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Madmans masterpiece, in plum

Designed by Earl Muntz, once known for his wild commercial antics, this convertible is a rare glimpse at 1950s California road style
by: Photo courtesy of Forest Grove Rotary The Muntz Jet, like the one above owned by Wayne Wenger, can reach a top top speed of 110 mph. They were popular cars in Hollywood and cost $4,936 when they were new in the 1950s.

The origins of the Muntz Jet lie with Frank Kurtis's roadster of 1949-50. Earl 'Madman' Muntz was a very successful salesman and promoter of cars, stereos and TVs (his daughter was named TeeVee) and he's best known for establishing the 'crazy' school of television advertising.

Muntz bought the Jet design from Kurtis in 1951, stretched the wheelbase 13 inches to make a four-seater coupe, and fitted a Lincoln V8. In 1952 he stretched the Jet again, to 116 inches, and made the coupe into a convertible, with a removable Carson top.

With a 336 cubic-inch Lincoln V8 and 4-speed GM Hydramatic transmission, Muntz Jets were fast, with a top speed around 110 mph. They were flashy and popular in Hollywood, but expensive at $4,936, though Muntz claimed he lost $1,000 on every one.

Wayne Wenger, of Placerville, Calif., bought his 1952 Muntz Jet in La Jolla in 1993. At the time it was red but it's now Bright Orchid, one of the favorite colors for the cars. Wenger painted the car one panel at a time, then painstakingly reupholstered it in the correct imitation snakeskin and refinished the padded top exactly as it was delivered.

First showing at Forest Grove Concours

Wenger attended the first Muntz Mania gathering in Tehachapi, Calif. in 1994, when Muntz's son and daughter were present, and he has driven several across the country since then, including Chicago in 2000 and last year's at Indianapolis. This is his first year at the Forest Grove Concours.

Wenger loves the Muntz design because it is simple and smooth like a Hudson ('some people think it is one') and says it rides really well. The back armrests can be used as coolers for drinks 'or a place for valuables.' Muntz production figures range as high as 394 and Wenger says the club registry lists about 150 survivors.