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Diego’s AutoHunter Picks

Top-down cruising


This week’s AutoHunter Picks include a unique mix of droptops that were influenced by the British and Italian sports cars that were reaching our shores after World War II. Two in particular are quite dashing premium vehicles for their time, while the other two were able to catch the wave of popularity and endure years of production.

So, which would you prefer? Upscale performance roadster? Unusual fiberglass boulevardier? A car to enjoy now with the opportunity to make it right in the future? Or a modern sports car that you can drive every day?  

1953 Muntz Jet
This unique car’s origins can be found in the 1949-50 Kurtis Sport Car, a two-seater that evolved into a four-seater modified by Earl “Madman” Muntz, a famous salesman and marketer of the era. In some manner, the Jet was an early personal-luxury vehicle targeted to the well-heeled. The first versions were built with a Cadillac V8, while later cars featured a Lincoln V8, with a few possibly being built with 331 Hemis.

This Sunset Orange 1953 Muntz Jet is one of an estimated 198 built through 1954. A 317cid Lincoln V8, backed by GM Hydra-Matic automatic, powers this special vehicle. Jets came with a full complement of gauges that include a tachometer, clock, and more on an engine-turned panel. This Jet includes a black lift-off Carson top, so you have two choices of style for all kinds of weather.

1954 Kaiser Darrin
Though the Darrin seems to have been influenced in the same manner as the Muntz Jet, it was more mainstream and affordable. Both appear to be prototypical Thunderbirds in their own respective way, but the Darrin was saddled with a powerplant that lacked performance appeal, and its fiberglass body (like many of the era) had teething issues. But, wow, those sliding doors!

This Red Sail 1954 Darrin is one of 435 built and is powered by the Hurricane 161cid straight-six paired with a three-speed manual on the floor. The black vinyl seats are divided by a center console. The gauge cluster is somewhat neat, consisting of four dials featuring a speedometer, tachometer and gauges for fuel, temperature, battery, and oil pressure. Though the Darrin is an acquired taste, it’s a classic American convertible.

1957 Ford Thunderbird
Do you prefer the soft, curvy leanings of the 1955-56 Thunderbird, or is the facelifted, sharp-edged ’57 more your style? I can’t make up my mind, but the latter is the best of the breed when it comes to engines. Many were powered by boring V8, but things stared to get interesting with the 312 V8, which was available with a four-barrel, dual-quads, and supercharged four-barrel.

This 1957 Thunderbird is a D-code, meaning it was built with the 312 four-barrel, so that’s a good start. However, in its place is a 292. Ditto the paint — though now Torch Red, this Thunderbird was originally painted Willow Green with a matching interior. I see a car that looks ready to enjoy right at this moment, yet a little updating to make it correct would pay off in the future.

1998 Chevrolet Corvette Indy Pace Car
I’m a sucker for pace cars, having owned a regional one-off in the past. Do others feel the same way? I dunno, but the proliferation of Corvette pace cars since 1978 seems to point in that direction. But what cars other than the Corvette are graced with pace car honors? For the past 20 years, it’s been the Corvette or Camaro, almost as if Chevrolet had a contract with the track. Or maybe too many boring cars out there?

This 1998 Corvette convertible is one of 1,163 convertibles built in pace car regalia, which included special blue and yellow paint and trim. This LS1/automatic example has 53.606 miles on the clock and is loaded with options like dual-zone automatic climate control, Bose audio system, tilt steering column, and power everything. This is a Vette with fine collectability potential and contemporary performance, though it would be a shame to drive up mileage.

Diego Rosenberg
Diego Rosenberg
Lead Writer Diego Rosenberg is a native of Wilmington, Delaware and Princeton, New Jersey, giving him plenty of exposure to the charms of Carlisle and Englishtown. Though his first love is Citroen, he fell for muscle cars after being seduced by 1950s finned flyers—in fact, he’s written two books on American muscle. But please don’t think there is a strong American bias because foreign weirdness is never far from his heart. With a penchant for underground music from the 1960-70s, Diego and his family reside in metropolitan Phoenix.


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