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Pocket-Sized Project: 1949 Crosley Hotshot Roadster

Somewhat unjustly, a 1949 Crosley Hotshot was drafted into eighth place on Time magazine’s 2007 list of the 50 Worst Cars of All Time, compiled by Dan Neil. The list (ranked by year, not degree of worst-ness) named the Hotshot thanks to an engine that fell apart if the cooling system was not perfect, or the car was run at variable speeds, or you used 1940s salt-laced antifreeze products (salt wrecked the liners). (On the other hand, this list does not mention the Chevy Vega. It’s hard to take a “worst” list seriously when it neglects the Vega – a car that people actually attempted to rely upon.) Anyway, the Crosley’s CoBra engine was a lightweight copper-brazed tin concoction that Powel Crosley, Jr. sold to the Navy for use in generators. It worked well at a constant speed. Placed in the Hotshot, it resulted in plenty of unhappy customers. Crosley replaced the engines with a conventional cast iron block in early 1949. He also changed the car’s brakes since his first attempt at discs disintegrated when roads were salted. Perhaps Mr. Neil was not aware of these spectacular improvements in the Hotshot’s mechanical prowess. But you can capitalize on this dent in the Crosley’s reputation, for here on craigslist is a long-stored 1949 Hotshot, with an asking price of $7800. You’ll need a trailer to retrieve the Hotshot from Santa Ana, California. Gunter Kramer found this project car for us.

I contacted the seller who obligingly sent me an engine photo. Do I detect red overspray on the spark plug boots? Perhaps, but more importantly, you’ll have to resurrect this tiny powerplant, as it’s not running though it does turn. When all 725 cc’s finally burst into song, you’ll be going nowhere very fast with an output of just 26 hp.  You get a three-speed manual ‘box to row it along. But hey, it’s not the speed, it’s the journey, right?

I have discussed storage and tarps before but this car is a confirmation that plastic tarps should never be used to cover a car, not even for one minute. Greenhouses are made of plastic because they trap heat and humidity, which is good for plants but bad for paint. The paint has lifted, separated, and simply gone missing over much of this small acreage of steel. Fortunately, if you are a demon with a DA you could probably strip it one weekend, prime it after work Monday through Friday, and paint it the next weekend. Hey, they do it on TV!

The interior is devoid of seat belts, a rollover bar, or even a grab handle. Gauges are Stewart-Warner. This example retains the optional radio. The detachable doors, top and its frame, and side curtains are not in evidence; no word whether these items come with the car. Note that the shift lever emerges from the tunnel quite far underneath the dash, then doglegs dramatically. Asking prices for restored cars seem to hover in the $25k to $32k area. I don’t think the cellphone and hat come with the car, but short of that, what should we think of the price?


  1. Avatar photo RayT

    I’m not a Crosley expert — just a fan — but am pretty sure NO Hotshots were built with the CoBra engines. All had the CIBA units which, for their size, were little powerhouses. With the help of people like Nick Braje, they were pretty easy to soup up, too.

    These are fun! I’ve driven one and, even though it would hardly be considered acceptable by snooty Automotive Journalists (mentioning no names), it was quick enough, nimble and as basic and enjoyable as a 10-speed bicycle.

    Not sure about the price, but assuming the main drawback is long storage and nothing worse, it seems fair. Fresh paint and consumables, careful reawakening of the engine and a thorough cleaning would put it right.

    Wish I could take the plunge. How many cars can you rebuild on the dining-room table?

    Like 12
    • Avatar photo bobhess Member

      Right on the engines.There were even some late ’48s with the cast block engines. My ’49 station wagon was a very early build and it had the cast block engine. It wound up with a ’48 sedan body on it and some folks did ask about the engine. Fun cars, but not for high speeds. Too slow, too narrow.

      Like 5
  2. Avatar photo TheOldRanger

    I remember seeing this as a kid, and I thought it was pretty neat, but then I was only 7 years old too.

    Like 5
    • Avatar photo Kevin Kendall

      I remember my uncle talking about driving his on the sidewalks of Nashville 😆

      Like 1
  3. Avatar photo Charles Fawcett

    I live near Santa Ana, and would like to view this car before making an offer. Is this possible?

    Like 4
    • Avatar photo Michelle Rand Staff

      Follow the link to the craigslist ad and then click “reply”. You will then be able to set up a way to see it. Let us know what happens!

      Like 3
    • Avatar photo James Dlapa

      This car was for sale at the Pamona swap meet recently with a ask of $6300 just as an fyi. I am sure the seller purchased it near Sacramento a few months back. There is a you tube video of Pamona swapmeet posted recently that shows this car by Mike Frankovich.

      Like 3
  4. Avatar photo Steve Olinger

    I love Crosleys. I had a 49 Hotshot and now own a 1951 Supersports . The main difference is my Supersports has full size hinged doors. Alot easier for me to get in and out. Interesting note LF fender was used on RR and RF fender used on LR. The early hotshots even still have the vent holes in the rear fenders just blocked over. Still have 6 Crosleys

    Like 8
  5. Avatar photo Mike Shaw

    When I was a kid I saw, what appeared to be, a large marine out- board motor that had a laminated bock. Was I mistaken? Whats the history of the Crosley motors?

    Like 3
  6. Avatar photo Rusty Sedlack

    Well, at least some folks seem more auto savvy then others. The comments almost made up for the present journalism. A Crosley Hot Shot WON the very first Sebring race! Crosleys were also successfully campaigned in Europe and were the go to engines for the Y-Class hydroplanes in APBA sanctioned races until Sunbeam came out with the Imp. And yes, Crosley engines made it the the Homelight “Bearcat” outboard motor. Too light, too narrow indeed, ha!

    Like 5
    • Avatar photo Jimbosidecar

      I was going to mention the Sebring win, I think Denise McLuggage was one of the drivers? My business partner brought home a Model T pickup truck and a Crosley Hot Shot on one of his annual cross country runs looking for stuff. He would have been one of the original American Pickers back in the mid 1970s

      Like 2
    • Avatar photo Carbuzzard Member

      The Crosley didn’t win overall. It won the “index of performance,” a handicapping formula the French invented so their tiddly little cars could win something at Le Mans.

      That said, it was a great way to go road racing in the early to mid fifties.

      Like 1
    • Avatar photo Kelly Breen

      I was going to say the same thing. These Hotshot the are the most fun per cubic inch in n the planet.

      Like 4
  7. Avatar photo Karl

    Frank Lloyd Wright bought a large number of Hot Shots.
    He and his students drove them from Taliesin to Taliesin West. They were all painted his trademark orange, as all his cars were.
    One was displayed at the A.C.D. Museum with his Packard.

    Like 4
  8. Avatar photo Bill

    Crosleys were used as golf carts at our little country club during the 60s and early 70s.

    Like 2
  9. Avatar photo Carbuzzard Member

    I made a comment above regarding Crosley at Sebring and the French index of performance devised for Le Mans. There was a Crosley that did run at the famous French race course and rather than tap that out here I will ask the moderator’s forbearance for me to provide a link to the article I wrote for Automobile. Fortunately I wrote it long enough ago that I was able to interview one of the coconspirators in the effort. It’s an amazing story.


    Like 1
  10. Avatar photo artyparty

    Such a bundle of fun. You’ll get much more pleasure from driving a car like this around the neighbourhood and to local events than a vehicle with eight times the horsepower and value and everyone will talk to you too! A little too far away from me to be viable, unfortunately. The ideal car in period for blasting around Riverside, just up the road. In fact take it there now and blast around the awful Mall that’s there!

    Like 1
    • Avatar photo Carbuzzard Member

      More fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast cat slow.

      Like 1
  11. Avatar photo Jimmy Novak
    • Avatar photo Carbuzzard Member

      As I mention above, a member of the Crosley car club group on Facebook scraped—copied the text (and one of the photos)—and represented it as his own, placing his name on it. He not only pirated my work (I still hold the copyright), he’s claiming it as his own? I appreciate all the positive comments about the article. I do not the violation of my copyright.

      For those wishing to read the article, please do so where it’s legally published.

      Like 1

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