Crosley postwar models introduce a number of American automotive firsts

Crosley known for the first all-steel bodied station wagon, and introducing four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes.

Postwar Crosley automobiles were innovative and introduced a number of American automotive firsts.

During WWII, Crosley purchased the rights to a shaft-driven, 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. Crosley produced this engine under contract for Naval applications as generator sets and refrigeration units. When introduced on the 1946 Crosley, the shaft-driven, overhead-cam engine was a first in the low-price field.

Production of the postwar Crosleys began in Marion, Indiana, in the early summer of 1946. Offerings consisted of a two-door sedan and a convertible coupe with prices starting at $905, which was about $300 less than its nearest competitor. The Crosley used a modified CoBra engine that produced 26.5 h.p. with a mileage rating up to 50 m.p.g. and could go 60 m.p.h. The new car was 28 inches longer than the previous model and weighted about 1,000 pounds. Both the sedan and coupe were among the first American production cars with a new design in the immediate postwar era. The design introduced slab-side car styling that would become the industry standard.

1946 Crosley

1946 Crosley Two-door Sedan
Copyright © 1946 Crosley Motors Inc.

For 1947, Crosley added an all-steel bodied station wagon. This was an industry first, which predated Plymouth’s offering by a year. Another model in the line was the Sport Utility, which was a convertible station wagon. Not the four-wheel drive vehicle we know today.

Crosley reached its production peak in 1948 with 27,707 cars produced, with 23,489 of the total being station wagons. Crosley proudly claimed that it was the, “World’s largest producer of station wagons.”

In 1949, a new cast iron block engine replaced the CoBra engine. In mid-year, Crosley introduced hydraulic disc brakes on all four wheels on the full line of cars and trucks. The famous Hotshot sports car priced at $849 debuted in mid-summer. It was America’s first mass produced postwar sports car, which predated Chevrolet Corvette mass production by five years. It was a sporty proposition with an overhead cam engine and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes.

1949 Crosley

1949 Crosley Hotshot
Copyright © 1949 Crosley Motors Inc.

The Super Sports roadster debuted in 1950 with upscale trim and a higher horsepower rating for about $50 more than the Hotshot. Super Sports and Hotshots enjoyed some motorsports success in the early 1950’s. Crosley sales overall in 1951 were just over 6,500 units.

By then, however, Crosley’s end was in sight. 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. American motorists expected more than basic transportation in their automobiles. Longer, lower, and more power was the mantra of the Big Three. 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 $3,000,000 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

I recommend Crosley: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation, by Rusty McClure with David Stern and Michael A. Banks, ISBN 1578602912, for further reading.

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