Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Crosley automobile comes to market

Powel Crosley Jr. began sketching designs for his new car in 1934. It would be an inexpensive, very small car and would retail for under $400 at a time when the average car sold for around $700.

In 1936, he and his brother Lewis chose the Waukesha Engine Company to build a 13.5 horsepower, air-cooled engine. They wanted the engine to average 50 miles to a gallon of gas.

Early on, the car was nicknamed the CRAD, for the Crosley Radio Automobile Division. In fall 1938, The Crosley Radio Corporation officially became The Crosley Corporation to recognize the forthcoming Crosley automobile.

1939 Crosley
1939 Crosley

The first Crosley coupes and sedans began rolling off the assembly at the mile-long Crosley building in Richmond, IN, in spring 1939. The Crosley had its first public showing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday, April 28, 1939. This was where Powel had previously worked so hard to make his mark in the budding auto industry.

The little auto was a radical departure from the bigger, more powerful, more comfortable cars of the day. The Crosley was about 10 feet long, with 12-inch diameter wheels, the gas tank held four gallons, the crankcase two quarts of oil, and the entire car weighed a little over 900 pounds.

A week after the 1940 New York Auto Show, Cannonball Baker drove a Crosley cross-country and back on only 130 gallons of gas, bearing out the company’s 50 miles per gallon promise. In summer of 1940, Crosley competed in the Army Quartermaster program to develop a prototype reconnaissance vehicle.
Sales in 1940 were 422 cars and in 1941 were 2,289. Sales in 1942 were 1,029 before cessation of manufacture for World War II.

During the war, Crosley purchased the rights to an overhead-camshaft, four-cylinder, “CoBra” (copper-brazed) sheet steel engine. The complete engine weighted 59 pounds and produced 36 h.p. from 44 c.i.d.

Production of the postwar Crosleys began in Marion, Indiana, in May 1946. These offerings consisted of a two-door sedan and a convertible coupe with prices starting at $905. The 1946 Crosley used a modified CoBra engine that produced 26.5 h.p. with a mileage rating of 50 m.p.g. Prices started at $888 in 1947, which was about $300 less than its nearest competitor. For 1948, Crosley added an all steel bodied station wagon. Crosley reached its production peak in 1948 with 27,707 cars produced, with 23,489 of the total being station wagons.

1949 Crosley Hotshot
1949 Crosley Hotshot

In mid-year 1949, Crosley introduced hydraulic disc brakes on all four wheels. The famous Hotshot sports car debuted in mid-summer. It was America’s first mass produced postwar sports car. It was a sporty proposition with an overhead cam engine and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes.

Crosley sales overall in 1951 were just over 6,500 units. In the early 1950’s, American motorists expected more than basic transportation in their automobiles. Longer, lower, and more power was the mantra of the Big Three. Crosley’s declining sales came as a direct result of providing an economical, no-frills offering in a market that didn’t value these strengths. Crosley production ground to a halt in July 1952, after a production run of 1,522 cars.

Between 1949 and 1952, Powel Crosley invested more than $3 million of his own money trying to save his venture. Crosley Motors was sold to General Tire and Rubber Company. The car was no more, but the Crosley engine lived on in various applications into the 1970’s.

As it turned out, Powel’s ideas for an economy car may have been 10 years too early for the marketplace. By 1958, the combination of imports and the Nash Rambler accounted for 12 percent of car sales. Studebaker introduced the Lark compact in 1959, with General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler offerings in hot pursuit.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

Powel Crosley Jr.’s early automotive exploits in Indiana

Powel Crosley Jr. was born on September 18, 1886, in Cincinnati, OH, but many of his early automotive exploits took place in Indiana.

Powel Crosley, Jr.

In 1900, the age of the automobile was dawning across America. Powel became interested in cars and sketched his own design of an automobile, which he demonstrated late that summer.

In 1907, he incorporated the Marathon Motor Car Company housed in rented factory space in Connersville, IN. The Marathon Six was an assembled car with all of the components purchased from outside sources. By early fall he finished the prototype and landed six advance orders. Then the Panic of 1907 started in October, and investment capital dried up across the country. Marathon went under due to lack of funds.

In 1908, Indianapolis seemed poised to establish itself as a center of the automobile industry. Carl Graham Fisher, owner/operator of the Fisher Automobile Company, hired Powel as a floor hand at his dealership on North Illinois Street. While working for Fisher, Powel crossed paths with everyone who was anyone in Indianapolis, including most of the big names in the city’s auto industry like racers Barney Oldfield and Johnny Aitken and industrialist James A. Allison, Fisher’s Prest-O-Lite partner.

In summer 1909, Powel talked himself into a job as assistant sales manager at David M. Parry’s new Parry Automobile Company. It was Powel’s job to visit dealers and inspect operations, help them generate excitement, and promote sales.

In February 1909, Fisher and Allison, along with partners Arthur C. Newby of National Motor Vehicle Co., and Frank H. Wheeler of Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company, bought 320 acres northwest of Indianapolis to develop the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Powel began spending a lot of time there promoting the Parry Automobile Company and talking with anyone and everyone who would listen – drivers, mechanics, and the press. “He never shut up,” one observer said. Powel’s hopes heightened – maybe he could leverage his way back into manufacturing his own automobile.

Powel soon moved on to a sales position with Newby’s National Motor Vehicle Co. Within a few weeks he was working with Aitken and the rest of the company’s racing team publicizing the cars. Later, he was working for the Inter-State Automobile Company in Muncie, IN, while there he watched the 1911 Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.

Powel and his brother Lewis developed the Crosley automobile in 1939, but that’s a story for another time.

For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.

Check our Reviews

These books may make a great gift for one of your auto fanatic friends.

When I think about what initially got me interested in automobiles, I’d have to say it is automotive styling. With that in mind I’d like to share some brief automotive styling book reviews.


A Century of Automotive Style: 100 Years of American Car Design by Michael Lamm & Dave Holls does an excellent job covering the first 100 years of automotive styling. Early in the beginning of the automobile, manufacturers embraced the fact that design-styling sells. Lamm and Holls follow the genesis of auto design from carriages and ship design to the futuristic themes of airplanes and space ships. They talk about the industry not just in terms of the transition from carriage makers to the mass production auto giants, but they also unearth the trends and innovative stylists shaping the industry. The authors give an overview of working in a design studio and some ideas what might be down the road. The book’s depth provides a look at areas not normally accessible to industry outsiders.

Peruse A Century of Automotive Style


Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World by Glenn Adamson documents Brooks Stevens’, broad career in industrial design from 1934 – 1979. Where one instance occurred in 1938, Brooks Stevens customized his own Cord L-29 Cabriolet. Stevens made slight changes to the body and fender contours, finished off with a streamline paint job, and added a sloping windshield and chrome wheel discs over the stock wire wheels. Next, he removed the rumble seat and folding top and installed a seamless rear body with a rounded fin protruding from the center. (This may be the earliest tail fin to appear on an American car.) He dramatically transformed the front of the car with a bar type grille with sculptured chrome bumpers and teardrop shaped “wood lights.” Today, this car resides in a private collection. Adamson yields a through look at Brooks Stevens’ influence on industrial design.

Peruse Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World


Virgil Exner: Visioneer: The official biography of Virgil M. Exner, designer extraordinaire by Peter Grist offers an extensive look at one of the great auto designers of the Twentieth Century. Virgil Exner is probably best known for Chrysler’s ‘Forward Look’ automobiles of the mid 1950’s. His industrial design legacy is traced from 1934 through 1972. The author provides insights about Exner’s early artistic endeavors, his design process, and the transfer from concept model to finished product. The book includes previously unseen works and family photos among the 150 color images. It is interesting to note Exner’s links to Indiana with Studebaker, Buehler, and Duesenberg.

Peruse Virgil Exner: Visioneer: The official biography of Virgil M. Exner, designer extraordinaire

The Automotive Book Review section is my attempt to share reviews of current and other auto-related books. Most of the books have an Indiana automotive history connection or feature a broad automotive context.

Peruse The Automotive Book Review section to discover some ideas for gifts for that genuine car nut in your life.

For more information on our bookstore, follow this link.

The Automotive Industry in 1923

The October 1923 National Geographic issue gave an overview of the automotive industry. Looking back, it’s great to note the nation’s progress over the first quarter century of the industry.

In 1898, there was one car in operation for every 18,000 people. In October 1923, there was one motor vehicle to every 8 people. In 1909, we had less than 300,000 motor vehicles in commission, and the national income amounted to less than 29 billion dollars. In 1923, with 13 million registered vehicles, the national income was around 60 billion dollars.

Eleven out of every 13 motor vehicles in the world were being operated on American roads, and twelve out of every 13 produced in a given period were Yankee-made.

Overland Park Camp 1923
Overland Park Camp 1923
Copyright National Geographic

Gas consumption by the motor cars of the country would exceed 6 billion gallons that year. The average driver was able to coax 15 miles out of each gallon of gas he put into his tank.

More new cars were called into commission in 1923 than were built from the birth of the industry up to the end of 1915. Available figures indicate that the total car sales for the year approximated 5 million, including 2 million used vehicles. This means that one family out of every four in the country annually figures in an automobile transaction.

Seventy percent of cars being sold were bought on the deferred-payment plan. Every $50 reduction in selling price opened up a new field of a million prospects. The deferred-payment plan also widened the auto market.

Typical Assembly Line 1923
Typical Assembly Line 1923
Copyright National Geographic

The American tribute to the automotive engineer’s genius has made his industry the third largest in the United States. The automotive vehicle manufacturer has become the largest producer of finished goods in the world.

The Studebaker South Bend plant, for instance, spent $3,000,000 for a new foundry. This would pay for itself in the economies of a comparatively short time.

Another example of innovation was provided by the Army Quartermaster’s Department at Camp Holabird, under the direction of Arthur W. Herrington, later associated with Marmon-Herrington. The department developrd a four-wheel drive truck with oversize pneumatic tires. This truck was touted as going almost anywhere that caterpillar tractors could go, and some places that they could not, in cross-country work and on wet clay roads.

The automotive industry progressed along way over its first quarter century. Just think of all the progress we’ve made in the past 93 years.

For more information on our automotive heritage, follow this link.

Haynes America’s First Car

In 1912, the Haynes Automobile Company began using the trademark and slogan “Haynes: America’s First Car” to remind the public of the historical significance of their product. This slogan upset some of the other early auto pioneers who questioned the legitimacy of the claim. Let’s look at some of the thinking behind this claim.

1894 Haynes Pioneer
Elwood Haynes in the 1894 Pioneer
Copyright Elwood Haynes Museum

The Haynes advertising department stretched the point by using 1893 as the date for the beginning of the Haynes “Pioneer.” This was when Elwood Haynes purchased the Sintz gasoline engine at the Chicago World’s Fair and began experimenting and planning his automobile. He demonstrated the car on July 4, 1894, along Pumpkinvine Pike on the outskirts of Kokomo.

The claim was based on the grounds that the 1893 Duryea was only a motorized buggy and the Haynes Pioneer was built from the ground up as a self-propelled vehicle.

It is also reported that Elwood Haynes formulated an agreement with John W. Lambert who demonstrated America’s first successful automobile in January 1891, in Ohio City, Ohio, just across Indiana’s eastern border. Lambert was unable to generate sufficient sales for this early vehicle and didn’t challenge the claim.

1914 Haynes Model 28 Touring Car
1914 Haynes Model 28 Touring Car

The Haynes Automobile Company advertised in a number of national magazines and newspapers. The company sponsored a double-page advertisement in the Indianapolis Star on July 1, 1913, when the two Haynes autos departed on the Indiana Automobile Manufacturers’ Association – Indiana to Pacific tour. The Haynes’ were part of the 18 automobiles and two trucks who participated in the tour from Indianapolis to Los Angeles to demonstrate that Indiana-built autos had the stamina to make a cross country trip.

That’s the story behind the trademark and slogan “Haynes: America’s First Car.”

For more information on Indiana cars & companies, follow this link.