Where’d this all start? How did I end up knowing so much about Crosley, his cars, and his inventions? Oh yeah, he invented a lot of really cool things but that’s another story for another day.
A few years ago, I decided I should get a car I could work on, something to keep me out of trouble and into a little fun. I had a family to take care of, too, and if I was going to play in the garage, I needed something I could get into for cheap. After a lot of searching, I found a 1948 Crosley station wagon for sale, only $500. By the time I was done getting it ready for the road, I’d only spent total $1,200. How can you beat that?
Working on the car, I was amazed at the engineering of it. Powel Crosley Jr. was very thrifty but he was also very smart. There’s a saying that the only thing left behind when he finished a car was some dust. He used everything else he had on hand. But, like I said, he was smart. For something so cheap, he made a nice, good looking little car.
Sure, it’s not real peppy but Crosley cars are dependable as hell. Once you set them up right, they just keep running. And, let’s face it, nobody gets into old cars because they want to sit on the side of the road. Everyone has this vision of owning a classic car, and it includes great weather as you’re taking your sweetheart or best friend out for a perfect ride that’s all smiles. Unlike a lot of classic cars that will be fussy if the fuel mixture isn’t right or the electrical is a problem, a Crosley will get you there and back. You’ll also have a lot of fun on the way.
Nobody seems to own only one Crosley. So, you own more than one car and you realize just how hard it is to find parts. There was such a limited production run; they only made the cars for 11 years, from 1939 to 1952, with time out in between for World War II. If you can find some of the parts, they’re going for big money.
The cars did tend to rust out from underneath and that’s where I started thinking, “I have a good reputation for working with metal. Maybe I can make the floor pan.” I got out some sheet metal and started working on a design. Lots of replacement floor pans don’t follow the original contours. They either used the wrong gauge metal, too thick, and couldn’t shape it, or just didn’t bother. I did the research, found the original gauge that Crosley used, and started from there. I think the first one came out darn good!
Other Crosley owners saw what I was doing for my cars and asked me to do the same thing for them. By then, I was also fabricating other parts and they wanted those, too. I found myself making more and more parts and then making double and triples of every part because the demand was there. They wanted something that was true to the original and at a reasonable price. Like me, the other owners got into this because they liked how frugal it was to make and now to own and fix. I can’t get a million dollars for a part and that’s not where I want to be anyway. My goal is to help people get their cars running and keep these little machines on the road. They were meant to be driven and not garage queens. After my station wagon, I bought a 1951 Super Sport. I decided to sell that because I wasn’t driving it. I get upset if a car sits too long. Best thing for a car is to be driven.
But, just because they’re out there on the road and we’re not trying to keep the mileage low, that doesn’t mean Crosley cars can’t win awards. When I took the Nichols Flying Saucer to Sunday in the Park, the concours of the Historic Festival in 2019, the car won in its class and Chairman’s Choice. Skip Barber himself selected the car!
So, I make parts and people like them. They impress me with how they find solutions to problems. Every idea is a good one. We trade information and I listen rather than forcing my solution. That all goes back to Powell Crosley, Jr. and his approach to making stuff. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it won’t work. He invented a lot of things, like putting shelves on the doors of his refrigerators. No one had done that before him and now everyone has them.
I also trade stories of the fun we have in these cars. People love seeing them on the road and will honk when we go by. Or, a couple of years ago, someone asked for my help when the car broke down at a show. They were scrambling to find a tow for it so we could get it to an area where I could work on it. I got tired of waiting for them and just picked up the tow rope. There’s a photo out there of me pulling the car by myself, with the tow rope over my shoulder. People at the show thought it was funny and we got the car going again so it could go home under its own power.
Over the years, I’ve bought quite a few Crosley cars and found good homes for them, too. People tell me they like having my advice when they’re buying or selling because I give them good advice. And, like I said, you usually don’t stop at one. You get your first car and then you talk to some people. They tell you where there might be a parts car for sale. You finish the first car and then look at the second to think, “I can get that on the road.” Then it all starts again. Good thing it’s a lot of fun in the meantime.