The Crosley Hotshot: America’s First Compact Car

In this day of emphasis on building small, fuel-efficient cars, it is rather appropriate to take a look at what could reasonably claimed as America’s first compact car – the Crosley.  Crosley cars were built between 1939 and 1952.  The model featured in this post was the most sporty of the Crosley cars, the Crosley Hotshot.

Crosley Hotshot 1949 (3)

1949 Crosley Hotshot

For those of you who find the Crosley name somehow familiar, but are not aware of the Crosley cars, perhaps you are recalling that the owner of Crosley Motors, Powel Crosley, owned a major league baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds, and their home field baseball park was known as Crosley Field.

Crosley Hotshot 1949 (5)

The Front Headlight Position Reminds Me Of The “Bug Eye” Sprite

The Crosley Hotshot was aimed at “the young and the young at heart”.  It was also advertised as a car that could be used every day by one or two people.  Crosley sales figures were not high, so Crosley was looking for additional sales from every market possible.  Crosley made other small cars in addition to the Hotshot model.

Crosley Hotshot 1949 (8)

Crosley Hotshot With The Door Removed

The Crosley Hotshot is a small car.  The wheelbase is 85 inches and the wheel track is 40 inches.  Fully equipped the Hotshot weighed 1,095 pounds.  The tire size was 4.50 x 12 inches.

The door did not have a handle and it was easy to remove.  There are two pins on the leading edge of the door that were fitted into the hinges on the outside of the car’s body.  To close the door the passenger had to deflect the thin metal door and tuck the end of the door behind the body panel opposite the back of the seat.

Crosley Hotshot 1949 (9)

Crosley Hotshot With The Door In Place

One very nice feature on the Crosley Hotshot were the disk brakes.  Crosley claimed to be the first production car in the world that was fitted with disk brakes.  The brake system was referred to in the advertisements as “Hydradisc Brakes”.

Crosley Hotshot 1949 (1)

Mounting The Spare Tire On The Body Provided More Storage Space Inside the Car

The selling price of the Crosley Hotshot was between $935 and $995.  As this was almost the only compact car available at that time in North America, it is hard to make a direct price comparison.  However a standard Volkswagen in 1949 sold for $1,280.  In 1949  a bone-stock two-door Chevrolet sedan sold for $1,413, therefore a Crosley Hotshot was substantially cheaper than the typical North American car at that time.

Crosley Hotshot 1949 (7)

The Crosley Hotshot Dash Is Very Plain

The Crosley Hotshot used Stewart Warner gauges. This particular Hotshot had the optional radio.

Crosley Hotshot 1949 (2)

Look How Close The Shifter Knob Is To The Dash!

The Crosley had a three-speed manual transmission.  The rear axle ratio was a rather low 5.19:1.  I suppose that this low gearing was needed due to the small engine size.  The reported top speed of these cars, when stripped down was 73 miles per hour.  It only took a few minutes to strip the car down by removing the top along with its supports, the spare tire, the bumpers, the doors, the headlights, the running lights, and the windshield.  All of this would remove over 100 pounds of weight from a car that weighed 1095 pounds in standard condition.

Crosley Hotshot 1949 (4)

Crosley Referred To The Seats As “Airplane Style”

Crosley had a disastrous experience with their original COBRA engine in the cars that were built before the introduction of the Hotshot.  This engine was so troublesome that Crosley came out with a new engine, the CIBA, (cast iron block) and offered to replace all of the COBRA-engined Crosleys with the new CIBA engine for $89.  This is almost the equivalent of a modern-day recall.

Crosley Hotshot 1949 (6)

 The Crosley CIBA Engine

The Crosley Hotshot CIBA engine was a 4-cylinder, overhead valve, overhead camshaft, 44 cubic inch (721cc) inline engine that produced 26 1/2 horsepower.


When I saw the Crosley featured in this post, I had a great talk with the owner who was truly an expert in the history and design of the Crosley Hotshot.  He was very interesting to talk with and was pleased to point out the features of his Hotshot.  In order to find out more about the Crosley cars, I recently acquired Michael Banks’ book “Crosley And Crosley Motors” which was just published in 2012.  I found this to be a great source of information about these cars.  The book has lots of photos which accompany the very informative text.

Crosley Motors production ended on July 3, 1952.  At the time, Crosley was losing $500 on each vehicle sold.  While the Crosley cars were not a financial success, they were pioneers for smaller cars in the North American market.  At that time Volkswagen was just beginning to sell their smaller cars in the USA.  Volkswagen sold only 2 cars in the USA in 1949-50, 551 cars in 1951, and 601 cars in 1952, which is indicative of how tough the small car market was at that time in the USA.

If you see one of these Crosley cars, be sure to take a close look.

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