With the recent surge in gas prices, people are looking for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. That’s why in the automotive world, everything old is new again. Case in point, the Crosley automobile, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, and built in Richmond and Marion, Ind., by Crosley Motors from 1939 to 1952. Crosley Motors was founded by Powel Crosley Jr., who manufactured Crosley radios and refrigerators, and also owned the Cincinnati Reds. Believe it or not, a Crosley could be purchased at selected Macy’s stores, along with other Crosley appliances. Talk about one-stop shopping.

Crosleys were very small, fuel-efficient vehicles that came in a variety of body styles, including sedan, convertible, pickup and station wagon. They’re so small, they look like a large child’s toy. The original 80-inch wheelbase was 15 inches shorter than a VW Beetle’s. Overall length was less than 10 feet, and weight was 900 to 1,000 pounds. The good news was that it returned 50 miles per gallon—an important figure for those dealing with gas rationing during World War II. Tales of pranksters picking up Crosleys and depositing them on the sidewalk were common. Their diminutive size was even more pronounced when juxtaposed against the 4,000-pound behemoths cruising America’s roadways in the '40s and early '50s. Imagine a car about 15 percent smaller than an old Beetle next to a '48 Buick—kind of like a Smart Car compared to a Suburban.

Before the War, power was provided by a 580cc, two-cylinder air-cooled engine with a 3-speed manual transmission. After the War, a 724cc overhead cam four-cylinder water-cooled engine good for about 26 horsepower was used. In 1949, Crosley introduced the first post-war American sports car, the HotShot, a little two-seat convertible. The company sold less than 25,000 vehicles in its short life.

St. Louisans have the rare opportunity to see a variety of Crosleys on display at the Kemp Auto Museum through Nov. 3. Cars on exhibit include a '39 convertible, a '47 sedan, a '51 HotShot sports car, a '51 pickup, a '51 super sport convertible and a '52 station wagon. If you’re a fan of antique and/or unusual automobiles, this exhibit should provide a unique opportunity to view a variety of  special American vehicles that well represent the era from which they sprang. 

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