Parts car, 1950 Jet, found to be a rare treasure

 
 
Updated 8/16/2016 6:32 AM
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  • 1950 Muntz Jet, David Hans, Barrington

    1950 Muntz Jet, David Hans, Barrington Photos Courtesy of Matt Avery Media

  • The restoration of Muntz No. 102 was completed in 2008.

    The restoration of Muntz No. 102 was completed in 2008.

  • A publicity shot from 1950 shows Hans' M102 Muntz Jet with the car's main designer, Frank Kurtis, left, and test driver and Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hanks.

    A publicity shot from 1950 shows Hans' M102 Muntz Jet with the car's main designer, Frank Kurtis, left, and test driver and Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hanks.

  • A Muntz Car Co. brochure after the company relocated to Evanston.

    A Muntz Car Co. brochure after the company relocated to Evanston.

Dave Hans thought he'd be crazy to pass up the deal in front of him. There in the newspaper classifieds was the opportunity to buy a creation from the mind of Earl "Mad Man" Muntz -- a 1950 Jet.

The year was 1969 and the $60 asking price was for a rusted, dilapidated heap. Just one year prior, Hans had purchased another Muntz Jet. He found it at a used-car lot on Western Avenue. Hans drove it regularly and the opportunity to buy a second one at this ultralow price was just "too reasonable to pass up." If nothing else, Hans figured it would make an excellent parts car should the need arise.

This was wise thinking because "Muntz-mobiles" aren't the most common of vehicles. Their story starts with an Elgin resident, Earl Muntz, who was born in 1914 and loved tinkering and technology. He also loved business success. By the time he was 20, the fast-talking salesman was running his own used-car lot in downtown Elgin.

Business was booming and Muntz set his sights even higher. He packed up and moved to California where the zany wheeler-dealer opened several more car lots and found ever-greater success. His fame came as a result of kooky marketing campaigns and gimmicks.

For many years, the Muntz Jet sat in the yard behind Hans' Palatine home.
For many years, the Muntz Jet sat in the yard behind Hans' Palatine home. - Courtesy of Hanz Family

Earl adopted his "Mad Man" persona, going with a shtick claiming to be crazy for selling cars for as little money as he did. After World War II, the colorful entrepreneur invested his wealth into producing television sets. Then a new venture arose in the early 1950s.

Muntz had an opportunity to buy the production rights to a fledging sports car. Muntz jumped on it. The two-seater was redesigned and rebranded as the Jet. He wanted the Jet to match his over-the-top personality.

Earl Muntz designed his car to be luxurious.
Earl Muntz designed his car to be luxurious. -

Only 198 were ever built, but they all packed quite a visual punch. They came in a dazzling array of colors and could be had with wild interiors, including snakeskin upholstery. The back seat even featured optional liquor bars in the armrests.

Muntz Jets weren't all flash; Cadillac and Lincoln V-8s provided both performance and power. The first 28 Jets were built in California, and then Muntz moved production to Evanston. Over its several year run, the Muntz Jet never proved financially viable. They stickered at about $5,500 and it's rumored Muntz lost $1,000 on each one.

The rarity of the car is why Hans, a Barrington resident, wanted to be prepared should his break down. Ironically, that never happened. His $60 find was towed home and shoved behind his house on the wooded property in Palatine where he lived at the time.

Hans' 1950 Muntz Jet is believed to be the oldest one still in existence because the first one made has not been found.
Hans' 1950 Muntz Jet is believed to be the oldest one still in existence because the first one made has not been found. -

There the Muntz languished for many years until the enthusiast took a closer look at its title. He discovered it was serial number 102 -- the second Muntz Jet ever produced. More research revealed it had been used extensively in the company's publicity photographs. Right away, the roles of his two Jets reversed. The castoff parts car now became the priority.

A full restoration started in the 1990s and was completed in 2008. It's the perfect quirky ride of choice for David, who has always had an affinity for "oddball cars." He's seen firsthand how the Muntz leaves a lasting impression. While teaching music decades ago at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, the enthusiast could often be found parking his Jet in the faculty lot.

"I still have students, now grown, visit me," David said. "They remember it well and ask when I'm taking the other Muntz out."

• Share your car's story with Matt at auto@dailyherald.com.

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