Classic Cars A to Z

Crosley Microcars History

Article by Mark Trotta

By 1939, industrialist Powel Crosley Jr. had already made a fortune as a radio and appliance manufacturer. He also had a passion for cars, and believed that America was ready for a small economy car. With the assistance of his younger brother Lewis, he incorporated Crosley Motors and began assembling his tiny, no-frills cars in Richmond, Indiana. A second factory in Marion, Indiana soon followed.

Crosley microcars history

Part of Crosley's plan was to sell his microcars in department stores that also sold his radios and refrigerators. By design, the cars were narrow enough (48" width) to be moved through a standard commercial store door, and small enough to be worked on in back rooms. Ultimately, most of the car's sales would be through appliance stores.

Pre-War Crosley Cars (1939-1942)

The first of the Crosley cars was a two-door convertible, riding on an 80-inch wheelbase and weighing less than 1,000 pounds. The chassis had half-elliptic springs with a beam axle in front and quarter-elliptic springs in the rear. Under the hood sat a tiny two-cylinder engine, along with a battery and four-gallon gas tank.

Waukesha Engine

The original Crosley engine, manufactured by Waukesha Engines, was an air-cooled L-head twin-cylinder displacing 580cc. Called the Model 150 Cub Twin, it featured a fan as an integral part of the flywheel. A three-speed manual transmission linked directly to the rear axle via a torque tube.

While this design was simple and eliminated the need for universal joints, it proved to be unreliable, and conventional joints were fitted beginning in 1941. The Waukesha 150 Twin powered Crosley vehicles from 1939 through 1942.



Crosley microcars originally had mechanical brakes at all four wheels. It was an unique design, in that the lining floated free between the shoes and the drum. In 1940, the brake shoes were updated with riveted linings.

Crosley Motors history

Inside, Crosley cars came equipped with a 60-mph speedometer, ammeter, oil pressure gauge, and a hand-cranked windshield wiper. There was no gas gauge. The windows slid open for ventilation and to allow hand-signaling. A rear seat was optional.

New Models

For 1941, several new body styles were introduced.

Crosley cars history

Crosley models now included two-door and four-door convertibles, a station wagon, a pickup, and a convertible sedan that featured windows for the rear passengers.

Crosley pickup microtruck

The new Covered Wagon model was a convertible pickup truck with a removable back seat. With the top in place, the Covered Wagon functioned as a car, and with the top down and the rear seat removed it became a 1/4-ton pickup truck.

Also new for 1941 was the Parkway Delivery, a mini-panel truck with no roof over the front seat. The convertible coupe and convertible sedan would become the two most popular models.


Crosley Production During WW2

Crosley was the last company to cease production of civilian vehicles in 1942, partly because the War Production Board was unsure how to best use Crosley's small factories. The Richmond facility was sold during the war years.

Not surprisingly, during World War II, Crosley's microcars became more attractive to buyers, simply because of gasoline rationing.


Post WW2 Crosley

Crosley Motors resumed production in 1946. A new, larger CC model featured a body designed by Sundberg and Ferar, a company who also designed home appliances, industrial equipment, vending machines, and others.

Although produced in mid-1946, they were referred to as 1947 models. Production of the CC model ran through 1948.

Crosley microcar ad

Exterior differences from pre-WW2 models included headlights now recessed into the fenders.

Crosley CoBra Engine (1945-1949)

The post-war Crosley models were powered by an innovative four-cylinder, overhead-camshaft engine. Originally designed by Lloyd M. Taylor during WW2 to run generators, it was built from an assembly of steel tubing and stampings, not cast as most engine blocks were. The parts were assembled in a jig, then copper brazed together at high temperatures. The copper brazing process gave the engine it's name, CoBra.

Overhead Cam

A vertical shaft with bevel gears was used to drive an overhead camshaft, instead of a more conventional chain drive, so that engine oil could be fed up through it to pressure feed the cam bearings.

A 2.50" bore x 2.25" stroke made an engine displacement of 724cc, or 44 cubic-inches. With a compression ratio of 7.5:1, the CoBra engine produced 26 horsepower at 5200 RPM.

Crosley cars history

The CoBra engine was prone to rust in the water jackets when used with regular water and antifreeze, and also prone to damage from overheating. This wasn't a problem with military mechanics trained to prevent these issues, but became a problem once the engine made it into the general public.



For 1947, Crosley Motors added a two-door station wagon to the line-up. Sales increased to 19,000 units, but much of that can be attributed to the overall new car shortage.

Crosley was hoping for 80,000 sales in 1948, but sold 28,374 units, which would prove to be their best sales year. Most popular model was the station wagon.


Crosley CIBA Engine (1949-1952)

By 1949, CoBra engine issues became large enough for Crosley to redesign the engine in cast iron. The new engine, called CIBA (Cast Iron Block Assembly), was a water-cooled inline-four cylinder utilizing five main bearings. Displacement was kept at 724cc. This motor would power all Crosley cars through the end of production.

The CIBA engine came standard on the HotShot and retrofitted the engine to many other cars. Cobra engine owners could retrofit CIBA units for $89 with exchange.


In 1949, Crosley sales fell nearly 75 percent. Although the cars sported all-new bodies and engines, most of the chassis and brakes were leftovers from pre-war production.

Roll-up windows and electric wipers became options in 1949.


Four-Wheel Disc Brakes

From mid 1949 to mid 1950, Crosley microcars were fitted with airplane-type disc brakes on all four wheels, but these would be short-lived. The alloy material was found to rust, which was not a problem on airplanes, but was a problem in parts of the country that used salt on roads.


Crosley HotShot (1949-1952)

In a departure from the company's history of building bare-bones economy cars, Crosley Motors introduced the HotShot sports car in 1949. Riding on an 85-inch-wheelbase chassis, the HotShot was five inches longer than other Crosley cars.

Crosley HotShot sports car

Powering the HotShot was the 724cc CIBA engine. The doorless roadster had a dropped frame for a lower center of gravity, with a solid axle on semi-elliptic/coil springs up front and quarter-elliptic on the rear wheels. This arrangement made for quick and spirited handling.

The tiny two-seater had bug-eye headlights and no trunk, with the spare tire mounted above the back bumper. At the corners were 12" x 4.50" tires.

Crosley In Competition

Because of it's light weight, the HotShot proved very competitive in road racing. They were minimal sports cars that provided a lot of fun for little money.

Weighing about 1,300 pounds stock, it only took a few minutes to strip the HotShot down by removing the top, spare tire, bumpers, doors, headlights, and windshield. This would remove over 100 pounds of weight from the car, and help it achieve speeds of 80+ mph.



Throughout the early fifties, HotShots dominated 750cc sports car racing, winning 10 out of 12 SCCA west-coast races alone. A Crosley HotShot also won the 1950 Sebring endurance race, an event that used a formula to measure cars against each other based on engine displacement. After six hours of racing, a stripped-down HotShot finished ahead of others in its class with an average speed of 52 mph.

Crosley Super Sport (1950-1952)

A trim level above the Hot Shot was added in 1950. Called the Super Sport, the new model featured full doors that opened on hinges, while standard Hot Shots had cut-down sides with either no doors or removable half doors. A new convertible top folded down instead of having to be dismantled and stowed.


Crosley Farm-O-Road 1950-1952

Decades before the John Deere Gator and other UTVs, the Crosley Farm-O-Road was offered as a small, dual-purpose vehicle. Based on the original Jeep, options included dual rear wheels, a pickup bed which could come with a hydraulic dump, a rear seat, a top, and side window curtains.

Crosley Farm O Road

The Farm-O-Road rode on a tiny 63-inch wheelbase with an overall length of 91.5-inches. After it had done your farming, you could take off the dual wheels and drive it into town.

The transmission featured two gear ranges with six forward speeds and could pull farm implements. Attachments included such items as a plow, a sickle bar mower, and a reel mower. Optional front and rear power takeoffs could handle a number of tools.

Crosley Cars History

The Farm-O-Road went into production in mid 1950 and offered until 1952. About 600 units were built during that time.


Last Year of Crosley Microcars

For 1950, the Crosley line-up included the Standard, Hot Shot, Super, and Farm-O-Road. Total sales of all vehicles was under 7,000.

In 1951, 9" hydraulic drum brakes replaced the problematic disc brakes, but provided little boost in sales. Sales fell to 6,600 units for the year.



With less than 2,000 vehicles sold for the 1952 model year, Crosley decided to cease production. Over 14 years of production, Crosley Motors sold 24,871 vehicles. Less than 6,000 pre-war vehicles were built.


Post WW2 was not a good time to offer small cars in a nation enjoying cheap gas and high speed. The "bigger is better" attitude prevailed through most of the 1950s.

Crosley cars did have several automotive firsts, such as the first mass-market single overhead camshaft (SOHC) engine, and the first American carmaker to use modern disc brakes.

Crosley microtruck history

Post-Production Crosley Motors

Because Crosley engines had served as motors for refrigeration units on big semi-trucks, there was still a decent availability of parts, so Crosley-powered racers remained in competition for many years after production ended.

Farm-O-Road/Crofton Bug

In 1959, a revamped version of the Crosley Farm-O-Road was produced by Crofton Marine Engine Co. as the Crofton Bug. Crofton made several modifications to expand it's usefulness, but all parts still interchanged with Crosleys. From 1959 through 1962, approximately 200 to 250 Crofton Bugs were made, with a few selling in 1963.


Microcar Pioneers

While the Crosley cars were not a financial success, they were pioneers for small cars in the North American market. Production of the sub-compact Nash Metropolitan began in October 1953, with the first shipment of cars arriving to the U.S. several months later. By the late fifties, Volkswagen Beetle sales were slowly rising.

Crosley microcars history


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