CC For Sale: 1951 Crosley Hot Shot- The First American Sports Car?

In today’s CC For Sale, let’s take a look at the 1951 Crosley Hot Shot, a twelve-foot-long, twenty-six horsepower pocket rocket–and an important piece of American motoring history.

The history of Crosley has been well documented on CC in this excellent article, but here’s a quick recap: Powel Crosley Jr., a well-known radio and refrigerator manufacturer, had the idea during the Depression to build a lightweight, inexpensive, and reliable car. By 1939, the car was ready, with hundreds of Crosley appliance dealers signed up to sell it.

The onset of WWII–and fuel rationing–made the tiny vehicle a hot-ticket item, with used models going at a premium after Crosley had turned to manufacturing wartime munitions.

In 1946, Crosley returned to civilian auto production with a new engine named COBRA (for COpper-BRAzed). It was quite a unique powerplant, making 26hp from a stamped-steel block and head that weighed only 14.8 pounds. On paper, it seemed a perfect fit, being as cheap and efficient as the car it was powering. However, customers started returning COBRA engines by the truckload, as the tin block would quickly develop pinholes in the cylinder walls. Crosley sales tumbled by 1948, and it was clear quick action was necessary.

The next year, Crosley debuted its CIBA (Cast Iron Block Assembly) engine. It proved to be much more reliable than the COBRA, and quickly replaced it across Crosley’s whole line.

1949 also marked the debut of the Hot Shot, just in time for the Fifties sports car boom. Returning GIs had gotten their first taste of Euro-style performance while abroad, and while only 2,000 MGs were imported into the US between 1946 and 1949, they opened the floodgates.  Dozens of individuals and small enterprises started building them here in the States, typically using standard American chassis and mechanicals paired with open, swoopy fiberglass bodies. (You can read more about those cottage manufacturers here.) The Hot Shot, though, was most likely the first mass-produced model, with 753 built the first year. Furthermore, being a Crosley, it was dirt cheap at $849 (about $8800 adjusted)–half the cost of an MG.

The 26 HP provided by the overhead-cam CIBA engine doesn’t seem like much today, but it could propel the 1,200-pound Hot Shot to a 0-60 time of around 20 seconds and a top speed of 77 MPH. The contemporary MG was only about a half-second faster to sixty.

Early models had four-wheel disc brakes, certainly a rarity on an American car in the late forties. Unfortunately, they tended to freeze up in salty areas, so by 1951 the Hot Shot featured Bendix drum brakes at all corners. While maybe not as advanced from an engineering perspective as the discs, they were still more than enough to handle anything a driver could throw at them.

Crosley even managed to get a victory at the inaugural Sebring race in 1950, winning the Index of Performance in a Super Sport, a higher-end version of the Hot Shot. Clearly, this wasn’t a pretender–the Hot Shot was a legitimate sports car with a respectable level of performance.

Low price, good performance–what’s not to like? Sadly, after the COBRA engine debacle, Crosley was a deeply damaged brand, and buyers were staying away. Powel Crosley would sell the company to General Tire in 1952, who immediately wound down auto production. Only 2,498 roadsters (both Hot Shot and Super Sport) were produced in that four-year span.

Our featured car is literally a barn find. “38,000 plus miles. Floor pans good, side curtains included. Engine condition unknown. Spares package includes an extra block, head with valves, pan, 2 cranks, 2 water pumps, 2 fuel pumps, NOS crank bearings and piston tings [sic], flywheel and pressure plate. other misc. Will consider a trade for a French or Italian car”.

It’s definitely a 1951 from looking at the serial number, and it looks like it’s been a pretty long 66 years since. For example, the grille’s not missing- that’s a Body by Sawzall modification. And the headlights and turn signals look like they were moved outboard at some point.

Hot Shot, pre-rhinoplasty

The interior looks to be in somewhat OK shape, but then again Crosleys were never known for their luxurious appointments. Quite simply, there’s not much to break or go missing over the years.

The Hot Shot did not come with doors from the factory, unlike the more expensive Super Sport. Judging from the bathroom-style door latch keeping this one closed, I’m guessing this was an “aftermarket” addition.

Hot Shots, rare as they are at auction, have sold from between around $7k to $20k, while this less-than-pristine edition is going for $2,800. I’d imagine parts would be hard to find, although the Crosley Automobile Club website does list quite a few vendors.

I wonder if an EcoBoost would fit in this thing?


A Detailed CC history of the Crosley by Ed Stembridge is here