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World's Greatest Cars - Crosley Hotshot.

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  • mrcooby
    World s Greatest Cars - Crosley Hotshot by Jack Nerad for Driving Today. Sometimes childhood dreams die hard. Just ask Jay Gatsby. Or Powel Crosley. Gatsby you
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 18, 2009
      World's Greatest Cars - Crosley Hotshot
      by Jack Nerad for Driving Today.

      Sometimes childhood dreams die hard. Just ask Jay Gatsby. Or Powel

      Gatsby you might have heard of, but who was Powel Crosley? Well,
      these days the name is largely forgotten, but in the mid-1900s,
      Crosley was one of a unique breed of American businessmen that
      included Errett Lobban Cord and Preston Tucker. He was an
      entrepreneur, a mover-and-shaker, a man who pursued his dreams while
      at the same time engaging in commerce that enhanced the lives of his
      fellow Americans.

      Crosley was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1886, the same year that
      Gottleib Daimler and Karl Benz first drove their motorwagens, and it
      seemed from the beginning he was bitten by the car bug. At the tender
      age of 21 he was not only a car enthusiast, he had also launched his
      first assault into the field of automotive manufacturing. He scraped
      together $10,000 and formed a company to build a car he called the
      Marathon Six. With a suggested price of $1,700, it would have been
      significantly cheaper than any other six-cylinder-powered car on the
      market, but it seemed that 10 grand wasn't enough money to start a
      car company even in 1907. Recession hit the economy, and the Marathon
      Six was stillborn.

      Disappointed but still hopeful, Crosley moved from Cincinnati to
      Indianapolis and took a series of positions with several of the
      budding car companies that were trying to make their way in the
      market like so many dot-coms. Back in Cincinnati two years later,
      Crosley branched out into the advertising business, but still the
      automobile industry was close to his heart. In 1912 he attempted to
      start a second car company, only to see it fail. Then he tried to hop
      on the short-lived "cycle-car" fad with a third start-up car company,
      and it, too, went down the drain. Abandoning the small-car side of
      the business, Crosley next moved to the manufacture of a six-cylinder
      model, but by 1916 he had abandoned all plans to become an automobile
      mogul. He took a job with the American Automobile Accessory Company
      and before long he owned it.

      Many men might have been satisfied. After more than a decade, Powel
      Crosley was a certified success story. But simple success wasn't
      enough for Crosley. Like the gentleman who met his end in a Long
      Island swimming pool, he still had his childhood dreams to pursue.

      Before long, his pursuit of those dreams would take a strange detour -
      - all because his son wanted to buy a radio. First, it was a bit
      surprising that anybody wanted a radio in 1919, because there were
      precious few things to hear on the radio. But the younger Crosley was
      insistent, and the elder Crosley soon found out that the commercially
      available radios of those days cost more than a hundred dollars.
      Other millionaires might have simply bought their son a radio, but
      Crosley saw a business opportunity. He dove into the business of
      manufacturing radios with his usual exuberance, and by 1921 he had
      introduced the Harko Junior crystal set, a radio that retailed for
      just $20.

      The crystal set was just the first step in Crosley's all-out
      onslaught to establish radio as a commercial medium. On the hardware
      side, he introduced a radio with a built-in radio frequency amplifier
      so listeners could hear it without an earplug, essentially making the
      radio a viable consumer product that would soon become ubiquitous.
      And on the software side, he reasoned that people who bought his
      radios would want something to listen to, so he established radio
      station WLW (not WKRP) in Cincinnati and bestowed it with 500,000-
      watt transmitting power. (Today the norm for a big-market radio
      station is 50,000 watts.) He even went to the extreme of buying the
      Cincinnati Redlegs baseball team, so there would be something to
      broadcast on his station and something for the buyers of his radios
      to tune in for.

      The incredibly inventive approach to exploiting a new industry made
      Crosley an extremely wealthy man, and he quickly followed his success
      in the radio business with an excursion into the budding home
      appliance market. An inventor came to him with the idea of building
      storage shelves into the doors of refrigerators. Always one to
      recognize a brainstorm, Crosley bought the idea on the spot, and the
      resulting "Shelvadore" refrigerator proved to be an immediate
      sensation, and so, by the late 1930's Crosley was an even wealthier

      But he still had that childhood dream in the back of his head -- he
      wanted to build cars. And by the time the Thirties were coming to a
      close he had the wherewithal to make that dream a reality.

      But the dream had a stumbling start. In April 1939 a Crosley Company
      press release confirmed the rumors that there would be a Crosley
      automobile, but the release inexplicably described the car
      incorrectly, claiming, among other errors, that it would have a rear
      track of only 18 inches. (Crosley engineers had actually contemplated
      such a vehicle, but wisely turned their backs on it in favor of a
      more conventional approach.)

      The car Crosley introduced to the public a month later at the
      Indianapolis Motor Speedway was strange enough even without the ultra-
      narrow rear track. It had a wheelbase of just 80 inches; it was
      powered by a Waukesha air-cooled, opposed, two-cylinder engine; and
      it lacked conventional universal joints. Priced at $325 for the
      convertible coupe and $350 for the convertible sedan, the cars
      weighed in at significantly less than 1,000 pounds.

      Sadly, they weren't very good. The air-cooled engine didn't produce
      enough power and the lack of u-joints was an immediate problem. Just
      2,000 were sold -- mainly through Crosley-affiliated appliance
      stores -- in 1939, and fewer than 500 in 1940. Major improvements
      were made to the 1941 models, but production in 1941-42 hovered at
      less than 4,000. Certainly General Motors wasn't worried.

      When World War II ended, the American market was starved for cars,
      but Crosley decided to take another left turn. Powel Crosley became
      enamored of a unique little engine designed by an inventor named
      Lloyd Taylor. In a quest for high compression without knock, Taylor
      drew up an engine made of steel stampings (yes, stampings) that were
      then hydrogen brazed to form a single unit. The engine, complete with
      an overhead camshaft, weighed only 133 pounds and was said to produce
      36 horsepower at 5,600 rpm from only 44 cubic inches. Of course, that
      horsepower came on 100-octane "av-gas," but even when de-tuned to run
      on regular gasoline the engine still produced more than 26 horsepower
      or about twice what the Waukesha was putting out.

      The problem was, the engine didn't hold together too well. Oil and
      water leaks plus corrosion were big problems, so even as Crosley
      sales reached new levels in the buying boom after the war, Crosley
      cars got a renewed reputation as "trouble." Production reached 19,344
      for 1947 and an all-time peak of 27,707 in 1948, and but Crosley was
      in a desperate situation when production plummeted to a mere 8,939
      cars and trucks in 1949, even as the company introduced new models.

      Radical measures were needed, and they took two forms. First, Crosley
      ditched the stamped steel "CoBra" engine for a more
      conventional "cast-iron block assembly" or "CIBA" engine. (Customers
      stuck with CoBra engine could exchange them for just a hundred
      bucks.) Second, Crosley decided to go the sports car route with the
      introduction of the Hotshot on July 14, 1949.

      One thing the Hotshot wasn't was beautiful. Designed by Carl
      Sundberg, a Detroit-area industrial designer, the vehicle had a
      kiddie-car look about it, as if it might be powered by foot-pedals.
      It rode on an 85-inch wheelbase, and it was equipped with 12-inch-
      diameter wheels. Weighing in at 1,175 pounds, the 26.5-horsepower car
      was about as responsive as a contemporary MG, but it cost less than
      half as much. It even was equipped with disc brakes, though the
      Goodyear-Hawley "Hydradiscs" proved troublesome in real-world use,
      because salt would cause them to lock up. The Hotshot's light weight
      compensated for its rudimentary suspension layout -- solid front axle
      with two semi-elliptic leaf springs and solid rear axle with both
      coil springs and single-leaf quarter-elliptic springs for location.

      Amazingly, the Hotshots responded well to hot-rodding. With two
      carburetors and a high-lift cam, the engines could produce as much as
      75 horsepower, which made the little cars into speed demons on the
      budding American road race circuit. A Hotshot driven by Fritz Koster
      and Ralph Deshow competed at the very first race at Sebring
      International Raceway in 1950, and it topped the Index of
      Performance. The following year a Crosley Hotshot was leading its
      class at the Le Mans 24-Hour and could well have won the Index of
      Performance when its voltage regulator failed late in the race.

      But though the Hotshot had some on-track successes, it didn't take
      hold as a consumer vehicle. During its three-year production run
      product of the Hotshot and the closely related Super Sports fell far
      short of 3,000 cars, and Crosley sales overall were hemorrhaging, so
      in July 1952 Powel Crosley halted all production of Crosley
      automobiles. And like one Jay Gatsby, he discovered that his future
      was already behind him.
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