Crosley!

CROSLEY
A Compact born 30 years too soon!

Gold-Line
 

Once upon a time, there lived a man who had what in retrospect was not a half bad idea at all. In 1939 though, it seemed downright weird. His idea was that if you made a car small and basic enough, and cheap enough to operate, the world would beat a path to your showroom door.
No, it wasn't Henry Ford. It was Powell Crosley, Jr., and this wasn't the first time he'd had what seemed a weird idea. His first product had been radios. In the days when the average home radio cost $250 or more, Crosley came out with a radio that sold for only $25. Then, when his customers complained that they couldn't recieve anything on the little sets, he put up a 500.000-watt broadcasting station, so that they could have something to listen to. Crosley radios were a success from that time on, and the Crosley Broadcasting System was a force in prewar radio.
He did it again with refrigerators. He patented a device called the Crosley Shelvador, which had shelves on the inside of the door. It may seem commonplace now, but it was revolutionary then. And other manufacturers couldn't do it until the Crosley patents ran out in the '50's.
Cars were Powell Crosley's favourite product, though. He had buildt one when he was a boy, and had designed and engineered ahother, only to be financially wiped out by a market panic. Thirty years later, in May of 1939, the Crosley car was introduced to the world. The press introduction was at the Indianapolis Speedway. The world was not exactly waiting with baited breath for a 2-door convertible that weighed under 1000 lbs., and sold for an f.o.b. price of $250. After all, you could buy a six-year-old Plymouth that still had a lot of life left in it for less than that, and look at how much iron you got for your money.

While no sales records were set that first model year, enough were sold to convince Crosley to go ahead with a 1941 model with an expanded line up of body styles.
What did you get for your approximately $300? A chassis with an 80-in. wheelbase, half elliptic springs with beam axle in front and quarter elliptics in the rear. Power was by a 2-cyl., Waukesha air-cooled engine, with the fan a part of the flywheel. A 9-in.-dia. clutch coupled this with the 3-speed transmission, and then the drive went through a torque tube to the rear axle. In the interests of simplicity, super soft engine mounts were used and universal joints were eliminated. All this basic transportation was covered with what was described in the press of the time as a "rakish" convertible body. The rear seat was an extra.
The major mechanical improvements for the 1941 model year included a universal joint in the driveline, larger engine bearings, and the use of the Bonderizing process to improve the body finish.
The single-barrel Tillotson carbureator designed for the engine was still sitting atop the cylinders, and the 4-gallon gas tank still lived under the hood along with the engine and battery.
Mechanical brakes operated on all four wheels. They were of an unusual design, in that the lining floated free between the shoes and the drum. The lining material wrapped around 350 degrees of the drum surface, and the odd system had the advantage that a reline job could be done simply by slipping a lining into the drum, without having to remove any components.

For 1941, the line was expanded to include, besides the 2-and 4-passenger convertibles, a convertible sedan (it had windows for the rear seat passangers), a station wagon, a panel truck, a pickup, and two unique models called the "Parkway Delivery" and the "Covered Wagon". The parkway delivery was a mini-panel with no roof over the front seat, exposing the driver to the elements. This was considered quite elegant in the '30's, particulary if the driver was dressed in livery like a chauffeur. The covered wagon was a convertible pickup truck with a removable back seat. With the top in place, it could be used as a car, while with everything open and the seat out, it was a 1/4-ton truck. Either of these two models is a real collector's item today, since most of the prewar production was confined to the convertible coupe and sedan.
One advantage claimed for the Crosley design was that it was narrow enough at 48-ins. to be moved through a standard commercial store door. This way it could be sold by the same dealers who already handled Crosley radios and refrigerators, with little or no modifications to their salesrooms. It was even small enough to be worked on in their back shops.
The author remembers seeing a full line on display in the appliance department of Macy's in New York, sometime in the late 1940. During the same year he was taken to the New York Automobile Show in Grand Central Palace, where, in a dim recess somewhere between the Studebakers and the Divco trucks, he found the Crosley display. This featured Cannonball Baker, live and in person, talking about his record setting run in a Crosley Covered Wagon. Unlike his previous cross-country runs, this one featured record setting gas mileage. baker drove west from the factory in Cinncinnati to Los Angeles then back via New Orleans, Jacksonville and New York. He covered 6517 miles, and averaged over 50 miles per gallon. Powell Crosley, where are you now?

Prices for the expanded 1941 line ranged from the 950 lb. 2-passenger convertible at $315 f.o.b. all the way up to the 4-place station wagon, tipping the scales at 1160 lbs. and costing $470. This was the year that a Cadillac Fleetwood cost $2195, and a Lincoln Continental convertible cost $2700.
A car like the original Crosley would seem to be a good thing for use in this day of soaring fuel prices, but unfortunately the Federally mandated safety and emission rules would bring the weight and complexity level up too high.
Instrumentation on the prewar models included an ammeter and oil pressure gauge, flanking a speedometer that read all the way up to 60 mph. A glove compartment just large enough for a pair of gloves was set into the right side of the dash, while above the steering column was the crank for the manual windshield wiper. Windows slid open for signalling and ventilation, while a standard summertime modification among Crosley owners was to remove the side glass entirely.
Less than 6000 of the prewar models were buildt, and any of them would be a real treasure today. Not only are they a unique example of American automobile making, they're small enough to be restored in the comfort of one's livingroom.

World War II found the Crosley factory in Cinncinnati turning out military equipment, and Powell Crosley thinking of the improvements he would make in the postwar models. Gasoline rationing during the war had suddenly put Crosley ownership in a new light for many people. At 50 miles per gallon, even a 3-gallon "A" coupon went a long way. Crosley found one of the things he was looking for in the radically new 4-cyl. engine designed by Lloyd Taylor, of Taylor Engines in california. Taylor developed his engine under a Navy contract for a lightweight generating set for use on PT boats and for gun turrets on amphibious landing craft. The engine included such advanced features as an overhead camshaft, high compression and five main bearings. The most revolutionary feature, though, was the method of block construction. First of all, this was in unit with the cylinder head and detachable from the crankcase. Secondly, and more important, instead of beeing cast as all other engine blocks were and are, it was buildt up from an assembly of steel tubing and stampings. These parts were assembled in a jig, then copper brazed together at high temperatures, which also served to heat treat the cylinder walls and valve seats to bring them up to a high degree of hardness. Water jackets and passages were lined with a plastic material for anti-rust purposes, and all outside parts had some kind of stiffening ribs or fins cast into them for high rigidity. Machining operations consisted of trueing the bottom of the block where it meets the crankcase, boring the camshaft bearings and boring and honing of cylinder walls and cam follower guides. The block was bolted to the aluminium crankcase, with the hold-down bolts also serving as bolts for the main bearing caps.
The result of all this innovation was a 44-cu.in. engine that weighed only 59 lbs. without accessories. It put out 26 hp at 5200 rpm, and had a compression ratio of 7.5:1. The copper brazing process gave it its unusual name, COBRA.

Crosley tested one of the generator sets for a continous wide-open run of 1200 hours, or almost two months. The only problem that occurred was in the exhaust valves due partly to the 100-octane unleaded aviation fuel it was running on. Carburetor was by Tillotson again, and still without an accelerator pump.
The postwar chassis into which this engine was dropped was essentially the same as the prewar chassis. On the chassis sat a "modern" envelope type body, which caused the car to grow 28 inches in length and 2 inches in width, even though the wheelbase and track were the same as before. The light weight of the engine kept the total weight below 1000 lbs., but just barely.
The transmission was the same three-speed as before, without benefit of silent-cut gears or synchromesh. Shifting this type of transmission quietly is an art, and was usually quickly learned by Crosley owners. Output from the transmission traveled down through the torque tube to the differential, where it drowe the rear wheels through a set of 5.17:1 gears. The final drive ratio combined with the 4.50x12 tires to require the engine to turn 1000 rpm for every 12 mph in high gear. Peak horsepower came in at just about 65 mph., at which point the engine run out of breath. This gearing also explained why all Crosleys sounded trashed, even when new.

Shortages of materials and strikes made new car production a shaky thing at best in the months right after the end of the war, while at the same time a car hungry public was ready to buy anything with four wheels and an engine. Crosley leapt into the gap, and even though his suppliers couldn't provide nameplates for the first cars off the line, he had the name painted in red on the front and rear bumpers, 3-ins. high, and shipped the cars off to the dealers. Any color you wanted was available, so long as you wanted grey with red seats and wheels. Later, a convertible was added to the line. This was a European-style body, in which the sides and doors, including all glass, remained the same as in the sedan. Three removable bows supported the top fabric, which was simply snapped on at the rear, stretched over the bows and snapped on at the windshield. If the car was used open for any length of time, the top fabric would shrink slightly, and it became a considerable job to put the top up.
Instrumentation was contained in two circular dials in front of the driver, and included a 70-mph speedometer and all gauges. The starter button protruded from the dash above the ignition key on the driver's left, and on the far right, past the huge oval radio speaker grille, was a glove compartment large enough to hold two pairs of gloves. Rubber mats covered the floor, imitation leather covered the seats and nothing covered the inside of the doors. A long spindly gear lever came up from the top of the transmission, and the hand brake was a ring protruding through the floor in front of the driver's seat.
In 1949, a station wagon, a pickup truck, and a sports model called the HotShot were added to the line. The HotShot was the first real postwar sports car in America, and it lived up to its name by winning the first Sebring 12-hour race on index of performance. The winning car was absolutely stock, the same thing you could get for under $1000 at your local Crosley dealership, and it provided a little boost in sales. The HotShot had a dropped frame for a lower center of gravity, coil springs on the rear wheels for better handling, and genuine disc brakes on all four wheels, something no other American cad until the mid '60's. By 1949, certain deficiencies had shown up in the COBRA engine (automotive service put different strains on it than the generators it was originally designed for) and Crosley replaced it with a cast-iron block called the CIBA. In all other aspects the engine was almost the same if a little quieter. The HotShot had the CIBA engine, the 3-speed crash gearbox and removable doors and windscreen. In the interests of high performance, an accelerator pump had been added to the carbureator. A more deluxe version called the Super Sports was introduced in 1950, featuring real doors that opened on hinges, and a top that folded down instead of having to be dismantled and stowed. In many respects, the HotShot and the Super Sports were similar to the original "Bug-eye" Austin Healy Sprites. They were minimal sports cars that provided a lot of fun for little money.

Crosley was not having so much luck with the rest of the line, even though roll-up windows were now available, along with cloth upholstery on the sedans and wagons, and a more modern front end and dashboard. Standard-sized cars were easy to get by the early '50's, and Crosley couldn't keep his prices low enough to compete. Production dwindled in 1951 to only 300 cars per month, and by 1952 Crosley sold out the automotive plant to General Tire and Rubber, who had no interest in making automobiles. The sale of the stock brought $68.000, and ended Crosley's dream of becoming another Henry Ford.
Crosleys had a habit of wearing out fast, and beeing "disposable", in that they were thrown away rather than repaired. A good Crosley today is a rare thing indeed, although parts are not too terribly hard to get. Station wagons from 1948-50 seem to be the most commonly available. HotShots and Super Sports models would probably be the most desirable, as they were never anything more than fun cars and acn still be that today. Look for a 1950 model, because Crosley succumbed to owners complaints about squealing brakes and dropped the disc brakes in favor of 9-in. hydraulic drums in 1951.
Any of the prewar models would be a find. They all survived the scrap metal drives of World War II because their fuel economy made them so desirable, but how many survived the Korean War is an unknown quantity. A 1941 Parkway Delivery in mint condition would probably be worth whatever (within reason) anyone would want for it. The author's favorite postwar model would be a 1950 convertible. It had the distinct Crosley look, could carry four people, and the soft top kept it a lot quieter.
The engines were used for many years after the demise of the company as motors for refrigeration units on big semi-trucks, so there is a more common availability of parts than a 14 year out-of-production date would normally indicate. Thre is also an active owner's club, furnishing information on hard-to-find parts and accessories, as well as restoration information. With costs rising everywhere, it's just possible that the Crosley, with its fuel economy and efficient size, may become the special interest car to have in the future.

Facts borrowed from Petersen's Special Interest American Cars 1930-1960. Isbn 0-8227-0116-2

Gold-Line



SOME LINKS FOR THE CROSLEY ENTHUSIAST:

Gold-Line

THE PHOTO ALBUM
Click on the thumbnails to see actual photo!


Super Sports

Super Sports

'50 FarmOroad

'49 Panel Delivery

'49 Panel Delivery

'48 Station Wagon

'52 Super Sports

'51 Wagon

'47 Pickup

'47 Pickup

'47 Station Wagon

'51 Station Wagon

'52 Sedan

Many Roadsters

'51 Super Sports

Custom Super Sports

'37 Crosley Prototype

'37 Crosley Prototype

'42 Liberty Sedan

'42 Liberty Sedan

Crosley Tractor

TUG

Crosley Devin

Custom Antique

Super Sports

'52 Super Sports

'47 Pickup

Hot Shot

Super Sports

'47 Pickup

'47 Pickup

Crosley block 46/49

'50 Hot Shot

'39 Crosley

Crofton Brawny Bug

Prewar in van

FarmOroad

Hot Shot w. Gorilla

FarmOroad

Row of 46/48:s

Six FarmOroads

'51-52 Wagon

'51-52 Wagon

'49-50 Sedan

'49-50 Pickups

'49-50 Conv. Sedan

'49-50 Conv. Sedan

'50 Flatbed Pickup

Indian w. C.engine

CC 'Shorty'

Orchard Sprayer

'47 Street Rod

'47 Street Rod

Custom Hot Shot

'49 Darin Crosley

Midget Racer

Crosley Junk

'47 Pickup
Free Space
Free Space


Goldline

Menue (English)
Meny (Svenska)
The Baron's Website
Dirty-Dick's Website
Ford Falcon 1961 Story
Ford Falcon Technical Data
American Bantam
Nash Metropolitan
All Automakers 1968
All Automakers 1977
All Automakers 1987
All Automakers 1997
Baronens Top-10 bilar
Baronens Bilhistorier
Automobile Links
Adresser till Bilhobbyn

This page was last updated 1997-09-01

Goldline

© Facts from Petersen's Special Interest American Cars 1930-1960. Isbn 0-8227-0116-2
© (Layout) IT-Consultant Sverker NylÚn, Hinsnoret 42, S-79193 Falun, Sweden.
© (Images) Crosley Automobile Club, 200 Ridge Rd. E., Williamson, NY 14589, USA. & Others.