Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars!
This week’s question: The Muntz Jet featured a number of unique options. What was its one optional accessory that would never fly today?
If you think you know the answer, make the jump and see if you are correct.
Earl “Madman” Muntz was one of the early pioneers of the consumer electronics revolution that arose after World War II. He was also an inveterate salesman, honing his craft selling used cars at Kaiser-Frazier dealerships in both LA and New York. Muntz used wacky billboards to support the dealerships, with those in LA saying things like “I buy ’em retail, sell ’em wholesale – IT’S MORE FUN THAT WAY!” and “I wanna give ’em away, but Mrs. Muntz won’t let me – SHE’S CRAZY!”
Along with cars, Muntz sold TVs, and he gained notoriety—and the animosity of his engineers—for his habit of constantly carrying around a pair of dykes with which he would snip circuits on the development units to see if the removal of that component would fatally affect the function. Usually it did and caused the engineers to have to have to repair the damage Muntz had inflicted. This crazy practice did have its positive results, as Muntz was the first person to be able to offer a B&W TV for less than $100.
Swinging back to cars, Muntz was a trailblazer as well, creating one of the first four-seater personal coupes to hit the post-war market. The Muntz Road Jet started life as race car builder Frank Kurtis’ eponymously-named road car. Kurtis sold the license for his design to Muntz in 1950 and continued on to help develop the car, which was stretched to accommodate four passengers and switched from Cadillac to Lincoln power after GM decided it didn’t like helping the competition no matter how inconsequential. The Muntz Jet also featured a number of intriguing optional accessories, including one that might be frowned upon today.
From AmericanSportsCars (emphasis added):
The revamped Muntz now came with a flathead Lincoln engine and “Lincomatic” transmission as well as Ford suspension, windows and many other items. Muntz might have had an in with Ford since he gave Ford a new Muntz! It was rumored that Ford got a lot of ideas from that Muntz for their upcoming sports car, the Thunderbird. Many of the other innovations Muntz placed on his car were unheard of in the American auto industry at that time.
Each car was equipped with a padded dash board and seat belts (unfortunately affixed to the seat!). Survivors of the company say that, “The seat belts were strictly a gimmick, since if you were going to name a car a jet, you better have seat belts.” Muntz had a few innovations of his own. He invented a console between the front seats and placed a Motorola radio in it. He actually affixed the speakers in both kick panels.
Other options were as weird. Many cars came equipped with wire recorders (tape was not yet being used) or telephones. The weirdest option of all was, without a doubt, the liquor bars built into the huge rear armrests. One of the armrests is actually an ice box!
That’s right, you could get your Muntz Jet with both a wire recorder and a wet bar! Sadly for Madman Muntz, neither of those options proved sufficiently intriguing to even regional niche car buyers. The company was also not profitable, reportedly losing more than $1,000 per car. This led Muntz to close up shop in 1954 after what was claimed to be about 398 Jets went out the door. The actual number built is suspected to be far lower than that, and as you would expect there aren’t that many left today.
Muntz himself lived an enviable life, making multiple fortunes and bouncing from one category to the next. His auto business may have failed, and his TV business may have gone bankrupt due to the failure to see the future in color, but that didn’t keep him down. Muntz went on to invent the four-track tape player, which he sold to another entrepreneur, Bill Lear, who turned that into the 8-track unit so popular in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Muntz passed away in 1978 at the age of 73 from lung cancer. At the time he was promoting yet another then-new technology, that being the cell phone. And to think, people used to call him mad.