Crosley Hotshot

The first Crosley I wrote about was the Farm-O-Road, a sort of miniature Jeep just slightly larger than a Power Wheels Wrangler. Cute as a button and great for light agricultural work, it was a perfect example of Crosley finding—and believing in—a particular automotive niche.

The Hotshot is no different.

Blessed with a truly great name that Audi should have used instead of S-Line; their wheel and aero packages placed on otherwise slow cars ("Look at that jerk in the 1.8T go, who does he think he is…a hotshot?"), the Hotshot was just the post-Second World War sports car that he thought America wanted.

If it'd been sold anywhere else, for a fair price, I have no doubt the Hotshot would have been better received. With much of Europe still reeling from the war and fuel still expensive and hard to come by, its introduction in 1949 would have been a boon to enthusiasts on a budget—and may have stolen some sales from the ancient and carryover MG TC. 

The Crosley wouldn't have done well in terms of outright performance, however. Chosen by Dan Neil as one of Time's 50 Worst Cars of All Time—which doesn't include a number of far more terrible machines, I should add—the Hotshot was plopped on the list because of its lump-like engine.

With four cylinders, 725cc, and a weight of just 26.7 kg (59 lbs, or less than the last bag you checked at the airport), the micro motor made 26.5 horsepower—perfect for Navy generator duty but a little dim in the performance stakes.

I mentioned the engine, codename COBRA, in the Farm-O-Road piece, but for that vehicle the engine was well-suited to its light duty application. When Crosley went racing with the Hotshot, sustained speed and heat would cause the braised welds to fail—after all, the motor was made from tin.

"Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man…"

It survived long enough to finish the 1950 6-Hours of Sebring race, where it won the Index of Performance at an average speed of 83 km/h (52 mph). Problem was that even in post-war America the V8 engine still ruled the roost—why boot around in a shoe when you could dust off a '32 Ford and lay waste to a tiny sports car like the Hotshot?

(Relevant to my export comments above, the Hotshot raced and finished well in Switzerland and in Japan in 1951…)

By 1950, Crosley itself wasn't long for this world. Its small wagons had found an audience but as the big American automakers re-tooled and re-designed their factories and cars, there was little hope for the diminutive carmaker's survival.

There's one photo down in the gallery I'd like you to note, however. There's a press image of it with the windshield and other parts on the ground, a shot intended to show how easy it'd be to drive to the track, unbolt the expensive bits, race around, and pop your parts back on the car for the ride home. It's a concept that many automakers have considered, with the Japanese taking the idea quite seriously in the past few years, with the Toyota Camatte concept as the most advanced take on the theme.

It was recently beaten to production by Daihatsu's new Copen—a modern Hotshot if I'd ever seen one. A small, light convertible, its innovative 'D-Frame' structure allows for body panels to be easily swapped in the event of an accident or if the owner wants a more aggressive look.

Though it only took 64 years, in some ways the Hotshot was a look into the future of small sports cars. Or maybe I'm just being kind to the little guy.