In the late 1930s, Powell Crosley Jr. thought the American motoring public, previously accustomed to spacious, powerful cars, was prepared for a diminutive automobile. And he, Crosley, had just the car for them — one bearing his name.
From 1939 to 1952 thousands of the tiny Crosleys were built to help satisfy the automobile-hungry American public after World War II. Various Crosley models were offered including sedans, wagons, convertibles, and trucks. Roadsters were manufactured for only four years.
Somehow, the remains of a 1952 Crosley roadster ended up in a northern Virginia BMW dealership’s parts bin. That dealer knew Jon Van Sickle and his interest in smaller-than-usual cars, so in 1983, he presented Van Sickle with an offer he could not refuse: Haul everything out in one day or it was all going to the dump.
Van Sickle sprung into action and, as it turned out, all of the parts nearly constituted a complete Crosley. When Van Sickle brought them all to his home and began sorting through them, he discovered many of the Crosley’s parts came from other cars.
For instance, he discovered that the chrome-plated emergency brake handle is identical to the brake handle used on a 1952 Pontiac. Another shared part is the three-spoke steering wheel from a Jeep, with the horn button at its center coming from a Volkswagen, and an ignition switch from a Model A Ford. Even the single brake light is from an Indian Motorcycle and the gas tank cap is from a Briggs and Stratton motor.
Research into the builder’s history revealed that since Crosley was a relatively small manufacturer he could not purchase parts with the economy of scale that Ford or General Motors could. According to Van Sickle, most all of these parts are still readily available, which is good news for any other Crosley enthusiasts engaged in restoration projects.
When the time came to paint his car, Van Sickle chose President Red with the contrasting wheels painted Ford Wimbledon White.
The inside of the car is upholstered in red with a black fabric top trimmed in red piping. The plastic rear window can be removed with a zipper.
A three-speed non-synchromesh floor shift transmission handles the double-clutch shifting duties both up and down.
What parts Van Sickle could not locate — such as the form-fitting front and rear gravel pans — he fabricated himself. The speedometer can register speeds up to 70 mph but Van Sickle says, “I wouldn’t want to be in it at that speed.”
Unbelievably, the original 4.50×12-inch Goodyear Double Eagle Super Cushion tires remain on the car after Van Sickle treated them with preservatives. Those tires support the little car on an 85-inch wheelbase. The 44-cubic-inch four-cylinder engine develops 26.5 horsepower. A 6-volt battery is positioned under the hood by the 156-pound engine, and at the rear of the car is the 6.5-gallon gasoline tank.
The storage space behind the two seats offers room for the side curtains. Each side curtain has a flap through which the driver and passenger can reach through to gain access to the interior door handle, as the car has no outside door handles.
Van Sickle estimates that he has spent in the neighborhood of 7,000 hours putting his Crosley back into like-new condition — far more than it took to build it in 1952.