World War II Sacrifices: 1939 Crosley

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The somber yet beautiful funeral for former President George Herbert Walker Bush reminds us that the number of World War II veterans is rapidly diminishing.  This generation of Americans made sacrifices both at home and overseas that are hard to contemplate in today’s relatively comfortable world.  One of the sacrifices made on the homefront was the rationing of gasoline.  Done in part to conserve rubber as well, fuel efficient cars were in high demand during the war years.  Cars like this 1939 Crosley, for sale on craigslist out of Lakeside, Arizona, brought far more during the war than they even did when sold new.  Likely the most fuel efficient car made before the conflict, this Crosley is currently being offered for just $2,800.  Is it worth the cost of purchase and restoration to be able to preserve a bit of World War II history on wheels?  (Thanks to Ikey H. for the find!)

In 1939, a Crosley was an odd duck of a car.  Built by home appliance magnate Powell Crosley, who was 6’4′ tall, these diminutive cars were powered by a 12 horsepower two cylinder air cooled engine.  Weighing in at around 925 pounds, the Crosley was as about as bare bones and utilitarian as a car could get.  The only real luxury you could get in a Crosley was one of the company’s famous radios.  These 80 inch wheelbase wonders did have two things going for them.  The first was the low entry price of $325 for a convertible coupe and $350 for a convertible sedan.  Second was the fuel economy these lightweight runabouts provided.  Crosley claimed that they were capable of 50 miles per gallon.

While 50 mpg might be attained in perfect conditions, 40 mpg was more realistic.  This was in an era where 19 mpg was probably above average for Detroit’s newest offerings.  Crosley’s dreams of selling 50,000 of the cute cars through department stores and the dealer network for his other appliances was a bit optimistic.  They ended up selling 1,200 cars in 1939.  Combined production from 1940 through 1942 added up to around 5,000 cars.  The public wasn’t crazy about basic transportation.  As the country was pulling out of the Depression, folks naturally wanted longer, more luxurious automobiles.  That was soon to change.

America’s entry into World War II meant that major sacrifices would have to be made with the resources used in the civilian economy.  Automobile production stopped early in 1942, and rationing of materials needed for the war effort began soon after.  Food, fuel, and rubber were some of the most closely rationed goods.  Americans soon learned to deal with ration stamps and cards that told them how much of a given resource they were eligible to buy.  Most were given an “A” ration stamp for gasoline, which allowed them to purchase 3-4 gallons of gasoline per week.  Suddenly that straight eight Buick in the garage didn’t seem like such a great idea.  The value of Crosleys shot up immediately, with the diminutive supply of these frugal cars being far outstripped by demand for them.

Today that demand isn’t so high.  Prewar Crosleys are simply not the kind of vehicle desired by a collector who enjoys driving their vehicle any decent distance.  A two cylinder car with the structural integrity of an empty been can is not the best choice for modern roads.  Fortunately, a number of new retirement communities and planned communities are perfect for tooling around in one of these cute little runners.  Speed limits are low and a trip to get necessities from the local grocery store can be quite the adventure.  The size of these Crosleys make them easy to park in a corner of your garage, and you might be able to get away with using it as a golf cart.

Would this one be a good candidate for restoration?  The ad, as is standard for craigslist ads that are free and have no real word limit, is terse.  All we are told is that it is all original and “all of drive train, frame, and body.”  Looking through the pictures generally backs up those claims.  Everything looks to be there and rust free.  I am sure some minor parts have probably disappeared, but the Crosley Automobile Club provides members with a lot of information and contacts to help find any part you might need.  Restored models can run for as much as $10,000, and you could probably even come out even or money ahead at this purchase price.  This convertible would also be a great first restoration for someone, as there is just not a lot there that is complicated or expensive to refurbish.

As time goes on, and less and less people have a connection to the World War II generation and their experience, I fear that historical artifacts like this Crosley will fall by the wayside.  As we wallow in our never ending assortment of luxurious consumer goods in this land of plenty, the all too real memory of sacrifice during the war fades in the rear view mirror.  History tells us that war on a grand scale is inevitable, and that we need to be prepared as a country.  Hopefully someone will purchase and restore this little gas sipper and use it to tell a story we need to remember.

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  1. Francisco

    Good write up, Jeff. Many of my greatest role models growing up were WWII veterans. Sadly they are all gone. It’s nice to know that that generation is still fondly remembered, and you expressed it oh so well.

    Like 8
  2. Kenneth Carney

    I agree with you Francisco, I too grew up
    around these amazing people. My
    Grandad flew as a tailgunner in a B-17
    over Germany, my two uncles flew C-47s
    that dropped paratroopers on D-Day, and
    yet another uncle flew Corsairs off the
    Enterprise in the South Pacific. I credit
    these men for giving me enormous back-
    bone–simply put, I was born with a disability that might stop most normal
    people. But thanks to them, and others
    like them, I learned to keep going and
    don’t quit–no matter how bad things
    might get. Today, I’m a double retiree
    still looking for my next challenge.
    Maybe, it might well be this little car
    here. Looks complete enough to do
    something with. Would make a great
    vehicle to putt putt around town in
    as a gas model or even an EV. Either
    way, great write up Jeff, just wish I
    could pay for membership so I don’t
    have to put up with that annoying
    limilt sign you now have. Great
    site though.

    Like 9
  3. steve

    Paint it International orange or that electric yellow green for safety (Although I had a old lady who’d just rear-ended my BRIGHT ORANGE VW camper at the light tell the cop”I didn’t SEE him…) and then drive it across the USA..on all the BACK ROADS,of course.

    Like 0
  4. stillrunners

    Yep neat little bugger there and a start to some fun .

    Like 1
  5. Wrong Way

    Jeff Benett, WWII, Was not a conflict it was a war! Vietnam was a conflict! Other than that, very good read!

    Like 1
    • glen

      He says war several times, he knows.

      Like 0
  6. Robert White


    1939 De Forest Crosley Superheterodyne AM/SW 9-tube


    Like 3
  7. the one

    Slam it put in a 331 Hemi make it a street strip sleeper

    Like 1
  8. Chinga-Trailer

    I’ve always wondered what ol’ Man Crosley really thought about these cars. He’d get into his J Duesy when he had to go to the store and pick up a half gallon o’ milk for the Mrs. Do you think he kept one in the trunk as a spare, or maybe had one just to run to the end of the driveway for the mail or morning paper??

    Like 0

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