The Crosley – Simple, Cheap, and Fun
In 1940 if you wanted to buy a Crosley, you went to your local hardware store not a car dealer. Hand over $210, wait a few weeks, and a shiny new Crosley would appear in your driveway.
The Crosley was the invention of Powel Crosley Jr. a man famous for radios and refrigerators in the 1920s and 30s. Nicknamed the Henry Ford of radios, Crosley’s radios were the cheapest to be found. And to make sure his customers would have something to listen to, he started the radio station, WLW. Located in his hometown of Cincinnati, it broadcast around the world with its 500,000 watt signal. Crosley was also owner of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team and built a stadium – Crosley Field which held the first night ballgames. But Crosley’s big dream was to design cars. His first car was built at the age of 13 and ran on electricity.
The Crosley was America’s lowest priced car. $210 bought you a mini compact car with an 80 inch wheelbase. During the first year of production, 1939, Crosley sold 2017 of the odd-looking, parrot-nosed cars. In 1940 and 1941, Crosley improved the engine, and another 2700 cars were sold. In 1942, 1029 models had been produced when the start of World War II brought all passenger car production to a halt.
What kind of car did you get for $210? The Crosley automobile was a 1,000 lb. 2-door convertible, built small enough so that it could be sold out of the same stores that sold Crosley refrigerators and radios. In 1940 Crosley made five models with the smallest priced at $210. The models included a standard and a deluxe sedan; a station wagon; a convertible; a pickup with a canvas top and several commercial models. The cars were very basic with low freestanding fenders and a bulging hood with small horizontal grilles. Headlamps were attached to the sides of the hood. The interior contained hard seats, a central speedometer and fuel and water gauges. For the models made between 1940 and 1942, a 12-horsepower Waukeshaw Four powered the car. These cars had mechanical brakes, a six gallon fuel tank, and 12-inch tires. The price tag went up a little to $339 for the two-passenger convertible and to $496 for the station wagon. In 1941, Crosleys began appearing on dealer lots. In 1942, prices ranged from $413-$581.
With the start of the war, Crosley was commissioned by the U.S. to build overhead cam four-cylinder engines. These engines developed 26.5 hp at 5400 rpm, and weighed only 60 pounds. This engine powered everything from large commercial refrigerators to small planes. The engines had a copper and steel block which was subject to electrolysis, which caused holes to develop in the cylinders. To fix this problem, Crosley changed to a cast iron black. These engines were later used in Crosley cars up until 1948.
In 1946 car production resumed. The ’46 Crosley was as a two-door, four seat sedan with a price tag of $905. Only a dozen convertibles were built in 1946.
In 1947, a two-door convertible was added to the line up at $949. The sedan price was dropped to $888. After building almost 5000 cars in 1946, Crosley went on to make 19,000 in 1947 and 29,000 in 1948. Although his cars were selling, competition was building. Flashy new designs from the big Three – Chrysler, General Motors and Ford were filling up the car lots and pushing the Crosleys toward the back. Advertising and marketing teams also influenced the general public to buy their cars. Crosley cars also began developing engine problems. In 1949, only 7431 models were produced.
1947 Crosley Convertible
The 1949 Crosley was probably the best of the Crosley cars. The parrot bill appearance was gone and the hood had been smoothed out. Integral fenders contained sealed-beam headlights. This car was also the first American car to have disc brakes. Turn signals were standard on the sedans and convertibles. The prices for these cars ranged from $866 to $849. A sporty little model called the Hotshot listed for $849 The Hotshot was the first real postwar sports car in America.
1949 Crosley Hotshot
In 1951, a few frills were added to the Hotshot and the Super Sport was born,. The Super Sport gave Crosley his last chance at fame, before the big boys took over the automotive world. The little roadster could hit speeds of 90 miles per hour and got 30 miles per gallon or better. The handling of the car was outstanding due to semi-elliptical springs in the front suspension and quarter ellipticals in the rear. In the March issue of Motor Trend, test results of the car were publicized.
The Super-Sport was characterized as a “perfectly practical machine for everyday knock-around use, requires no pampering and priced at $999, factory delivered, Cincinnati, Ohio, it warrants very serious consideration from the budget-conscious car buyer.”
1951 Crosley Super Sport
In 1952, Crosley came out with a machine called the Farm-O-Road. The FOR was similar to a small Jeep. It was light enough to go over rough ground and could pull a plow. It had dual transmissions, nine forward speeds, and big flotation tires. This vehicle was a cross between a truck and a tractor for the average sized farm. A full set of farming implements came with the FOR. The FOR was unique in that is had two sets of tires. Once the farming was done, the large tractor tires could be taken off and regular sized tires put on. The FOR weighed only 1,000 pounds and was easy to maneuver. But despite the tire gimmick, not many FORs were sold. Crosley’s timing was off for this type of vehicle.
In 1952, Crosley left the automobile business. His cars had fallen victim to the “bigger is better” way of thinking of the ’50s. The one major flaw in Crosley’s dream was that it was ahead of its time. A few years later, he would see the huge success of the Rambler and the tiny VW Bug. These cars carried Crosley’s statement– make it simple, cheap and fun.