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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.