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Overview

The Americans are well known for their love of huge gas-guzzling cars. But in a country where petrol is cheap and a journey can take days, rather than hours, it is understandable that large roomy, comfortable cars with unburstable engines are the preferred norm. Indeed even some of America's largest cars are extended into 'stretch limousines' with interiors based on whatever design their owner desires - country club, office etc. etc.  It is only in recent years, through imports from Japan and Europe, that the economical 'compact' car has become more popular with the American motorist who, until now, has viewed the smaller cars as something of a joke.  Several builders of small cars have attempted to break into the American market in the past, but apart from the 'American Bantam' (A version of the English Austin Seven), many have come and gone and are now forgotten.  However, this didn't deter one man, who's dream was to produce a 'micro' car that was well within the financial reach of practically all Americans.  His name was Powel Crosley, an innovative designer/inventor who, together with his brother Lewis, introduced an extensive number of original ideas into the automotive, radio and consumer product fields.  Powel Crosley Jnr. was born September 1886 in Cincinnati, Ohio.   In 1907, he tried to launch an inexpensive car that he called the 'Marathon Six', but shortage of funds prevented the project from taking off, although the design was used by the Lexington Motor Company of Indianapolis in 1909.

Crosley moved to Indianapolis and worked as a shop hand with the Fisher Automobile Company. But when an accident while starting a car resulted in a broken arm, he moved on to take up positions with other companies. His ultimate aim was to drive in the Indianapolis 500 race, a dream that was never fulfilled due to lack of sponsorship.  In the 1920's, his interest turned to radio, still in it's infancy and he began to manufacture his own design called the 'Harko', which he could sell for approximately one third of the price of radios already on sale.  By 1924, he was the largest radio manufacturer in the world and he established the powerful WLW Radio s  Station in Cincinatti, which became the 'Voice of America' during WWII.  Radio sales began to fall in 1930 and he started to manufacture other household appliances. These included refrigerators and he took out a patent for his 'Shelvador' refrigerator which, as the name suggests, had shelves fitted in the door. The idea was another 'first' and was quickly adopted by other refrigerator manufacturers throughout the world when the patent expired.

In 1939, Crosley started production of a small, inexpensive two seat convertible car bearing his name, in one of his factories in Richmond, Indiana.  It was powered by an air-cooled 580cc, flat twin-cilinder Waukeshaw engine, developed from a fruit sprayer engine that had a two bearing crankshaft and was linked to a three speed Warner 'crash' gearbox. Flexible rubber mounts were adopted to eliminate the use of normal flexible joints, but owners very quickly realised that this was not a viable proposition.  Cable operated mechanical brakes were fitted.  Quite attractive, in a simple way, the body had flat sides and small streamlined mudguards (wings) that covered 12" pressed steel wheels - painted red on all models - with large chromed hubcaps.  Bumpers were two narrow metal strips, bolted to flat metal arms that protruded from front and rear of the car. These would apparently be used more for show than crash protection.  The flat doors had sliding windows and a single windscreen wiper was hand operated.  The bonnet of the car was quite high and two air-intake panels consisting of a number of horizontal slots were low down on the front of the car. Headlamps were free-standing and were mounted on the sides of the bonnet towards the front, well above the mudguards.  The interior was very basic, with dashboard instruments consisting of a central speedometer, flanked by a fuel gauge and a water gauge.  All Crosley's were available in either grey, yellow or blue, with black tops.  Unfortunately, the cars were sold through independent household appliance suppliers or department stores, who's engineers were more used to repairing household appliances than cars and sales dipped quite dramatically as a result. Top speed was around 50 mph, although 40 mph was recommended by the manufacturer who claimed fuel economy of 60 mpg, when the actual figure was found to be nearer 50 mpg.

1939 Series 1A range (Waukeshaw engine)
Convertible Coupe
Convertible Sedan
A Station Wagon with simple wooden body was added to the 1940 range.

1940 Deries 2A range (Waukeshaw engine)
Sedan 2-door
Sedan deluxe 2-door
Convertible Coupe
Covered Wagon 2-door
Station Wagon 2-door

In 1941, the engine mounts were modified, the stroke of the engine was reduced, the surfaces of the two crankshaft bearings were increased and the lubrication system was revised.

1941 range (Waukeshaw engine)
Sedan 2'door
Sedan deluxe 2-door
Convertible Couoe
Covered Wagon 2-door
Station Wagon 2-door

1942 range (Waukeshaw engine)
Sedan 2-door
Sedan deluxe 2-door
Convertible Coupe
Station Wagon 2-door

In 1942, America joined Europe in WWII and the American Government temporarily stopped civilian car production.  Crosley turned his resources to the production of anti-aicraft shell fuses, gun turrets and field radios.  But he put the Waukeshaw engine to good use on power sledges.  At this time, he also produced a mini-jeep style vehicle suitable for dropping by parachute and powered it with a new engine that had been developed for U.S. Generators. This was a 722 cc four-cylinder engine with an overhead cam, known as the COBRA (COpper BRAzed). It had an oven brazed copper and sheet steel block with a fixed cylinder head. 

After WWII, in 1946, Crosley changed the name of the Crosley Radio Corporation of Marion, Indiana, to Crosley Motors Incorporated and production of a new and updated micro car began with a flat sided body that was the full width of the car. The initial two car range was powered by the 722cc COBRA engine.

1946 range (COBRA engine)
Sedan 2-door
Convertible Coupe

1947 range (COBRA engine)
Sedan 2-door
Convertible Coupe
Station Wagon 2-door

1948 range (COBRA engine)
Sedan 2-door
Sedan Sport Utility 2-door
Convertible Coupe
Station Wagon 2-door

Crosley became the leading producer of Station Wagons in 1948, with sales topping 23,000 and the factory was enlarged by very nearly half as much again.  But a serious fault was found with the COBRA engine, when it was discovered that electrolitic action on the copper caused holes to appear in the cylinders and it was replaced for the 1949 range by the 722cc CIBA (Cast Iron Block Assembly) engine of similar size. This engine could be retro-fitted to all the cars that were powered by the COBRA engine, an option taken up by many owners. The crankshaft of the CIBA engine ran in five main bearings and the pistons, pumps, inlet manifold and bell housing were made from aluminium. Disc brakes were fitted to the Crosley range in 1949, a world 'first'.  For 1949, sealed beam headlamps and remote control door handles were introduced and the Sedan and Convertible Coupe were fitted with turn-indicators.

1949 range (CIBA engine)
Sedan deluxe 2-door
Convertible Ciupe
Station Wagon 4-door
Hotshot Roadster

The new Hotshot Roadster had semi-eliptic leaf and coil sprong front suspension, with quarter eliptic leaf springs on the rear.  No doors were fitted and the windscreen folded flat in the manner of the wartime 'Jeep'.  It was discovered that road salt and general grime caused serious damage to the brake discs and all Crosleys reverted to brake drums for 1950.

1950 range (CIBA engine)
Sedan 2-door
Super Sedan 2-door
Convertible Coupe
Station Wagon 2-door
Super Station Wagon 2-door
Hotshot Roadster
Super Sports Roadster

A Mini-Moke style vehicle called the FarmORoad made an appearance in 1950.

In the 1950 range, the 'Super' versions had better trim.  The Hotshot Roadster had doors offered as an optional extra, but the Super Sports Roadster had doors fitted as standard.  The CIBA engine made the Hotshot a very fast and successful sports car which could out-perform any other vehicle in its class and a Hotshot proved its capabilities by winning the 1950 Index of performance at Sebring. One almost won its class in the 1951 Le-Mans 24 hour race, but had to withdraw from the race due to electrical failure.

1951 range (CIBA engine)
Super Sedan 2-door
Business Coupe
Super Convertible Coupe
Station Wagon
Hotshot Roadster
Super Sports Roadster

1952 range (CIBA engine)
StandaRD Business Coupe
Super Sedan 2-door
Standard Station Wagon 2-door
Super Station Wagon 2-door
Super Convertible Coupe
Hotshot Roadster
Super Sports Roadster

When petrol rationing ceased in America after WWII, motorists returned to their full sized cars and Crosley sales began to drop.  Crosley sold the company to General Tire & Rubber in 1952 but they didn't continue with car production.  Powel Crosley Jnr. died on the 28th March 1961.  Despite a personal outlay of 3 million dollars, he failed to convert the American motoring public into the world of tiny economical cars. But his name will go down in history as one of the manufacturers who tried and did better than most!

Information submitted by: Reg J. Prosser

Models produced by Crosley

Convertible

Convertible

1939-1942

Convertible/Wagon

1947-1948

Convertible/Wagon

1949-1952

Hotshot

Hotshot

1949-1952

Sedan Deluxe

Sedan Deluxe

1946-1952

Super Sports

Super Sports

1950-1952

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