America's first whack at a sports car wasn't much to talk about. The brainchild of Powel Crosley Jr., the Hot Shot debuted in 1949, a decade after the appliance magnate and broadcaster introduced cars just as thrifty as the radios that bore his name. Though flimsy and underpowered, those first cars served a legitimate purpose: During an economic depression when gas was expensive, and during a war when gas was rationed, they made the most of every gallon of the stuff.
It may have been a natural decision for Crosley to base the Hot Shot on the earlier car's platform, but it probably wasn't a wise one. To say the car was tiny is an understatement; even the Hot Shot's first 45ci engine was made of a bunch of furnace-brazed, stamped-steel panels. Factor in salted roads, general neglect, and Americans' new love for America's bigger and more powerful postwar cars, and it's pretty understandable why some say the diminutive sports car spelled demise for a company already barely clinging to the margins.
But a bellybutton-high car meant something a little bit different to a kid than it did to an adult: It was basically a go-kart with a roadster body. "I remember seeing a Crosley Hot Shot when I was very young," Rich Greiner reflected. "I thought that the car was really neat-o," In fact, he carried a torch years after most other people forgot about the little roadster built by the guy who made radios. So when a friend pointed him to a Hot Shot advertised in nearby Spokane, there was Rich, heart in throat, money in hand, and not a shred of restraint to stop him.
You'd think that such a small car would be a fairly simple reconstruction, but if you're buying uncommon and relatively infamous cars-half-disassembled ones at that-clarity of thought probably isn't on your side. Blind love prevented Rich from noticing that the floors, rockers, and wheelwells had become one with the earth many years prior. So he did what came naturally to someone who stumbles into an orphan for which no reproduction market exists: He built a hot rod out of it. Eighteen years later, this is what it looks like.
Crosleys sit on a 2x4 ladder frame. But this one was on two-as in two halves. Rich's friend Stan Connelly reassembled the pieces; seeing how the things are nothing more than C-channels and Rich intended to go faster on it, he boxed it and gave it a central X-member.
Then things got interesting. Crosleys had a suspension design that was every bit as interesting as it was abysmal. It consisted of parallel semi-elliptic springs and a beam axle up front; out back it featured quarter-elliptic springs on a drive axle inadequate for even a golf cart. Stan replaced both with something unexpected for even such a quirky car.
For the front he found a suitable suspension and removed the worthless sheetmetal called a Mustang II that was welded to it. Before marrying it to the chassis he narrowed it to a 42-inch track width.
The Hot Shot shows off its rearend, so Rich gave it something worth looking at: a Ford V-8 banjo. He sent it to Hot Rod Works in Nampa, Idaho, to have it narrowed and converted to plug-in axles. Stan hung it from a four-link/Panhard rod of his own design.
Early on, Rich had the body dipped. Upon its return, Keith Hallauer and Mike Shliep at Vintage Autobody methodically cut the fenders from the body and removed the entire deck. A friend and sheetmetal worker created the floor, trans tunnel, wheel houses, and various patch panels that Keith and Rich used to reassemble the carcass.
"Because of the roundness of the car, we could find very few reference lines to help chart a level and square build," Rich noted. Furthermore, "Some of the panels were an inch different from right to left, front to back, and corner to corner." So they established their own centerline and modified the body panels to match. For the sake of engine space and cooling, they eliminated the inner fender panels altogether, electing instead to fabricate sheetmetal barriers to separate the wheels from the engine.
Ostensibly for cooling's sake, one of the car's prior owners took the liberty to cut a hole in its nose. Seeing how he was taking liberties of his own, which included an engine that might require the grille area, Rich had Keith and Mike finish it as if it were part of the original design.
He and Keith also reinforced the body with an integral tube 'cage that ties in with inch-square tubing at the body's edges. The edge trick reduced the door opening size, so the duo scratch-made new ones. Crosleys came with 12-inch wheels and rinky-dink wheelwells to match. Seeing how they were rusty and Rich intended to run 15s, he and Keith used the tubing to define a larger wheel opening. They rolled front and rear valances to fill the open spaces below the stock bumpers and to make the car look a little more streamlined, they eliminated the seams in the car's body. Hot Shot windshields looked like afterthoughts at best, so they reshaped the cowl to take a boat-style unit.
Rich said he pondered a way to retain the car's sense of period with its utility-no mean feat since there aren't too many engines small enough to fit a Crosley anyway. As luck would have it, there's a vintage piece that's a near-perfect fit. Incidentally it was a competitor with Crosley's engine in the midget racing world. And it just happened to be a V-8-as in a Ford V-8/60.
What's more, fellow Yakimanian Bill Ross just happens to be a bit of a V-8/60 authority. And if it couldn't get any better than that, the recipient for one of his baby eights was a Crosley wagon. Bill produced a later iron-side '39 block (early '37 blocks actually had tin sides but it wasn't an irony worth pursuing). Internally it's stock but it wears Offenhauser heads, a Mallory ignition, and a Ken Austin 3x2 manifold with Stromberg 81s.
To keep on era with the car, Joe Britz tucked and rolled old-looking covers for the newer Mitsubishi buckets. Keith and Rich modified the original dash, finishing it off in a wood-grain pattern. Mike Ritchie tinted and sprayed the body; Dale Adkins striped it.
"The car is incredibly fun to drive and can run at 70 mph all day long," Rich said, adding that it's particularly good at bending mouths into smiles while straightening bends in the roads. "With five speeds and the Flathead all working in sync, one can only believe that Powel would have agreed with the end result."
But most of all, Rich noticed that his Hot Shot is a particular hit among kids who, "... also think the car is 'really neat-o,'" Rich noted. "Perhaps labors of lunacy really can produce labors of love."
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1949 Crosley Hot Shot
Crosley based the Hot Shot's frame on a 2x4 open channel, which split in half by the time Rich bought the car. Stan Connolly reassembled the pieces and, to improve its rigidity, boxed it from stem to stern. He also constructed an X-member to give it considerably more integrity. Stan modified a Ford pedal assembly and equipped it with a dual-circuit master cylinder. It feeds steel Bundy tubing, Wilwood proportioning valves, and rubber brake hoses. Hot Rod Works in Nampa, Idaho, narrowed the 3.54:1-geared '47 Ford housing to a scant 42 inches. It also converted the input to open drive, modified the gear carrier to take more conventional plug-in semi-floating axles, and swapped the axle ends to accept 11-inch Galaxie drum brakes. Stan Connolly fabricated the rear crossmember, four-bar, and Panhard rod specifically for the application. It rides on Aldan Eagle coil over dampers with the company's lightest springs. Up front Stan whittled a Mustang II crossmember down to narrow the front track to 42 inches. Race car manufacturer Appleton Rack & Pinion fabricated a similarly narrower steering rack to fit. Considering the car's 1,900-pound curb weight, the 9-inch rotors are more than adequate. Like the rear, the front rides on Aldan's lightest-sprung coil over dampers.
Bill Ross based the engine on an iron-side '39 Ford V-8/60. The Offenhauser heads, Ken Austin manifold, and Stromberg 97s withstanding, it's basically stock and makes 76 hp. Rich robbed the radiator from an Isuzu lift truck and the alternator from a Mitsubishi. A Mallory distributor fires the charge. Considering the tight packaging, there was no way to route pipes under the car and still maintain a comfortable cabin. So Rich ran pipes from the stock manifolds to a single 1 1/2-inch-diameter Flowmaster and ultimately to two side pipes.
With triple the horsepower than the Crosley engine, Rich's Hot Shot is a lot more road worthy. But with two more gears on tap, thanks to the Borg Warner T-5, it's a lot more fun to drive. A Ford 9-inch clutch couples the engine to this Aamco-rebuilt transmission; Yakima Driveline built the driveshaft that transmits the load to the rear axle.
Wheels & Tires
The stock 12-inch wheels are hardly capable of much, but with triple the power and the nearly infinite better handling and braking Rich's car has, they're downright dangerous. So he commissioned Wheel Vintiques to build a set of 15x5 Gennies. They wear 165R-15 Coker Classic radial whitewalls and smoothed '46-48 Ford caps and stainless rings.
Body & Paint
Keith Hallauer at Vintage Autobody methodically cut the fenders from the body and removed the entire deck to install the scratch-made floor, transmission tunnel, and wheel houses. Before reassembling the body, he and Rich fabricated an inch-square cage upon which the body mounts. Above and beyond, giving it considerably more strength, it defines the body's edges, including its new wheelwell and door openings. Keith finished the grille opening for engine cooling, fabricated the front and rear roll pans, eliminated the body seams, and molded the cowl for a sleeker boat-type windshield. Rock Valley crafted the diminutive 7.4-gallon stainless tank to fit inside the rear bustle.
Rich replaced the Crosley's modest seats with modified '94 Mitsubishi Galant buckets. Yakima's Joe Britz trimmed them and the side panels and door inserts in white and red leatherette and the floor in maroon nylon loop carpet. Keith Hallauer wood-grained the steel dash and the stock Crosley wheel. Rich had the stock Crosley-specific Stewart-Warner instruments restored and had the stock AM radio reconfigured as an AM-FM unit. He installed it and the 4-inch Infinity Kappa marine-series speakers, and wired the car with a Painless Performance kit.