Friday, June 17, 2011

BOSTON BLACKIE'S TV CAR - mystery solved!


I have a photographic memory for some things, shapes and colors and design details of various kinds, especially when it comes to certain periods of automotive design. It's very rare for me to say "what the hell is THAT thing" when I see a car from the '40s or '50s but that's exactly what I said when I watched an episode of the Boston Blackie TV show from the Internet Archive. I started googling around and found a few other people were saying the same thing and nobody was able to tell them what the hell that thing was. One person suggested this 49 Crosley which is believed to have been created for the show. My friend Jim located this purported 1940 Willys which also claims a Boston Blackie connection, but considering the age of the vehicle it seems more likely to have been for one of the movies. It's nearly impossible to get good pictures from the small files available from the Archive, but one of my fellow wonderers posted these two shots which I enlarged and enhanced as well as I could.

They didn't give the car many glamor shots and since it is all black, most of the detail is sort of inferred from seeing it move by. It has "suicide" doors - hinged at the back, and an inelegant slab-sided design which cause some to suggest it was a Nash. The problem with all these suggestions is the Crosley, Willys and Nash are very high in the middle, and the first two are cut down at the doors where this thing is flat across the top side to side and front to back. It seems to be the sort of design one might sketch on a napkin, not the work of a professional designer, and that led me to think of some of the oddball American marques of the era. The first one that came to mind that had that slab-sided inelegant design was the MUNTZ JET.

The split windshield was replaced with a single curved windshield with no frame across the top. They added three fins to the back and a goofy nose to the front, and put Dodge or Plymouth front bumpers on front and back, discarding the distinctive tubular frame bumpers which give the Muntz a lot of its style. The only thing I can't identify with certainty is the grill, which is unusual for that period. So there you have it. Thus ends the Mystery of Boston Blackie's TV Car.

ADDENDUM: The episode Inside Crime features a chase sequence beginning at 20:00 which provides some good views of the car in action. It appears that the tail end is considerably different from the blunt Muntz tail, and sloped down strongly between the three tail fins. Blackie's car also has skirts on the front wheelwells as well as the rear, giving it a real tublike appearance. Still the overall form and distinctive front end indicate the car was based on a Muntz Jet.

ADDENDUM, March 2014: After years of dubious and blatantly mistaken responses I am gratified to have gotten two very helpful comments pointing to Spohn Coachworks.  If you check their site you will see they are responsible for some fabulous custom oddities.  Though none of the pictures on the site are the BBCar itself, there is a similarity to the 1952 Spohn Palos.  I still insist it is fundamentally a crudely customized Muntz.


S Greco said...

Dear Mr. DeVries -

I've. Been tracing this car from the 1950's when I was a kid. Iam now 67yrs old. To me it looks like a. Heavily customized croslley hot shot. It looks too small. To be a Muniz. Jet. The Muniz was to rare. And expensive back then to destroy. The driver. In the picture looks nothing like kent. Taylor the. Star. I enjoyed your comments on the car.

Thanks. S. Greco

Kenneth J. DeVries said...

Thanks for writing, S Greco! Readers are welcome to "make a faraday of themselves" by submitting their theories on this topic, with the understanding that they will of course be mistaken, since this is the definitive, absolutely correct solution to the Boston Blackie TV Car Case. With a wheelbase of just over 7 feet, the Crosley could have been tied on the rear deck of Blackie's tub, as a spare. S Greco's confusion is understandable since the Crosley and the Muntz both enjoy the same quality of amateur design. Blackie's car, if you watch the chase scene in the episode I have linked to above, is a huge wallowing boat an order of magnitude more vast than the buglike Crosley with its little tacked-on headlights (not inset into the fenders like the Muntz). This case is closed.

BackSeatHump said...

How do!

Yep, I've tried to discredit your conviction ("theory"?) on it being a Muntz.

Well, I've done some customizing in my day and I know that ANYTHING can be welded onto ANYTHING ELSE, but .... I can't imagine anyone going through so much work building the headlamps and their placement in those contours just to disguise the car. My final judgement is: It's either a Muntz or something else with a Muntz front end bolted onto it. But then, as you say, there are those level door top edges which are also (presumably) Muntz.

So OK, the grill, the bumper, torched top, skirts, fins and maybe even blue-dot tail lights .... etc all can be done on a sunny afternoon with a pitcher of lemonade.

The only remaining questions is, would anyone really go through so much trouble bolting Muntz doors and a Muntz front end on some other car? I'd say no.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. DeVries -

I was able to obtain the Pilot copy of the series. Kent Taylor
Was driving a beautiful. Light colored 2 door sleek car with
A fin. In the middle of the trunk. This. Is the car I remember
Being used in the series. Not that ugly small car in your
Film. This car seemed to be a custom done by the. Likes
Of the. Great George Barris.

Thank you
Saverio. Greco

Anonymous said...

I have a couple poor quality VHS episodes featuring this car and in one you can see that the front suspension has a solid axle, as Fords prior to 1948 had. I suspect it's a cheaply made custom based on an early Ford. Doesn't sound like it has a V8, though, so could be another Ford 6 or other older brand with solid front axle. Way to big to be a Crosley or MGTC or the like.

Anonymous said...

I watched on episode tonight in which Blackie WAS driving a Muntz Jet...or might have been a Kurtis (very similar car). But now can't find the episode!

Anonymous said...

In the episode titled "Gang Murder", Blackie is driving, with Mary and the dog, a Muntz Jet!

Anonymous said...

I believe it is a Glasstron fiberglas bodied car, running gear could be anything. It's way too fast and big to be a Crosley. I have all the episodes and the car does burn rubber and go pretty fast for the era.

Janet Larimore said...

Watching a program about a car dealer and restorer last nite. He purchased a Sponn. (pronounced spawn) Beautiful red, don't know the year. Said there were only 20 made and it was used in Boston Blackie. Never heard of the car, couldn't find any info on the internet. Just curious and happened on to your site
would be interested in anything you can add.

Anonymous said...

The Boston Blackie car you are concerned about is a 1949 Spohn. You can call up Spohn Coachworks or Lost Fierglass to get more information.