When I noticed this diminutive red sports car being towed behind a pickup, I first grabbed my camera to take pictures… and then realized I had no idea what I had just seen. Initially, I had assumed it was an obscure British sports car. Only when I got home and studied the pictures did I realize that I’d seen my first-ever Crosley Super Sports. The fact that I assumed it was British is fitting, since this was the first American car to follow MG into the sports car market.
North America’s love affair with sports cars began when many WWII servicemen returning from the UK brought home MG-TCs. Very quickly, MGs became the quintessential sports car, and the British captured most of the ensuing sports car market for the next two decades. This was a market niche that didn’t interest most US manufacturers; Cincinnati-based Crosley Motors was a fascinating exception.
Powel Crosley made a fortune for himself by selling radios (Crosley was once America’s largest radio producer) and also home appliances, such as refrigerators. Cincinnatians knew him as the owner of the Reds baseball franchise… who played at Crosley Field. But while radios and appliances built Mr. Crosley’s empire, automobiles held a special attraction for him
Crosley entered the automobile business in 1939, with small and affordable offerings such as the wagon above. Following a hiatus for WWII, Crosley, along with other US manufacturers, resumed production in 1946. Crosley’s specialty in small cars wasn’t exactly a mainstay of US consumer interest at the time, but given heavy postwar demand, Crosley’s cars sold well for a few years. But by 1949, Crosley thought he needed a more alluring product to generate interest in his model lineup. And he figured the burgeoning interest in sports cars was a good place to start. This resulted in the Hotshot (debuting for 1949), and then two years later the slightly updated Super Sports.
These sports cars presented an interesting combination of innovation and obsolescence. The car had some enticing engineering features. For example, its 44-cu. in., 4-cyl. engine produced 26.5 hp at a remarkable 5,400 rpm, giving it the highest specific power output of any contemporary American-made engine. Stopping the 1,100-lb. Hotshot were disc brakes – a revolutionary feature for the time. And the grille-less front end was years ahead of its time.
However, this was no futurama-mobile. That grille-less front was juxtaposed by a completely flat windshield. While the high-revving engine was technologically advanced, power was put to the ground via a three-speed, no-synchromesh transmission and front and rear solid axles with leaf springs. And the original Hotshot had no doors.
It appears that our featured car is a 1951 or ’52 Super Sports model, which featured luxuries such as doors (the main upgrade from the standard Hotshot), a folding top, and a slightly upgraded interior. Super Sports also featured a hood ornament of a bird, which this car appears to have. If indeed this is a Super Sports model, it’s extremely rare. Only about 2,500 Crosley sports cars were produced between 1949 and 1952 – fewer than 400 were Super Sports.
While Crosley sports cars were slow (considerably slower than an MG) and spartan, they were cheap – selling for under $1,000. However, offering a cheap, small sports car was not enough to raise Crosley’s sinking fortunes. Powel Crosley had pumped $3 million of his personal money into his car company in the early 1950s, and eventually concluded that “it would be unwise to carry on indefinitely.” Crosley Motors was sold to General Tire in 1952. General wasn’t interested in the cars, but rather Crosley’s factories and machinery; auto production was stopped shortly thereafter.
I had just one chance – from where I was stopped in traffic – to photograph this car from the rear, and unfortunately my shot didn’t turn out so hot. But I was just glad to get a glimpse of one of these cars at all. Given that it’s being transported with care, it seems likely that this sports car will be restored, and maybe I’ll catch up with it at a car show sometime in the future. Or even better, maybe I’ll see it driving around powered by its own high-revving engine.
Photographed in Annandale, Virginia in October, 2021.