1951 Muntz Jet

Late in the 1940’s, Frank Kurtis (ex Kuretich), an auto racing enthusiast and auto builder, introduced a two passenger sports car called the Kurtis Sports Car. He built the car just one year (1949) before it was noticed by Earl “Madman” Muntz, an entrepreneur who had made millions selling cheap TV sets and other innovative electronic devices. Muntz purchased the rights to the car and spent 1950 under Kurtis’s guidance modifying the car to accommodate four passengers.

Muntz eventually moved the operation to Evanston, IL, and lengthened the wheel base further to make seating more comfortable. The new car came to be known as the Muntz Jet. Muntz built the car until very late ’53 when he realized he was losing money on every car. A few prototypes and pre-production models were carried over to 1954, but the Muntz Jet was done. Muntz built about 198 cars (based on the Muntz Registry) and many have survived. Although all the 1951-53 cars carried the same 116 inch wheelbase (except the few early ’54 examples), every car varied slightly according the purchaser’s wishes.

Frank Kurtis standing near his Kurtis sports car

I purchased my 1951 Muntz in early 2017, it finally arrived in June.

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You can navigate through the slides by clicking on the right and left-hand arrows on the photo.

Muntz arrival 01
Muntz arrival 02
Muntz arrival 03
Muntz arrival 04
Muntz arrival 05
Muntz arrival 06
Muntz arrival 07

I hope to start the restoration in 2018. I have been able to locate many parts for little or no money. Some parts will have to be fabricated, but luckily the car included a good Carson top frame. I have purchased a complete 1951 Oldsmobile 303 V8 that will fill the engine bay. The original flathead 346 cu. In. Lincoln V8 had been removed some years ago and only a few pieces remained in the trunk of the car. They have a new home now.

The Restoration

Restoration efforts began in earnest in the fall of 2019. The stripped body was media blasted. Around the same time, the rear axle was removed for analysis and refit. Also, during this period, the doors, the trunk lid and the hood were sand blasted and repaired. Following repairs each was covered with epoxy primer. As these events were occurring it became clear what some had written about the construction of these cars: Very crude! Sheet metal pieces presumably formed in Muntz’s shop were arc welded without pre-fit, extra material was simply bent out of the way and welded to nearby panels. Sheet metal pieces such as the seat back supports were merely overlapped and welded in place. Gussets were cut from flat steel and bent to various angles and attached with spot welds. Finally, the welds were not finished and slag was common everywhere. The most bizarre discovery was that Muntz “engineers” used odd sized pieces of wood shoved into cavities in the rear quarters to either limit rattles or force out bends or warpage, or both. To cover all the construction deformities and crude joints, the factory coated the car with up to a quarter inch thick layer of plastic filler.

Click on any of the thumbnails for full-size photos.

You can navigate through the slides by clicking on the right and left-hand arrows on the photo.

slide 1 - prepping for sand blasting
slide 2 - rear axle removal
slide 3 - completed rear axle
slide 4 - rear axle assembly install
slide 5 - metal separation issues
slide 6 - repairing seams
slide 7 - tacking seams
slide 8- rewelded frame and sheet metal.

Muntz outsourced all suspension, brake, and most steering components to “shoe-box” (1949-1951) Ford parts. The same was true with the rear axle. The rear end is a basic 1951 Ford car 8” unit. The ratio is 3.73:1. Overall the unit was in good shape and needed only bearings and seals. The rear brake shoes were in poor condition and one broke during removal. It was discovered that finned drums used in 1970s Ford Mavericks fit with removal of 3/16 inch of the backing plate outer edge. The front suspension and steering for the most part was a direct installation except that the Driver’s side tie rod needed to be shortened and re-tapped. The steering box and shaft is ’51 Lincoln and needed to be restored as it was frozen. Not originally utilized by Muntz, I added a ’51 Ford front sway bar (easy addition) and had a Pan Hard bar installed on the rear axle.

 

As to the fuel tank and fuel delivery - the fuel tank supplied with the car, of unknown origin, was serviceable and reconditioned. It was installed along with an electric fuel pump and fuel line.

Click on any of the thumbnails for full-size photos.

You can navigate through the slides by clicking on the right and left-hand arrows on the photo.

slide 1 new coil springs
slide 2 tie rod comparison
slide 3 sway bar installed
slide 4 Pan hard bar
slide 5 floor repair 1
slide 6 floor repair 2
slide 7 floor repair 3
slide 8 floor repair 4
slide 9 fuel tank installed

After installation of the above listed components the car was transferred to a local shop for what turned out to be a major restoration of the substructure of the body. As it turned out, the main frame unit was fatigued (out of square) and rust had weakened certain important junctions. The main outer frame rails that supported the cabin area were filled with debris, dirt, and even metal components. It remains unclear how that happened but sections of the inner walls had to be cut out so that all the material could be removed and the enclosing metal cleaned as much as possible, restored and treated with an oil wash. The pinched portions of the lower frame were resealed and welded. Junctions at the rear of the cabin section and especially at the firewall were repaired and re-welded. With the main body unit now square and strengthened, the new floors were welded in. Muntz mostly welded the in-house formed fenders directly to the frame rails except at the fore and aft most areas where they were attached with sheet metal screws. Below the rear rails were attached separate sub-fenders at each corner of the car also using sheet metal screws. Another indication of crude assembly was the use of various sized sheet metal screws that were willy-nilly screwed into the frame rail causing a severe and uneven gap between the upper and lower fenders. Again, Muntz used copious amounts of body filler to make the area appear uniform. Unfortunately, all four corner sub-fenders in my car were severely dented and damaged and needed to be removed requiring drilling out countless rusted screws. The sub-fenders were then straightened or otherwise repaired before re-attachment using aluminum rivets.

 

By the fall of 2020, the trunk area had been restored; a spare tire was located and installed on the original bracket. A 2004 Ford Focus electric trunk opener was installed with minor modification. The device also has a manual pull cord that has been installed under the rear seat frame (as it would have been originally). The car was now ready to move to another shop for final finishing of the body and application of epoxy primer.

Click on any of the thumbnails for full-size photos.

You can navigate through the slides by clicking on the right and left-hand arrows on the photo.

Slide 1 - Muntz in epoxy primer
Slide 2 - In primer, with front mechanic
Slide 3 - trunk area

TOBY KNOLL GARAGE

'50s Cars
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Doug Smith, owner of Toby Knoll Garage, and his Fabulous Hudson Hornet at the Franklin County Technical School’s Fourth Annual Cool Rides Car Show. (2013)

Muntz arrival 01