Another Hotshot retelling ...
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The popularity of English sports cars in the 1950s enticed some American manufacturers into the field.
Nash introduced its beautiful 1951 British-American Hash-Healey, General Motors its 1953 Chevrolet Corvette and Ford its two-seater 1955 Thunderbird. But the smallest of them all, Crosley Motors, had the honour of introducing the first post-Second World War American sports car.
In the 1920s the adventurous Powel Crosley, Jr. of Cincinnati, Ohio discovered radio but was appalled at a radio's high cost. Working with University of Cincinnati engineering students he developed a $20 radio. He founded the Crosley Corp., and within a few years was the world's largest radio manufacturer. He even established a station, WLW in Cincinnati. Crosley branched out into appliances and pioneered the refrigerator with shelves in the door, the Crosley "Shelvador."
Crosley had another dream: building a small, economical car. With his finances secure, in 1939 he started producing a tiny, basic car with a two-cylinder, air-cooled, 0.6-litre engine. It sold modestly until the Second World War ended car building in 1942.
Auto production resumed in 1945 and in those car-starved years Crosley prospered moderately with his diminutive cars, now much improved with a four-cylinder engine. To add some lustre to the line of cars, station wagons and pickup trucks, he introduced the 1949 Crosley Hotshot sports car.
The tiny roadster was just 3,467-mm long with styling resembling an inverted bathtub, a popular styling theme at that time. There were no doors or trunk lid, the spare tire was bolted onto the rear deck and the windshield was a flat sheet of glass. Mounting the headlamps on the hood frog-eye fashion avoided intricate metal stampings.
The Hotshot's wheelbase was only 2,159-mm, its track 1,016-mm and it rode on tiny 4.50 by 12-inch tires. Weight was a feathery 499-kg.
Suspension was basic semi-elliptic springs and solid axle in front and quarter-elliptics and coil springs with a solid axle at the rear. Power went to the rear wheels through a three-speed, non-synchromesh, floor-shift transmission.
Under the simple hood was its best feature: an overhead camshaft, five-main-bearing, four-cylinder engine. Although displacing only 725-cc, it produced 26.5 horsepower at 5,400-rpm, a then astronomical speed for an American engine. It boasted America's highest specific power output.
It had a larger bore than stroke 63.50 by 57.15-mm before most manufacturers had discovered its advantages. And overhead cams were a rarity in American production cars.
The engine had powered war-time Navy generating sets, and its sheet metal construction made it very light. The sheet metal was brazed together, thus the name "Cobra" (for COpper BRAzed) block. Unfortunately in automotive service the engine developed disastrous leaks, allowing coolant into the oil. Crosley changed to a cast iron "Ciba" (Cast Iron Block Assembly) engine in 1948, and the head and block were one unit.
Another advanced although then unappreciated feature was four-wheel "Hydradisc" calliper type disc brakes introduced in 1949, making the Crosley the world's first production car with four-wheel calliper discs. Adapted from aircraft use, they proved troublesome for cars, and since Crosley lacked the engineering resources to develop them they were used for only one year.
The Hotshot soon gained a reputation of sorts by "winning" the first 1950 six-hour Sebring, Florida endurance race. Its victory was not for speed, but under an "Index of Performance" handicapping formula based on distance travelled and engine size. With its tiny engine the Crosley won at a speed of 84 km/h. A Hotshot also did well in the 1951 24 hours of Le Mans, France until its generator failed.
Mechanix Illustrated car tester Tom McCahill (10/'49) reported zero to 96 km/h in 28.1 seconds and top speed of 119 km/h. This was not quite as fast as the MG TD's 22.8 seconds to 96, and 129 km/h top speed, but McCahill noted the MG had a 1.25 litre engine and cost about twice as much.
McCahill admitted that the Hotshot and later Super Sport, which had doors and a 10.0:1 compression ratio, were simply and crudely built to keep the price under $1,000. Although he dubbed it a "tin tub on wheels with a fine engine," he concluded that it was "dollar for dollar and pound for pound one of the greatest sports cars ever built."
But the enjoyable little sports car couldn't save Crosley Motors. From a 1948 high of 29,089, sales declined annually until by 1952 demand was too low to continue production.
Powel Crosley's Hotshot/Super Sports was a sports car truly built for having fun. But it was just too small and ahead of its time, so remains a tiny chapter in automotive history.