"The Crosley and I "

My recollection is that my acquisition of the 1950 Crosley Hotshot was in 1952 when I lived in Xenia Ohio and it cost $400. 1 don't recall the mileage on it at that time. I well, remember the joy of driving it to Zanesville Ohio in the summertime, and, to work in the winter with the top down when the temperature was around zero degrees. It would indeed get up to 60 miles per hour, but, it took a while to get to this velocity unless you happened to be going down hill.

The car could be characterized as "cute" with the top down and children loved it. But, in truth, it was pretty homely with the top up. The idea of customizing this machine was literally accidental. As it happened I was driving in downtown Dayton one day and the somewhat feeble braking system failed to get me stopped before I lightly rear-ended a large Buick which had stopped at a red light. There was a bump and my little bumper slid under his big bumper and stuck. This did not seem to bother the driver of the Buick who took off when the light changed. He seemed totally unaware that he was dragging the "Crosley and I" along with him for about a block even though I was on my pip-squeak horn all the way. He finally stopped and, with assistance from some pedestrians, we got the cars separated with much hilarity and quite a few risqué observations. The only damage was a ten inch dent right in the lower center of the nose of the Crosley where most cars have grills.

That evening when I was pondering what to do about straightening out the dent without any body working tools it occurred to me that I had some good metal cutting shears. Why not just cut the dent out? Voila! Why not indeed! Thus the decision was made to put in some kind of grill and make it look like a real car. I immediately got my carpenters pencil, drew the shape which I thought had some class around the dent, and sheared away the dent. (There may have been some influence on this shape from Masarati or Aston Martin). This was done in the back yard since I had no garage and no shop.

Thus began my first, and only, automobile customization project.

The grill which evolved was really quite simple. The center section was cut out of a metal shelf which I found in a junked refrigerator at an appliance store behind the Univis Lens plant on Leo Street. I cut out a 1/4 inch plywood form in the shape of the new hole in the hood, I used this to form a piece of 3/8ths inch diameter aluminum tubing to fit the shape of the hole. (it was an element from an old TV antenna), This tubing was then slotted all the way around the center of the outer perimeter. It was then inserted into the hole and the cut edge of the new grill hole fitted into the tube slot to form the outer rim of the grill. The center grill section was anchored only at the top and bottom so it turned out to be a two piece grill.

The next major revision was the building of real doors, similar to the doors Crosley added in the later Super Sport Roadsters. This started in the my backyard shop when I drew the shape of a door that looked OK to me on the left side of the car. I then took my trusty shears and cut away the body metal. I used the cutout piece as a pattern for the right side and sheared out that side. The result was a very odd looking machine. I decided to use I inch iron channel to frame the doors. These frames were shaped in my open air shop using a hacksaw to slot the channel sides and then bending the center web using muscle and a tubular fence post that happened to be there. I took the car and frames to a welding shop where they managed to weld the frames where I wanted them, The next step was cutting two doors out of 3/4 inch plywood to fit. I had decided that the doors should be covered with metal so I discussed this with the two Univis tinsmiths. One said he had once made auto panels which were metal covered wood and volunteered to do mine. And so on this I got a professional job. Full length piano hinges were used between channel frame and door. The door latches were regular twist knob Yale door locks mounted on the inside edge of the doors. When closed the doors latched against the inside of the door frame. Extension arms were added to the twist knobs. A flexible release cable was attached from the extension arm and across the door to an anchor point so that downward pressure on the cable opened the door,

As these things were going on other modification ideas were emerging. It was decided that a finished wooden fascia would be much better than the original sheet metal. A vacuum gage and tachometer were added to the rather sparse instrumentation. The latter was needed because the stock Crosley overhead camshaft engine would turn up 8,000 RPM and could be souped to 10,000 rpm. A new Offenhauser Midget steering wheel was installed. The spare wheel and tire was moved from atop the rear deck down to a vertical position just above the bumper, a la early Lincoln Continentals. The spartan seats were rebuilt with red Naugahide over extra firm foam by an ancient upholsterer who knew his business. He also added matching inside cover panels for the new doors. It took several months of waiting for all this but the end results were well worth it. He also made a very smart tonneau cover for the cockpit. What Class! This was a very good idea because after modification there never was any other kind of top. By this time the project had moved from my backyard to the garage of neighbor Jack Wrona who also provided advisory service and a good set of tools. He later assisted in the body work and engine rebuild. He was a great ally because he was the Service Manager for the local Pontiac dealer.

The one feature of the Hotshot, and later Super Sport Roadsters, which was most unimpressive was the flat windshield and little masonite transition piece between glass and cowl. Replacing this with a curved glass windshield was perhaps the biggest challenge of the whole renovation program. A curved piece of glass of approximately the right size and shape was found in the rear window of a junked Nash sedan. The old windshield and bottom masonite fill piece were removed. The original vertical side support channels, bronze lower brackets and bottom rubber seal strip were all used to mount the new curved glass. The straight channel piece from across the top of the original frame was discarded. After deciding the size and shape needed to fit the car and available brackets this was outlined on the salvaged glass. It was taken to a professional glass cutter. When I told him what I needed he went back in the shop. (I think he had to get a double shot to steady his hands before he tackled this job). The actual cutting went very well and he then stoned the edges. Positioning and mounting took a very large amount of cut and try to determine the exact location and angle of the side brackets . This was because they were the only things that would be holding the new windshield in place. However, it was accomplished and there never was a problem with it as long as I had the car.

The engine was removed and some easy-to-do things like opening up and matching manifolds to improve intake and exhaust flow through. A small straight through muffler was installed and everything tuned with the help of neighbor Jack. He did a lot of work on the body, filling all seams between body panels and fenders with lead. There had been some sheet metal distortion from the frame welding which also required leading. We estimated that we used about 100 pounds of lead which probably offset all the performance gains from the engine job. There followed a prodigious amount of body filing and block sanding, most of which I did. The entire project ended up taking about 18 months. By that time I knew that I was going to be going to Puerto Rico and had decided to take the Crosley with me. When I told neighbor Jack about my plans he said "I'm going to give you a going away present. Bring it in to the shop next Saturday and I will paint it a lovely shade of red". He later said he gave it five hot coats , and, it was lovely. When I finally got the car back after shipping it to Puerto Rico I found that the lovely paint job had been seriously damaged somewhere on the trip. I found another motor vehicle ally in Guayama Puerto Rico. His name was Qui Que Girod and he was a Chrysler dealer. He did the repair work and painting. I insisted on more block sanding and it came out almost as good as new. The car served me well for several years. My first two years in Puerto Rico was up on Jajome Alto mountain. The transmission only had three speeds but this was no problem. The strategy was to get it into second gear, push down on the accelerator and go as fast as you could,

I once drove it to San Juan for the weekend and parked in the Caribe Hilton parking lot. When we were leaving on Sunday it was raining very hard so I just left it there and went back home with friends. It sat there for over a week. I retrieved it on the Fourth of July and made a record breaking trip over the mountain back to Aguirre, PR. Another time I entered it in a Puerto Rican hill climb. I put it in second gear and kept it there all the way up, coming in dead last. However, going down the mountain I was a tough contender. A friend who had a couple acres of land once tried to buy it. He wanted to convert it into a big lawnmower. It once quit on the mountain and I coasted five kilometers to the bottom of the hill. I finally traded it to my friend Qui Que Girod for $300 credit on an $1100 used VW. When I think of the Crosley I am reminded that a brand new stock Crosley won First Place in the Index of Performance category at one of the first Sebring races in Florida. It was a lot more automobile than it appeared to be and may well have been the greatest fun car I ever owned. However, my 1930 Model A Ford Roadster which cost $30.00 was also a great machine, but , that is another story.

January 12, 1998
John Heipley
13 14 N. 14th Street
St. Cloud, MN 56303