lars. They have a dif­fer­ent style to much of the main­stream Detroit prod­uct of that era but the same sort of im­pos­ing pres­ence on the road. Read­ing about Muntz, who died in 1987, you have the feel­ing he would revel in the present-day suc­cess of his early ’50s cre­ation.

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