Sunday, March 15, 2015

Miami Memories: The Muntz

1951 Muntz Jet.  Johnie Stapp's pride and joy.  
Most people knew my dad as the golf pro, but as his oldest daughter I also knew him as a race car driver; jokester; builder of cars and furniture; a man who loved to tinker with things.  Dad brought color and adventure to our lives through the people he met, the trips we made, and the stories he told.  

When I look back I most often cherish the memories my sister and I created through Dad's love of cars. The 1951 Muntz Jet was the epitome of race cars, adventure, and color. The true story of that car may never be known, but my memory says that Dad bought this car from Lou Newell, in Miami, Oklahoma.  It was rumored to have been the lead car in the 1952 Indianapolis 500, but when I wrote the letter of inquiry I found it to be a rumor only. They showed no record of this car.

The picture above shows it painted white, but when purchased it was a shiny sparkling Mustard color, consequently it was lovingly nicknamed "Mustard" by my little sister.  The car sat low to the ground with a wide wheel base, allowing it to travel up to speeds of 160 mph+ and offering a back seat in an original race car. The rolled and pleated leather seats and interior were a striking mustard color. 

"Mad Man Muntz, produced the first American sports car--the Muntz Jet.  A beautiful, well-crafted, speedy car that was a precursor of Chevrolet's Corvette, the Muntz Jet was an aesthetic and mechanical success, but Muntz's first financial disappointment.  The Jets sold for $5,500, but they cost $6,500 to produce, and this at a time, the early 50's, when a new Cadillac could be had for $3,200.  He installed Cadillac V-8 engines, added padded dashboards and seat belts, painted the cars in bright Easter egg colors, and even installed liquor and ice cabinets." The movie poster of Mad Man Muntz says, "7 wives, 3 fortunes...one of a kind."  His biography shows his entrepreneurial abilities and flamboyant lifestyle.
Mad Man Muntz info
Mad Man Muntz

The mustard car lived with us through our teenage years when Jonya and I were allowed to drive it, because the seat belts were required.  Dad painted it several times:  a sleek black, then white, and in its final years baby blue.  If our car had a liquor cabinet I don't remember, but I do remember that in the 50's, when Oklahoma was dry, dad and mom made a regular beer and liquor run to Seneca, Missouri and the state line liquor stores to purchase alcohol for the MGCC. We always buckled up, as dad drove the black asphalt Highway 10 in speeds up to 100 mph.  Our drives back were most miserable as my sister and I sat on a scratchy old wool army green blanket that covered the hidden beer and liquor in the back seat.  On the drive home Dad obeyed the speed limit.

The Muntz also came with a convertible top hard top.  In the summer months the padded hard top could be removed and hung in our garage.  Minnie's and Milts was a well-known dance and dinner club in Joplin, Missouri.  We often made the trip in the summer with the top down and mother complaining all the way that her hair would be ruined by the wind, but we never complained even when the wind whipped our hair into our eyes and stung.  We loved the old drive through pneumonia gulch somewhere between Miami and Joplin on the backroads, and before there was a turnpike. Pneumonia gulch was cold, no matter how hot the day had been when the car sped down the hill and took the turn up the hill and to the right, we screamed in pure joy and thrill of feeling the car hold the ground and climb the hill. Every breath was filled with fresh air, moisture from the nearby streams and rivers, and the dampness of the wooded areas. 

I was twelve years old, the night Dad ditched the Muntz in the embankment nearing Twin Bridges.  Dad was traveling way to fast to take the final curve on Hwy 137  and down to the right to Hwy 60.  He somehow applied the brakes with enough force that the car spun then skidded into the ditch on the right.  A slide to the left would have left us airborne, and no one to tell this story.  I wasn't scared until I heard my father's voice ask, "Tizzie are you alright?"  I might have cried, but like a trooper I rallied, and we backed out and drove down to Twin Bridges and fished that night.  

Still, my father, zany and flamboyant, like Mad Man Muntz, didn't slow down. Incredibly, I was with him when he hit the top speed of 160 heading up the newly opened Will Rogers Turnpike to Joplin. He taught me to drive in a white Ford station wagon with a "mud flap" on the back, mom's car, but he also let me drive the Muntz on the turnpike with him.  I drove with the understanding that if "ticketed" that I would pay the cost!  The engine changed over the years, like the color, but speed was always it's strength.

There are other stories in heaven now with Dad, Doc Jackson, Dr. Baron, Mickey Mantle, Ray and Roy Mantle plus other Yankee ball players and club members from the Miami Golf and Country Club.  I only wish I knew them.  

 Mad Man Muntz and his incredible car was a part of our lives till my parents died in 1989.  The steering wheel still showed the caricature and logo of Mad Man Muntz wearing a black Napoleon hat and red BVD's. The caricature that  could be found on the steering wheel is shown on this site:  
caricature of Mad Man Muntz



For a picture of the sleek car go to:  The Muntz.







3 comments:

  1. What a story! I have never heard of these cars. Glad you survived the fun rides! nv

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  2. I loved this! I always felt so important when I got to ride in the Muntz. ft

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