Crosley: The motor company that couldn’t

During World War II, pretty much every manufacturer was forced to close their doors for a period as the federal government determined a use for these facilities that would support the war effort. For doomed carmaker Crosley Motors, this was one of the few bright periods in their short, weird history, as the company was one of the last to shutter up during the war years, allowing them to enjoy a brief bout of popularity among Americans looking for a fuel efficient ride.

And that's about the only time that the general public even seemed to consider Crosley as anything more than a quirky maker of ugly cars. These rides were tiny, generally uncomfortable and allegedly extremely dangerous.

Founded in Indiana in 1939, this brand was the passion project of Powel Crosley Jr., a Cincinnati-born millionaire who had made his fortune owning media outlets throughout the state. Despite finding significant success in the world of broadcast, Crosley had his sights set on changing the now lucrative automotive industry with a lineup of cars that would be unlike any on the road. While his cars were certainly unique, they didn't produce a storm so much as a gentle breeze that most consumers didn't even notice.

Crosley introduced his first model in May 1939 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – a coupe-convertible with a two-cylinder engine and a questionable suspension system. Despite its failure to attract a major customer base, Crosley plugged ahead and introduced a number of different body styles.

While almost none of these new models did Crosley any good, they did have some awesome names and marked a lot of "firsts" for the American auto industry. In 1949, Crosley introduced the first post-war American sports car: The Crosley HotShot. This car weighed less than 1,000 pounds, had a convertible top and wasn't even as ugly as its goofy predecessors. However, there is a reason why Time Magazine has called this model one of the "50 Worst Cars Of All Time." For starters, the dual-overhead cam engine – the first of its kind – wasn't sealed together with cast iron, but instead held in place using stamped tin. After a few hundred miles, these engines would get extremely hot and would actually fall apart.

Creating the moniker "sports car" wasn't the only major contribution made by Crosley. They were the first to coin the term "sport utility," although this car wouldn't qualify as an SUV by today's standards, as it was pretty much an open-layout wagon. Crosleys were also the first vehicles to be fitted with 4-wheel caliper type disc brakes, and even made the first mass-market single overhead camshaft (SOHC) engine in 1946.

Although these cars could have been trailblazers, a lack of finesse and expertise on management's end combined with a crowded market doomed Crosley from making any headway going into the second half of the century, as the company closed up shop in 1952. That's not to say that Crosley didn't have its fans, as noted Americans including Frank Lloyd Wright, Humphrey Bogart and Nelson Rockefeller all drove the signature Crosley sports car. The car still has fans today – even Boy George got behind the wheel of a VC Super Sports.
Do you wish Crosley made a bigger splash in the short time it was on the market? Leave your thoughts below: