1951 Crosley: A diamond in the rough
By: VERN PARKER
The end of WW II signaled the end of the Crosley automobile.
Powel Crosley envisioned a tiny, lightweight economy car unlike anything Detroit was manufacturing. However, by 1951 even he knew the end was near for the diminutive car he had created just before World War II. Because civilian automobile production had ceased in February 1942, car-starved Americans after the war would buy virtually anything on wheels with an engine attached.
In 1951, a 1,370-pound Crosley Super Sedan had a base price of $1,033 and a 26.5-horsepower four-cylinder engine. A full-size 3,043-pound 1951 Ford had a base price of $1,417 and had a 100-horsepower V-8 engine. A 1951 Cadillac, by contrast, weighed 4,062 pounds, had a base price of $3,528 and had a 160-horsepower V-8 engine under the hood.
A total of 6,614 Crosleys were built in 1951 before the end came the following year. In the late 1950s, John Van Sickle's father operated an Amoco service station in New Philadelphia, Ohio, across the state from Cincinnati, where Crosleys were manufactured. Van Sickle often helped out around his father's station. The station's service "truck" was an old Crosley.
A decade later, in the late 1960s, Van Sickle realized he missed the old Crosley and began looking for one to buy.
After about 10 years of checking out countless disappointing Crosleys, Van Sickle began advertising nationally. In February 1977, a junkyard owner in Basking Ridge, N.J., telephoned to ask, "You the guy looking for a Crosley?"
Van Sickle answered in the affirmative. He was told that the car was a 1951 sedan that was more or less complete. "There's a rod through the pan and the top is smashed down from kids jumping on it," he was informed. If he wanted it, he'd better hurry. Otherwise, it was going to the crusher.
Van Sickle quickly drove to New Jersey to inspect the junkyard Crosley. Where others saw worn-out junk, Van Sickle saw a diamond in the rough and he was the man to restore the sparkle to this gem. The original spare tire was still slung in its cradle under the car. After purchasing the bedraggled red Crosley, Van Sickle rented a two-wheel dolly and purchased a pair of boat trailer lights which he attached, via long wires, to the rear of the Crosley to make it legal while being towed home to Manassas, Va.
Numbers on the car indicate that it was the 26th Crosley built for 1951. The first order of business was to return the 44-cubic-inch four-cylinder engine to working condition. With that task complete, Van Sickle removed the cardboard headliner and restored the roofline to something resembling the original.
In 1978, Van Sickle began to disassemble his 12-foot-long Crosley on its 80-inch wheelbase and in three years had a completely restored 1951 car that is, in actuality, better than it was originally.
In 1951 the Crosley was delivered as a deluxe model with a chrome propeller affixed to the center of the grille. The propeller would spin as the car was driven. The car also had two windshield wipers, a heater and a suction-cup ashtray. "I just wish I had a chrome ashtray," Van Sickle laments. (I threw mine away years ago -Lou)
To the base price were added extra costs for transportation and a spare tire and tube. While stripping off the red paint he discovered that his 4-foot-wide vehicle left the factory with May Green paint and Canto Cream wheels.
The three-speed floor shift manual transmission is nonsynchronized. "If you don't double clutch," Van Sickle says, "it will leave you." At 70 miles per gallon, the 8-gallon gasoline tank provides enough fuel for well over a range of 500 miles. "I've had it up to 65 mph," Van Sickle says. He did not purchase and restore his car as a garage ornament. For him, it brings back fond memories. "Wherever I drive it," he says, "it always makes people smile."
(If you'd like Vern to feature your Crosley in his Classic Classics column, send a good-quality photo (frontal 3/4 view) plus brief details and phone number to Vern Parker, 2221 Abbotsford Drive, Vienna, VA 22181.)