By on March 16, 2014
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1950 Muntz Jet. Full gallery here.

When Chrysler touts its well-performing 8.4 inch UConnect touchscreen, somewhere Earl “Madman” Muntz smiles. When drivers use UConnect and other manufacturers’ infotainment systems  to play their favorite music Muntz’s smile broadens. You see it was Muntz who started the convention of measuring video screens diagonally in the early days of television. He was also an important pioneer when it came to automotive audio systems, inventing and selling the first affordable car stereo systems. Muntz could also be attributed with selling the first modern personal luxury car, or even the first American sports car (though Crosley buffs would demur). Not only did he influence the way people entertained themselves behind the wheel and at home, perhaps more importantly he influenced the way mass consumer goods, including cars, are manufactured and marketed.

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Muntz was a serial entrepreneur who made and lost fortunes several times, coming up with timely ideas and riding them as long as he could. His first big success was selling used cars in southern California. Every loud, over the top television pitch for a car dealer can be traced back to the way Muntz promoted his used cars.

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Billboards went up all over the region saying, “I wanna give ‘em away, but Mrs. Muntz won’t let me – SHE’S CRAZY!” and “I buy ‘em retail, sell ‘em wholesale – IT’S MORE FUN THAT WAY!”, featuring Muntz’s logo, a caricature of himself wearing a red union suit and a black Napoleon hat, and he flooded the airwaves with radio ads.

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His marketing persona may have been crazy, but in reality he was crazy like a fox. In 1947, he sold $76 million worth of cars and for a while he was the largest volume used car dealer in the world.

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An inveterate and flamboyant romantic, Muntz married seven times, and in between matrimonial relationships he also had a number of girlfriends, including comedienne Phyllis Diller. That seems somewhat ironic in light of the fact that all of his wives were beauties and Diller famously effected a homely comedic persona. A bit of a celebrity himself, Muntz hung out with comedians, singers and actors, in fact a number of celebrities invested in his businesses.

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Born in 1914, Earl Muntz didn’t have much in the way of a formal technical education, but he was a natural tinkerer, building his first radio receiver when he was just eight years old. In 1928, at the age of 14, he built one of the first car radios. Six years later, he started his own used car lot, having his mother sign all the legal documents since he was not yet a legal adult.

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Seeking greater opportunities in the Golden State, in 1941 Muntz opened up a used car lot in Glendale with a second lot in downtown LA soon to follow. He met a young advertising genius named Mike Shore and told him to come up with whatever he thought would sell cars. The billboards blanketing southern California and as many as 170 radio commercials a day made Muntz a household name in LA. With much of American industry changed over to war production, there were no new cars being made after early 1942 so used cars were in high demand, particularly on the west coast. Muntz would buy used cars in the midwest and then pay servicemen who had to report for duty on bases in California $50 each to drive the cars cross country, making it possible to sell thousands of cars that way.

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A car enthusiast, Muntz loved to drive and frequently transported cars himself, taking Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, priding himself in the fact that he could do the run in 33 hours, faster than the Santa Fe Express train. In his later years, Muntz got alot of pleasure driving his customized Lincoln Continental which featured a tv set in the dashboard.

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Just like late night tv comedians today joke about commercials, guys like Bob Hope, Jack Benny and Red Skelton would tell “Madman” Muntz jokes on their radio shows. That only helped publicize Muntz’s car sales, and his car lot became a major tourist attraction, a spot on the Grey Line bus tours right along with Grauman’s Chinese and the big Hollywood sign.

Early Muntz television set

Early Muntz television set

With his personal interest in electronics and his business interest in advertising his used car lots, it was natural for Muntz to gravitate to television when the first commercial sets came on the market. In short time he not only would be advertising on television, he’d be advertising his own television sets. He bought a tv set from a major manufacturer, disassembled it to see how it worked and then put it back together, removing parts one at a time to make simpler circuits. At the time, major manufacturers like Zenith and RCA devoted considerable resources to getting better reception in fringe areas, designing more sophisticated horizontal and vertical hold circuits (I wonder how many of you under the age of 40 have ever had to adjust a television set’s controls?) and features like automatic gain control and fine tuning. Muntz realized that if he restricted his marketing to major urban areas where broadcast signals were strong, simpler, cheaper to build circuits would work just fine for those customers. Whereas the major manufacturers might put four IF circuits in their tv sets, Muntz TVs got by with just two. If more expensive sets used potentiometers to set tubes’ bias voltage, Muntz sets used fixed resistors. Cheaper to make, more expensive to fix, but customers seem to have been happy with the tradeoffs.

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It was Earl Muntz who first marketed video screens based on diagonal measurements. Comedian Jerry Colonna was both an endorser and investor for Muntz. Muntz liked to socialize with entertainers and use them to promote his products.

Muntz’s zeal to simplify production led to the term “Muntzing” and stories were told how even as an executive he’d carry a pair of insulated diagonal cutters in his pocket so he could start removing individual resistors and capacitors from prototype circuits his engineers were developing. He’d keep removing components until the signal would be lost and then he’d say, “I guess you have to leave that one in.”

Factory owned Muntz TV store in Miami, Florida

Factory owned Muntz TV store in Miami, Florida

As a result, Muntz was able to sell the first television set at a retail price below $100, selling them directly to consumers from factory owned stores to eliminate distributors’ mark ups. His $99.95 black and white tv set became one of the best selling consumer items in the United States. In addition to meeting that psychologically important price point, Muntz came up with the idea of advertising screen size measured diagonally, allowing him to cite a larger number for what was really the same size screen as competitors offered. Those competitors soon made Muntz’s math an industry standard. “Madman” ended up selling over $50 million worth of televisions in just a few years. Some said that he even coined the term “TV”, supposedly so skywriting planes he bought to promote his products could use the abbreviation. He even named a daughter Tee Vee Muntz. While the term undoubtedly predates Muntz’s use, he did popularize it, and like any good self-promoter he was happy with stories adhering to the Liberty Valance rule about legends.

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Like most car guys, Muntz had dreams of making his own cars. In the late 1940s, race car builder Frank Kurtis, whose roadsters’ success at the Indy 500 made him famous, designed and built about 20 aluminum bodied two seat sports cars powered by flathead Ford V8 engines. Kurtis also built a custom Buick that Muntz greatly admired. Kurtis didn’t have the resources to put the two seater into full production, so Muntz bought the manufacturing rights for $200,000 and renamed the car the Muntz Jet.

Earl Muntz and an early Muntz Jet convertible. In the foreground is the custom Buick Frank Kurtis built that inspired the Jet.

Earl Muntz and an early Muntz Jet convertible. In the foreground is the custom Buick Frank Kurtis built that inspired the Jet.

Predating the four seat “Square Bird” Thunderbird by seven years, Muntz had the wheelbase of Kurtis’ car stretched over a foot so he could add a back seat. The flathead Ford was replaced by Cadillac’s new high compression 331 cubic inch OHV V8 that put out 160 horsepower and the interior was made more luxurious, including the installation of a bar in the rear console. The Jet was not a car for shrinking violets. Muntz offered the car in a variety of loud colors and exotic skins including ostrich, alligator and leopard could be used on the interior. Even without exotic skins, one could argue that the Jet was the first modern personal luxury car. Part of the Jet’s image was as a performance car so instrumentation included a tachometer and a fuel pressure gauge. It’s thought that the safety features that Muntz added to the car, seat belts and a padded dash, were less to sell the car as safe, than they were hints that the Jet was dangerously fast. Kurtis’ simple, slab sided styling, though, was more or less retained. That simple styling has aged well, and while it’s of its time, the Jet doesn’t look quite as dated as its contemporaries. As manufactured, the Muntz Jet is an open car with a removable Carson style steel roof. Though it allowed for open air driving, the roof was very heavy and there was no place to store it in the car once removed so if it rained when you were driving without the roof, you got wet.

Frank Kurtis built about 20 two seat roadsters before Earl Muntz bought the manufacturing rights.

Frank Kurtis built about 20 two seat roadsters before Earl Muntz bought the manufacturing rights.

After building about 2 dozen Jets in Kurtis’ former facility in Glendale, Muntz moved assembly to a factory in Evanston, Illinois and made some significant changes. The easily damaged aluminum body was replaced with steel and the wheelbase was stretched another three inches, to 116″. Perhaps for supply reasons the modern Caddy engine was replaced with Lincoln’s version of the flathead V8, and Hydramatic transmissions were sourced from GM. The steel body was welded to a fully boxed perimeter chassis. The resulting structure was strong, but heavy, about 400 lbs heavier than the cars built in Glendale. In a later interview, Muntz said, “The thing was built like a tank. Had we continued, I think we’d have lightened it. If you ever had one in a demolition derby, it’d ruin everything.”

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Still, performance was pretty good for the era. Road & Track tested the Muntz Jet and reported a top speed of 108+ mph. Indy 500 winner Sam Hanks recorded a verified 128 mph on the salt flats at Bonneville in a Jet that was stock except for a belly pan that reduced drag.

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While Muntz’s investment was relatively minimal, $200K for the rights and about $75,000 for the tooling, the Jet turned out to be expensive to build, with a lot of handwork needed to fit and lead-in the body panels. Labor costs were about $2,000 a car, a significant sum in the early 1950s. The records were lost so it’s not known exactly how many Jets were made but Earl Muntz later estimated the total from both Glendale and Evansville was 394. About one third of those have been identified as still existing.

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As with his tv sets, Muntz didn’t use distributors or dealers but rather sold the Muntz Jet directly to customers, predating Tesla’s business model by 60 years. He advertised the Jet in upscale publications like the Wall Street Journal and had some success with celebrity customers, including Clark Gable, Clara Bow, Marilyn Monroe, Mario Lanza and Gloria DeHaven. While he sold every one he could make, in a *David Brown-like manner, Muntz lost about $1,000 on every Jet he sold, about what Ford lost on every Continental Mark II they built. Ford Motor Company, however, could afford those losses. A serial entrepreneur like Muntz couldn’t.

“They cost $6,500 apiece to build,” Muntz told an interviewer, “and at that price they wouldn’t sell. At $5,500, I couldn’t make enough of ‘em, but I couldn’t afford to keep it up. But as far as the car itself was concerned, we were very fortunate. We didn’t have too many problems.”

“Today the labor in that s.o.b. would run 20 grand! I lost $400,000 on that project before we closed it down in 1954,” Muntz said.

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Not only did Muntz lose money on his car venture, by the mid 1950s with color television about to hit the market and with major television set manufacturers selling more expensive console models, sales of the inexpensive black and white Muntz sets plunged. Once worth millions, Muntz’s stock in his television company was sold for just $200,000.

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Ever the tinkerer, through his connection to the radio industry, Muntz had become aware of the Fidelipac 3-track recording tape cartridges used by radio stations for commercials and jingles. The developers of Fidelipac had figured out a way to pull tape off the outside of a spool and then feed it back into the center of the spool, creating an endless loop. You couldn’t reverse and fast forward was iffy, but Muntz could put an entire Long Playing 33 RPM album on one cartridge. Adapting the design and adding a fourth track so it could play in stereo, in 1962 Muntz opened up the Muntz Stereo factory in Van Nuys, California, he made some licensing deals with record companies and started selling Stereo Pak prerecorded cartridges and players. In time Muntz licensed others to make 4 track players for both home and car applications. Stockholders in Muntz Stereo included Bill Cosby, Jerry Colonna, Sammy Davis, Jr., Robert Culp, Joey Bishop, Frank Sinatra and Rudy Vallee.

The Stereo Pak was a huge hit. Customers lined up for blocks outside the Muntz factory store to get players installed in their cars. While today it’s cool to snark about eight track players in TransAms driven by guys with mullets wearing wifebeaters, in an era of $5,500 audiophile branded factory installed car stereo systems that indeed rival some very good home audio systems, it’s hard to imagine the impact tape cartridge players for cars had. For the first time the masses could have more than just an AM radio playing through one tinny sounding small speaker in the middle of the dashboard (musical trivia: Barry Gordy and the other producers at Motown’s Hitsville USA studio did their final mixes using a cheap car speaker as the monitor because that’s the way most people would end up hearing the music – oh and those late 1950s and early 1960s AM car radios used pretty sophisticated tube circuits and actually had good audio quality, even if they did take a mile or two to warm up and were played through crappy paper cone drivers).

It wasn’t just the sound quality. Perhaps even more important was the use of portable media – you could now play your choice of music in your car and not just what some disc jockey or Top 40 radio station program director chose. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but soon after tape cartridge players for cars started proliferating, so did so-called “freeform”, playlist-free FM radio stations. In addition to reflecting what was going on in the music industry in the 1960s, “underground FM” stations playing a broader variety of music, including longer cuts and extended jams may also have been the radio industry’s response to what Muntz had wrought.

Muntz’s invention of the Stereo Pak 4 track cartridge and player was a landmark event in what we call in-car infotainment today. Before then the only choice you had to play music in your car was either the radio or the completely inadequate Highway HiFi vinyl record players that offered limited content and skipped badly when going over bumps. While some automakers did offer stereo on vehicles equipped with AM-FM radios, the only place you’d find them would be in expensive Cadillacs and Lincolns. With the Stereo Pak 4 track players, for the first time drivers could have stereo audio in their cars, playing music of their choice, at an affordable price.

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Muntz Stereo Pak 4 track car tape player.

Then Muntz made the mistake of selling 4 track players to Bill Lear, for installation in Lear jets. Lear, another inveterate tinkerer, realized there were shortcomings in the design of the Stereo Pak system and he put engineer Ralph Miller to the task of improving it. Like all tape players, Stereo Pak cartridges use a capstan drive to move the tape. The tape is pinched between the rotating capstan and a rubber pinch roller. In Muntz’s design, the pinch roller flips up into an opening in the cartridge.

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Lear realized that putting the pinch roller inside the cartridge meant making a simpler player mechanism, reducing the cost of building them. Lear also simplified the cartridge, eliminating some components, making the mechanical part of the cartridges less expensive to make than Stereo Pak cartridges. Also, by then the Phillips corporation had already introduced the Compact Cassette tape format, which used 1/8″ wide tape, compared to the 1/4″ tape used by Muntz.

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With Phillips and Sony proving that tape tracks could be even narrower, Lear realized that going to eight tracks meant he could put twice as much music on the same amount of tape as Muntz and still get audio quality that consumers were accept. Eight track players and cartridges were simply cheaper to manufacture than comparable four track components. They didn’t sound as good as four track players, and the tape cartridges weren’t as reliable. There is a reason why eight track cartridges have a reputation for self-destructing, but for the most part they worked well enough for consumers to embrace them. Also, Lear made a deal with Ford to offer 8 track players as factory equipment in 1965, starting with the 1966 model year. For a consummate salesman, that was one sales opportunity that Earl Muntz missed. In a very short time 8 track cartridges took over in the marketplace. Muntz Stereo was flooded with the return of hundreds of thousands of unsold prerecorded tapes.

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Soon Stereo Paks were forgotten. Muntz tried to market variations, including miniature cartridges under the Playtape brand, and even tried to create a miniaturized player that incorporated a preamp in the tape head, which sort of anticipated the Sony Walkman, but eventually he gave up on tape cartridges and moved on to other things. In time, of course, Mr. Dolby made high fidelity Compact Cassettes possible and they in turn replaced 8 track cartridges, digital music came along with Compact Digital Discs which in turn replaced the Phillips cassettes and now our car stereos play music we store on a variety of solid state memory devices. I think Earl Muntz would appreciate a car stereo with no moving parts, though he’d probably say that today’s infotainment systems are way more complex than they need to be.

Always good at spotting the next trend, Muntz went on to be among the first people to market satellite dishes, home video recorders and big screen tvs. Some of his ventures were more successful than others, but into his 70s, Earl Muntz kept finding new things to sell. By the time of his death in 1987 he had become the biggest retailer in southern California of a new device called the cellular phone. Muntz Stereo, in Ventura, California still sells cellphones, car stereos and burglar alarms.

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The 1950 Muntz Jet pictured here was photographed at the 2013 Concours of America at St. John’s. It’s owned by David and Katherine Hans. From its concours level quality, you’d never guess that David Hans rescued it from a Chicago area junkyard. It’s the second Jet that Muntz made, so it came out of the California facility, has an aluminum body and is powered by a Cadillac V8. It has the additional provenance of having been featured in a number of publicity photos for the Muntz car company, posed with Earl Muntz. If the Muntz Jet strikes your fancy, they’re not that expensive to buy. They come up fairly regularly at auction and it looks like a nice one will cost you $60,000 – $75,000, which doesn’t seem like a huge amount of money for a fairly rare and historically interesting car.

*The DB in Aston Martin model names comes from David Brown, who owned the company in the 1950s and 1960s. When a friend once asked him if he would sell him an Aston “at cost”, Brown reportedly told his friend, “but then I would have to charge you more than the retail price.”

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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33 Comments on “Crazy Ads & Car Stereos: How Earl “Madman” Muntz Changed Car (and American) Culture...”


  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Great stuff, Ronnie – thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I remember winning a free Coke, and a bag of chips, at a flea market back in the late 70’s.

    I was the only guy that could identify the 4 track tape player that was on display.

    I’m sure I owned a car once, that had an under dash Muntz radio. I remember Lear 8 tracks quite well. If you walked the side of any highway, the ditches and shoulders, were littered with 8 track tapes. Usually with about 10 feet of tape hanging out of them.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Cassettes, too, Mikey.

      Funny, it turns out that homemade CDs aren’t much better because some OEM CD players don’t accept them very well.

      Wifey’s 2002 CR-V has the lousiest stereo CD player aver made, while my humble, boring out-dated, wonderful Chevy will play anything every time!

      I now see discarded CDs along the road. Some things never change!

  • avatar
    olddavid

    While he would appreciate the no moving parts, even the eight tracks would put MP3 to shame for audio quality. Anything less than a WAVE file is junk. Convenient junk, but still terrible audio. It amazes me every time I see someone using an Ipod to play over a Levinson in a Lexus.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      Um…what? I could agree with MP3s from the early 2000s when compression was so high and bitrates were 64kbps. Now most are running at a minimum of 192 or higher which means they aren’t concert quality but analog is far behind those in an apples to apples stereo comparison.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Having joined the modern world and now using an mp3 player, I’d have to say that they are better than 8 tracks for sure. But it kind of ends there. I use spotify set to the “extreme” setting and while they are ok in the car, at home the music is flat and somewhat lifeless. My Nakamichi cassettes blow it away – even a tone deaf guy who works for a two-bit bar band could tell the difference. Someone here mentioned HDtracks before…sadly the player I have does not support the FLAC file format. In the old days, 8 tracks were touted as the convenient way to have music anywhere, but they did so at the expense of sound quality. Same as mp3 today…

        BTW, anybody who has ever experimented with really high end analog audio equipment and compared that with high end digital playback equipment back to back know which one is far superior in terms of warmth to the music. I don’t even think the recording medium is to blame…I think that some digital recordings are intentionally made to be cold sounding…

        • 0 avatar

          > BTW, anybody who has ever experimented with really high end analog audio equipment and compared that with high end digital playback equipment back to back know which one is far superior in terms of warmth to the music.

          Analog “connoisseurs” are still stuck on LPs amplified through vacuum tubes and conflate their personal preference for vinyl scratches and harmonic distortion with “taste” or “refinement”. It’s simply inferior technology marketed to people who don’t know better but pretend otherwise.

          Also, these days there’s no such thing as “high end” playback. Audio processing is mostly a solved problem, and therefore a commodity whose only markup is in the marketing.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        Even the lowest bitter ripped MP3 will sound better than an 8 track that was left in a hot car one time.

    • 0 avatar

      Preach it olddavid!

      But people like the idea of cramming as much audio as possible into one portable device.

      Once you understand that the mp3 process – or for that matter ANY file compression process – takes out the parts of the audio that it doesn’t think you’ll miss – and leaves what’s left, which at 128 kbps “CD Quality” (ahem)…is less than one TENTH of the information originally on that 1411 kbps .wav file…you may start wondering what you’re missing.

      On some files the change is hard or nearly impossible to discern, especially at higher sample rates, but many songs just sound tinny and one-dimensional, especially when played over anything approaching professional quality.

      IMHO the average mp3 is today’s 8-track or cassette.

    • 0 avatar

      > While he would appreciate the no moving parts, even the eight tracks would put MP3 to shame for audio quality. Anything less than a WAVE file is junk.

      This is the ideal sort of candidate for the ol’ Muntz charm.

      Measurement nevermind reproduction of anything complex (eg audio) is inherently lossy. Even at fairly low bitrates frequency-based psychoacoustic compression can be transparent to the original due to the way human hearing works.

      Such technical concepts are simply beyond the Muntz-type mind, but fortunately also beyond that of his audience.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    I was lucky enough to come across a muntz jet about 5 years ago at a show. They’re surprisingly large cars for their looks, that low slung torpedo styling really hides just how big it is. It was beautiful and was roughly Burgundy-purple which I’m not sure it that was the majority production color or just a historical respray color because most photos show it in that color. Still it was a car I really loved and it does look good even as the art deco styling is out of date. It reminds me of Cord/Auburns that look of their era but are so clean that they still look trendy today. The one thing I remember from the owner was that the body was full of lead because of the design. Most of that 400lb increase from aluminum to steel was lead-in bodywork. He had restored the car and used modern welds to shed like 120 lbs of lead off the car which made it handle far better.

    As for Muntz himself, he was an amazing entrepreneur who was about marginal sales than trying to squeeze every dollar out of the system. He’s the kind of capitalist I almost love. His image though as a pop culture identity has fallen off the radar, like the new Robocop movie spawned a lot of discussion of the original and the “I’d buy that for a dollar” guy is a rough parody of Muntz that went over the head of most people.

    • 0 avatar

      > He’s the kind of capitalist I almost love.

      He’s mostly a guy who uses people-pleasing skills to peddle cheap goods.

      Tell a good story and people will buy it, so in effect they’re buying the story.

      That’s the fundamental market exchange at play.

  • avatar
    fn2drive

    Thank you for this great article. My first car show was when i was around 10years old at a local National Guard Armory late on a Friday night. All those magnificent cars but what i remember most is the Muntz 4 track tape player booth up in the loft. Wow-gamer changer. Never forgot that my Dad took me that night after toiling all day in factory. Dad’s and cars-it doesn’t get better than that.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Love the Muntz type of capitalist. You don’t need to make $100 on each sale of 10 units, you need to make $1 on each sale of 1000 units. Dream big, fail hard, dust yourself off and try again.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    Great article, Ronnie! As an automotive enthusiast and recovering audiophile, I had never heard this fascinating story. Thanks for bringing it to us.

  • avatar

    Ronnie, you’ve written so many great articles that it’s tough for me to pick a favorite, but this one goes on my short list for sure. What a fascinating history of an interesting person.

  • avatar

    Great, well-researched article.

  • avatar
    snakebit

    Without doing much research, I think the first Continental of 1939-40 was first among equals for the early luxury personal car model. I put the Muntz Jet in the same league as the BSA and Indian passenger cars, ‘no kidding-Muntz made cars, I thought just auto tape players.’

    Ask any auto nut growing up in Los Angeles in the 1960’s to come up with a product association for Muntz, and auto tape player will take a nano second to spring forth. In my case,growing up in the Valley, the Muntz installation store was jammed between Galpin Ford and the 405. So, the drill was to check out the Cobras and GT350’s at Galpin, then walk next door to see what’s new at Muntz. Once in a while, a Muntz Jet was parked out front, but I’m betting those folks looking at tape players didn’t associate the stuff in the Muntz store with the car out front.

  • avatar
    Littlecarrot

    I suppose I can credit Muntz for my success as an educator today. Our color Muntz TV was broken down or in the repair shop so often, that I was compelled to go to the public library for my entertainment! There were no couch potatoes in those days, as we had to get up quite frequently to change channels, adjust the vertical or horizontal, or change the color tint. The plastic Muntz channel dial was so cheap and broke so easily that we had to use a pair of pliers to change channels.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Growing up there was always a small pair of vice grips permanantly locked onto the shaft of the broken tuner. I don’t think they were Muntz TV’s…this would have been the early 80’s, but it brings back memories none the less.

      • 0 avatar
        LeeK

        Which I’ve heard is why vise grips are sometimes known as “channel locks”. Probably urban legend, but it makes a fun story.

        In my house, *I* was the remote control. My father would yell for me from the Florida Room (it’s a Florida thing) and when I emerged from my room, tell me to change the channel from 4 to 10. We always had Zeniths, and the plastic knob was inevitably broken so I had to use the pliers permanently kept on top of the TV.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Small children were the original remote controls.

      “Junior, turn the TV to channel 5!”

  • avatar
    50merc

    I knew all about “Madman” because a friend has two Muntz Jets. One is real nice; the other needs work. For all the claims about performance, the Jets are precursors of the squarebirds, not real sports cars. Earl could charm the birds out of the trees, but he had a tendency to leave his friends and investors with lightened wallets. He was an American original, for sure.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    For a brief time in 1969, I borrowed a friend’s 4 track tape player and installed it under the dash of my 1961 Bel Air 2 door sedan and put a second 6 x 9 speaker in the rear shelf.

    It sounded prety good, but I only had one tape! Eventually got tired of hearing the same 12 songs, even if was a collection of hits from 1968. I absolutely HATED Jose Feliciano’s version of “Light My Fire”!

    Yeah – the Muntz TVs were also called “gutless wonders”. They did work, but dad stayed with Motorola, RCA and I finally talked him in to buying a Zenith. All in glorious black & white, of course!

    Another fantastic article, thank you!

  • avatar
    AJ

    Wonderful story! Educational. Thanks for sharing.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Another great historical account, Ronnie. One of the main reasons why I love this business are the stories that go along with it. Well done, sir.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    My dad sold 4-Track cartridges at his store. They were a little better sounding than 8-Track, but that wasn’t saying much. The WOW drove me nuts. I remember finding a whole box of dead cartridges sitting in the warehouse about 1974, and wondering why they never got sent back for credit or repair.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      But the 4-tracks (since the pinch roller was in the machine itself) had less “wow” for a longer time than 8-track tapes (which had to be wiggled around to get the pinch roller to grab the tape properly). The issue was that the tape had to be pulled from the center of the tape drum, which required a lot of lubricant on the tape itself to keep it from stretching – once the lubricant wore off, SPROING – and another “dead soldier” on the ground at Lover’s Lane.
      In a sense, Lear “Out-Muntzed Muntz” by cheapening the 8-track.

      Great Article, Ronnie.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I grew up in Ventura, CA, and had no idea that the Muntz of Muntz Stereo was such an icon.

  • avatar

    > Muntz’s zeal to simplify production led to the term “Muntzing” and stories were told how even as an executive he’d carry a pair of insulated diagonal cutters in his pocket so he could start removing individual resistors and capacitors from prototype circuits his engineers were developing. He’d keep removing components until the signal would be lost and then he’d say, “I guess you have to leave that one in.”

    I guess this amazing Muntz ability to market (in this case himself) to rubes is evident.

    He would’ve been the perfect guy to head the Hyundai of old: just continue to sell crap to suckers instead of making the cars better.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Great story, and a very elegantly designed car. Oh how I lament the loss of restraint!

  • avatar
    shaker

    If I hit the Mega Millions, I’ll look into a Muntz Jet – 70 grand is quite affordable for such a rare (and cool) car. Another 20 grand and a repaint (to make it RoHS compliant) and we’d be good to go!


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