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Milestone American Sports Car: 1949 Crosley Hotshot

When you ask someone what was the first postwar American sportscar, the most popular answer is almost always the 1953 Chevrolet Corvette.  That answer is wrong by four years.  A 1949 Crosley Hotshot like this blue example for sale on Facebook Marketplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky was not only the first postwar American sports car in production, but a very stock version won the Index of Performance award at the first running of what would become the Twelve Hours of Sebring.  This tiny but innovative sports car seen in the ad is in running and driving condition and can be yours for $18,500.  Is this the type of pioneer sports car you would like to have in your collection?

The postwar automobile market was wide open for innovation.  Unfortunately, the major manufacturers restarted production of warmed-over prewar models for the most part.  Innovation, however, came in the form of numerous smaller makes.  Some were around in one form or another before hostilities, while others were fresh new companies clawing to survive in one of the most competitive industries in the world.

Crosley was a mix of old and new.  Powell Crosley, a maker of radios, and appliances, and owner of the Cincinnati Reds, made his entry into the automobile market with a two-cylinder, bantam-sized car in 1939.  These tiny automobiles weighed less than 1,000 pounds and were soon offered in numerous body styles on the same chassis.  They were also sold and serviced at the same stores that sold his radios and appliances.  While his cars didn’t sell well, they were a hot commodity when entrance into the war brought on fuel and tire rationing.

During the war, one of the company’s products was an innovative 44 cubic-inch inline-four-cylinder engine fashioned partially from copper sheets brazed together with other aluminum and steel components.  It was called the CoBra.  This was the first mass-produced overhead cam engine in America and was soon used for several industrial applications.  It also became the 26.5 horsepower powerplant for Crosley’s redesigned postwar automobile.  These completely new slab-sided two door automobiles were still small and efficient, and they sold well in the immediate postwar years.  The Cobra engine suffered from electrolysis-induced corrosion problems and the block was replaced with an iron one in 1949.  That little iron block lived on for a few more decades in all manner of products.  One of the more popular uses was powering the refrigeration units in semi-trailers.

Once the market cooled, Crosley’s sales plummeted.  Despite numerous attempts to find niches, such as a Jeep-type vehicle called a Farm-O-Road, Crosley noticed that returning GIs who fell in love with sportscars overseas had no similar product in the United States.  It wasn’t long before Crosley began offering two different sports car bodies, one with doors and one without, to enthusiasts.  The one without doors called the Hotshot, was initially offered with spot disc brakes on all four corners, and items such as headlights, bumpers, and the windshield could be removed with little difficulty if one wanted to go racing.  The market was thirsty for such a car, and it wasn’t long before Crosley Hotshots and Super Sports (the model with doors) started to show up at racetracks.  They were slow, but it was a start.  As mentioned, a Hot Shot won the Index of Performance at the first race at Sebring in 1950.  Another Crosley-powered sports car even raced at Le Mans in 1951.

Sadly, despite these neat little sports cars paving the way for later offerings from other manufacturers, Crosley closed up shop in 1952.  Gas was cheap, Detroit was punching out full-size cars at prices not much higher than what Crosley could offer, and Crosley also got an offer from General Tire to buy his factory in Cincinnati.  The effort hurt Powell Crosley financially.  However, his dream was to produce an automobile with his name on it and he succeeded in making that dream come true.

As for this Hot Shot, not much is said about the car in the ad.  We are told that this 1949 Crosley Hot Shot is in excellent condition “inside out and underneath.”  It is said to run great, but it needs a new windshield.  As there is no curve to the windshield, any glass company in your town can handle replacing it.  The only glaring problem with this car is that someone has replaced the factory seats with ones from a similarly colored boat.  While I am sure they are much more comfortable than the originals, these do look ridiculous in the car.  The radio also looks to be a modern replacement.  That is ironic because Powell Crosley built his fortune mainly by selling radios cheaper than anyone else could.

Once you get past the Lilliputian size of these cars, they are a neat driving experience.  A good Crosley Hotshot is capable of around 77 MPH with the wind at its back.  The solid front axle combined with the dinky tires makes that figure a test of courage, however.  A Hotshot is a car that you enjoy at reasonable speeds, all the while wondering about how it would have been developed if the company had lived on.  If you look closely, a 1958 Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite looks an awful lot like an evolved Hotshot…



  1. Avatar photo alphasud Member

    That was a really well written article. Thank you for enlightening me on this little Crosley of which I knew little about. Very innovative for its time and a shame it was stomped out by other competitors.

    Like 20
    • Avatar photo Bali Blue 504

      Few automakers produced airplanes. Crosley did. Another curious item is a Crosley refrigerator with a radio adorning the front of the icebox. Clever stuff!

      Like 0
  2. Avatar photo bobhess Member

    My first car was a ’49 Crosley. Fun to restore and fun to drive. Hadn’t thought about the Sprite similarity before. Nice car.

    Like 3
  3. Avatar photo Jim

    Collectible Automobile just did a write up of the in the latest issue. If this is in excellent condition, an it looks that way, it looks like this is quite a bargain, as they are listing “excellent” cars as valued at $23-30k. This is really a neat little car, though obviously not too good for someone the size of the gentleman shown struggling to exit it…lol. I’d love to drive one of these to see hoe it handles.

    Like 4
    • Avatar photo JebTN

      If you’re looking for a show quality restoration there is a lot wrong with this one. Nice looking driver. It’s a Crosley very few go in the $23K+ range.

      Like 2
  4. Avatar photo Eric

    I used to peddle Cushman utility vehicles that look like this. It was rated at 18mph but could go down hill 27 according to the speedometer with my son and me holding on for dear life.

    It felt like 127 with no roof, tiny tires and the handling at speed that only a wheel barrow could match.

    Like 5
  5. Avatar photo Terrry

    Crosley also made television sets, mainly table units in both wood or metal cases. They were kinda cool.

    Like 3
  6. Avatar photo Pete Phillips

    Did a partial restoration on a ’51 model of one of these last year, which a local woman inherited. Parts are surprisingly available, but with those tiny tires, straight front axle, and hardly any weight, these ride like a rock, and rattle over every pebble in the road.

    Like 3
  7. Avatar photo bobhess Member

    Don’t ask me about the picture, it was right side up when I sent it.

    Like 1
    • Avatar photo Rallye Member


      Like 1
      • Avatar photo Rallye Member

        When I posted “Huh”, there was no picture.

        Like 0
  8. Avatar photo Big C

    Thank goodness that Hotshot won that one race. Or the history of these would not be nearly as colorful.

    Like 1
  9. Avatar photo Raymondo D'Vaz

    austin copied it .tweaked a little .

    Like 1
  10. Avatar photo Kelly Breen

    I really like these cars, but one of their draws is their low price. No doubt this car is worth the money because of its rarity but I would really like to find a cheap one.

    Like 2
  11. Avatar photo Jimmy Novak

    Crosley Car Owners Club: http://www.facebook.com/CrosleyCarClub

    Like 0
  12. Avatar photo chrlsful

    some say a resounding “No!”. I like ‘em esp the waggy’n p/u. I think we need ‘em now. NHTSA approved, certainly no coBra engine – hybred or EV?

    I thought the rig was a copy like Japan did of the Brits. Funny? the other way round?

    Seat change (good idea) due to last owners (hubby/lady R large sized).

    Perkins had The reffer motor (diesel) a 4.236. I’d even re-power my bronk w/it. Just never found one (gotta turn ina core for new so they R held closely)..

    Like 0
  13. Avatar photo Bali Blue 504

    A great and nearly “all-inclusive” write-up! Being in Crosley’s backyard, so to speak, and having run a radio repair shop for many years, I am quite familiar with every penny-saving innovation he and his engineers successfully contrived. My recollections and stories could fill unlimited pages.
    Check out The Aviation Museum Of Kentucky and view the “Moonbeam.”

    Like 0

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