By on September 28, 2012

Yank Moi, Crank Moi - Yeah, I know, Madame Arsenault would be so, so disappointed, so in her, Mrs. Kowalski's and Miss Bodzin's honor, I suppose that properly speaking it should be "tirez moi, tourner moi manivelle" but I think Mr. Nugent (who may or may not have played at my sister's synagogue confirmation, it was his band The Lourdes (mostly looking and sounding like the Rolling Stones in the Brian Jones era), but he might have already split for Chicago and the Amboy Dukes, I'm been scanning the negatives but haven't yet identified Tedly) would prefer Yank Moi, Crank Moi .

Since I’m the guy who generally won’t take photographs of ’69 Camaros and ’57 Chevys (well, unless they’re really special ’69 Camaros and ’57 Chevys ) and who will walk past 5 “Eleanor” Mustangs to look at one American Motors Hornet, it should come as no surprise that for the past couple of years I’ve made it a point to attend the annual Orphan Car Show held in Ypsilanti, Michigan’s Riverside Park. This year was the 16th iteration of the OCS, which is affiliated with Ypsi’s Automotive Heritage Museum. With a number of century old (and older) brass era cars at the event, it’s not surprising that some of them had to be started with hand cranks. What is surprising is that not all the crank starting cars dated to before World War One. Actually, a couple of them date to the Vietnam War era and later.

Start the YouTube 3D video player. Click on the red 3D icon that will appear in the menu bar to select 2D or your choice of stereo 3D formats.

The Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum is located in what was the Miller Motors building, the last surviving Hudson dealership in the world, and it is dedicated to that marque as well as the Nash, Kaiser Frazer and Tucker brands (plus Corvairs and GM Hydramatic products, both assembled in Ypsilanti), so the Orphan Car Show was a natural idea. It’s a judged show with rules and the cars range from genuine barn finds to museum loans and top level concours cars. As with other Detroit area car shows, some of the car owners and judges are industry designers, engineers and executives. Buck Mook, a retired Ford designer, was showing his 1954 Ford Comete Monte Carlo coupe, one of only 699 that were made, with a body designed by Pininfarina, commissioned by Henry Ford II, based on a French Ford with a flathead V8 and a body coachbuilt by Facel. Mook’s car was actually the Deuce’s personal car and he bought it from the company in 1967. Not far from the Comete coupe was Howard Payne‘s superb black bustle backed 1937 Cord 812 Beverly sedan. Howard worked with Mook at Ford. Before they collaborated on the Mustang II with Mook doing the exterior and Payne the interior (don’t laugh, the Mustang II was very successful by Detroit’s most important metric, they sold train loads of them), Payne had a significant role in what became the 1961 Lincoln Continental.

To get into the show, a car must be an orphan. For the purposes of the show that means a car from a brand that has not been sold in the United States for at least 8 years. Therefore Plymouths have been allowed in the show since 2009, and since Oldsmobile died in April of 2004, this was the first year that Olds cars were on display. Mercury went out of production in late 2010 so it won’t be let into the show until the 2019 version, but Pontiacs will make it in for the 2017 show. Show organizers bend their own rules a bit because there is usually a large contingent of Corvairs. With the museum’s nice collection of Corvairs, that’s understandable, though Chevy is still in business.

Ford is also still in business but European Fords that are no longer sold here are also displayed. Continental Mark II cars from 1956 and 1957 (surely one of the great bargains among collectible cars, you can buy a nice driver for the cost of a loaded Camry) can be displayed, because technically they were made and sold by Ford’s short lived “Continental” division. AMCs are permitted as are pre-1987 Jeeps by that company, Willys or Kaiser. Cars also apparently have to be stock, another rule that is bent, since one of the Corvairs that’s regularly in the show has obvious modifications (it was the personal car of Corvair designer Ned Nickles and all the mods were done by him, some at GM). Another car owner alluded to that rule when he looked around before lifting the hood of his car and said, “They’re supposed to be stock”. I’m sure some of that engine was still stock but it didn’t leave the factory with that carburetor, those cast valve covers or those headers. I don’t want to get the owner in trouble with show organizers so I’ll just say that it was a later first generation version of a car whose second generation has been the subject of one of Murilee’s Junkyard Finds, an import sold by a company that still exists but under a brand that no longer is sold in the United States, a model name that has been used by the same parent company over the course of many decades on a variety of cars. Note: The first person who correctly identifies the year, brand sold under in the USA, model, country of origin and engine family will win a new car (taxes and delivery fees not included). For tie breaking purposes, please also include all the different models that wore this nameplate.

With Citroens not having been imported to this country in a while (other than the SM, was there ever official distribution of Citroen product in the US?), it’s not surprising that there’d be some cars bearing the double chevron along with the other orphans. Last year there was a Traction Avant, a 2CV and a Dyane.

This year there was a larger contingent of Citroens. Well large is a relative term. The Traction Avant didn’t make it (rain was threatening and there were even a few sprinkles) but there were four Citroens, a pair of 2CVs, separated in production by almost two decades, and two Dyanes. One of the Dyane owners got out the jack handle/lug wrench and stuck it in a hole in the front of the car. If you’re a young’un you may not know this but crank starting cars did not end with Charles Kettering’s invention of the electric self-starter in 1913 (making it possible for many women to drive gasoline powered cars). A number of postwar European cars, and not just microcars, could be started manually… or as in the case of this Dyane with a dead battery, not started manually. The guy cranked it over by hand a few times without starting it and then he and his Citroen buddies decided that they’d push start it later.

I know that Citroens were not the only postwar cars which could be crank or pull started. Early Volkswagen Beetles had a special fastener on the crankshaft pulley and a hole in the rear valence so a hand crank could be inserted.

If you’re older than, let’s say 50, or if you hang around with people who collect old lawnmowers or outboard motors, you might know that small engines didn’t always have a recoil gizmo for the pull start cord. Before they figured out how to make a pull starter that recoiled the rope and freewheeled once the engine started, your lawnmower or outboard came with a rope. It was knotted at both ends (calm down, Bertel) and the rope passed through a hole in a wooden handle. The engine had a pulley or cup with a notch in it for the rope’s knot. You put the knot in the notch, wrapped the rope around the pulley or cup and gave it a good pull. It works the same with an air-cooled VW.

The brother of a friend had a 1964 Beetle with such a notch in the crankshaft pulley. The engines are low enough compression that it’s not too hard, particularly with the early 1300cc models. Just remember, a Model T has a 2.5 liter inline four and people hand started those. I believe that the notched pulley was a factory VW part but it’s been 20 years since I last rebuilt a VeeDub engine. I’m sure that our esteemed editor emeritus Ed’s father could tell us for sure.

I do know that you could buy aftermarket pulleys and it looks like there was also the alternative of using the generator pulley, as an accessory called the Startfix Handenlasser was made in Germany and marketed in the US by Small Car Essentials for the grand sum of $2.45. It’s a leather strap that had a handle secured at one end and a metal rivet at the other. The instructions say to drill a small hole in the generator pulley’s outer flange so you can engage the rivet, you wrap the strap around the pulley, stand to the side and give it a yank.

According to the Samba forum, VW discontinued the hand crank on Beetles by 1950 though Type IIs (Buses) had them through ’59. Apparently all VW 181 models (aka The Thing) had a hole in the bumper though it’s not clear how many came from the factory with the correct sheet metal and crankshaft nut. So what other postwar cars besides the air cooled Citroens and VWs could be hand started? The Dyane was in production until 1987. What was the last car built that came with a crank for hand starting sold new in Europe, Japan or North America? Are there any cars still being produced somewhere in the world that still have the facility for hand starting? Have you ever crank started or pull started a car?


Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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51 Comments on “Ask the Best and Brightest: What was the Last Crank Start Car? UPDATE: Contest Added – Win a New Car!...”

  • avatar

    Not sure about the states, but in Canada the Lada Niva came with a crank start. According to Wikipedia, they were on sale until 98.

    What car do I win? hopefully not a Lada

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, last Niva with a hand crank was VAZ 21213. 21214 had a different engine and a bigger radiator with no provision for a hand crank.

    • 0 avatar

      As did the UAZ 469 and Lada Zhiguli in the late 90s. I am pretty sure the UAZ 469 (Patriot/Hunter) still does.

    • 0 avatar

      Let me clarify the contest. The mystery car is the one with the non-stock engine compartment, not a crank started car.

      ” a later first generation version of a car whose second generation has been the subject of one of Murilee’s Junkyard Finds, an import sold by a company that still exists but under a brand that no longer is sold in the United States, a model name that has been used by the same parent company over the course of many decades on a variety of cars. “

    • 0 avatar

      I owned a couple Nivas. All could be hand cranked. The later ones have fuel injection which makes the hand cranking a bit harder but still possible.

    • 0 avatar

      My 82 Lada 1500 had the crank and hole but the Canadian bumpers covered it up, I cut an access hole so that I could use it after one start I never did it again

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    In the 1960’s the Citroen DS was officially imported to the U.S. They also imported a small number of 2CVs. Most of the 2CVs you see here now are more recent imports dating from the 1990’s and 2000’s.

    Prior to the start of the recession there was a small but thriving cottage industry centered on the importation of vintage European small cars like the 2CV, BMC Mini and Fiat 500.

  • avatar

    I have a ’74 VW Thing, but never tried the crank start. 1.6L and 7.5:1 compression makes it possible, but not that easy. Those Model T engines had 4:1 or so? Besides, Ive been push starting VW’s since high school (6volt ’66 Beetle, without crank start provisions).

    The closest thing to a car Ive ever crank started was grandpa’s 1938 International tractor, a very low compression flathead four.

  • avatar

    Triumph kept providing starter cranks longer than most. The TR-4s of the ’60s still had them, as did some Spitfires and about the only Herald I’ve ever seen in the US.

  • avatar

    I hand crank my 1918 Model T all of the time. Ford didn’t have a electric starter until 1919. The Model T engine had a compression ratio of only 3.4 to 1. Early on, it was 3.65 to 1 but Ford had to lower it so his car would run on the gasoline of the day!

  • avatar

    My Dad had a number of British cars when I was very small. I recall that the Austins and other BMC cars had cranks, while the Fords and Vauxhalls did not. A ’61 Austin Cambridge had a crank for sure, not sure about the mid-sixties Morris Minor he had as his last British ride.

    • 0 avatar

      The Rootes Group supplied crank handles with most of their cars too, up until the end of the 60s.

      • 0 avatar

        Writing just for the 1959-1968 Alpine and 1964-1967 Tiger lurkers, the Alpine came with a crank, the Tiger had a similar hole up front as the Alpine, but the owners handbook for the Tiger cautioned against using the hole, because the larger Tiger radiator blocked access to the front pulley, and the Tiger didn’t come with a crank, to begin with.

  • avatar

    You may recall Peugeot 403 and 404 models that had a keyhole for an emergency crank start. (The 504 I had a million years ago did not have it, but probably should have.) 404s were imported through about 1970. And Triumphs through the TR4 had a similar hole in the grille, through about 1967.

    And yes, Citroens were surely imported. DS series sedans and station wagons were sold in the US until, I think, 1972. After a few years, an independent firm called CXA imported the CX model – but not under the Citroen name – in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I’ve got a lot of fond memories of all of them.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      My Peugeot 404s had them. My ’68 404 sedan would start very easily and quickly with just one jerk of the folding handle. And it was hardly low compression. But then that car always started instantaneously with the electric starter too. I used to do it regularly in downtown Beverly Hills just to flummox folks on the sidewalk.

  • avatar

    Does this include propensity to having two guys push to pop the clutch to get her going? Because my 1993 Ford Festiva certainly qualified for that epic award of craptacularness.

  • avatar

    The Toyota 2F engine in the Land Cruiser had the crank starter claw in the US. up to at least 1980 if not 1988. This was obviously a desperation backup option if you were stuck in the sticks with a dead battery or nonfunctioning starter. It’s handy for spinning the engine for maintenance, though.

  • avatar

    I had a ’65 Renault that could be crank started using the jack handle. I would assume that all of that era’s Daphine/R8/R10 variants had this through the late sixties.

  • avatar

    I’m sure it was not the latest but my 1950 F1 pickup had an opening below the grille and claw on the front of the flathead six crank pulley. The crank was long gone by the time I owned it but I would hate to try to crank start that thing. On the other side of the matter, I was at a car show when I saw a restored model T with the owner standing at the front with the crank getting ready to leave. I thought he was going to crank start it. But instead he slowly turned over the engine carefully leaving it at a certain point. He then got it the cab and quickly moved the mag lever. It started right up. I assumed he choked/primed it and left it just past TDC, then generated a spark with the mag. I don’t know if this would work on a cold winter morning, but it worked fine on a summer afternoon after sitting for a few hours.

    • 0 avatar

      Ditto for the 1941 Chevrolet we had while I was a teen. The bottom of the stainless-steel (actually, all of the trim on the car was stainless)grille had a removable piece which exposed the hole.

      The compression ratio on the 216 that year was 6.5:1 and I never tried to crank it (didn’t have the crank even if I wanted to try).

      My grandfather used to crank-start his 1952 Allis-Chalmers tractor (4-cylinder gasoline) even though it had a perfectly-working electric starter on board (a Delco-Remy that looked like it was from a 1930s truck). At least on the tractor, it had a spring-loaded shaft with a one-way clutch that would disengage the crank when the engine started. You could still break an arm if you didn’t do it properly.

  • avatar

    The 1960 Prince Skyline It had a crank start I never tried to use it. It was very useful for turning the engine over when I was bringing it back to life.

    Many of the first Datsun, Toyota’s and Japanese cars in general had crank starts.

  • avatar

    Our family’s 1972 ZAZ 966 “Zaporozhets” has a hand crank start that is used whenever we go back to visit, the car hasn’t been on the road since 1992 when we left Russia, but we start it up every time we’re in Novosibirsk (it sits in a heated garage complex). Back in the 80s in the Soviet Union it was hard to procure a new car battery, my dad, who is a physicist, wired up a home brewed jump starter that plugs into a wall outlet and allows the car to be started with the hand crank and no battery present at all. Works like a charm, car starts right up on 10 year old gas with an octane rating of RON 76. He used to have a battery out of a T72 tank that he got rid of, and the mufflers are welded from stainless steel left over from construction of a particle accelerator. One more fun tidbit, machinists used T72 tread pins to make new lifters, as they were made of much higher quality steel than anything made for civilian use.

    Also, the ZAZ 968M (45hp engine, square rear tailights, lacks the big side cooling louvers) had a hand crank as well and it was produced until 1994. That might just take the cake!

  • avatar

    I really enjoy 3D images and, especially, movies. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the “red 3D” button to switch to eyes crossing mode. I’ve tried looking on Safari on iPad 3 running iOS6 as well as Safari on Mac OS 10.8.2. Guess I’ll rip the video and rework it myself.

    • 0 avatar


      You have to first start the video before the 3D button appears. Not sure why they do that. Once you can access the 3D settings here’s how you set it to cross-eyed

      3D Button
      Change viewing method
      Side by Side
      3D Button
      Swap (right-left)

      To get full-width side by side or crosseyed, once you’re in a Side by Side mode:

      3D Button
      Full width

      Hope this helps. If yo’re into 3D images and video, please check out Cars In Depth and please tell other 3D enthusiasts about it. I’m pretty sure that it’s the largest public archive of 3D photos and videos of cars and related topics. I stopped counting at 6,000 image pairs. It’s probably over 10,000 at this point and I’ve posted more than 300 3D videos on YouTube, with most of them appearing on the site. I’m finishing up processing the pics and videos from some major car shows that I attended in late summer and early fall and those will be posted on the site over the next couple of months. There’s new video up from the Orphan Car Show.

  • avatar

    My first car – a $75.00 1952 Chevy DeLuxe 2 door sedan back in 1968. The 216 babbitt-beater had a crank connector slot on front of the crank pulley.

    Alas, my buddy and I always wanted to try it, but horror stories dad told us of broken arms from engine kickback scared us from attempting to do so at the tender ages of 16 and 17 years old.

  • avatar

    Is the mystery car a 1973 Fiat 124 Super Spider?

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    When I worked on a ranch in the early 1960s they had a pre-WW2 flatbed truck on which was strapped a very large water tank which we would fill and then use to deliver water to livestock tanks. The truck had Chevy’s big 6 engine (probably 260 cu in) and we hand cranked it all of the time. The battery was pretty much shot and, using a 6 volt electrical system, batteries were not that easy to find.

    Much more recently, in 1980 I owned a 30 foot sailboat with a 1-cylinder 12 hp diesel engine. While it had an electric starter, I was always reassured by the fact that it could be hand-cranked, if drained the battery while anchored overnight running cabin lights, etc. Of course, it had a compression release lever. The technique was to get the engine spinning as fast as possible (it had a heavy flywheel, which made this easier) and then let go of the compression release. It worked amazingly well. The crank did not engage the crankshaft directly, but through a gear train which gave you some mechanical advantage.

  • avatar

    Mystery car probably the 1973 Ford Germany (sold as Mercury in US) Capri Mk I with Cologne V6. There have been Mercury Capris (Mustangs) as well, and several other Fords with double-barreled names including Capri since the 30s, and that underwhelming Australian Capri convertible.

    • 0 avatar

      We have a winner. Drop me an email.

      They also used it for Lincoln in the ’50s.

      • 0 avatar

        How is that the winner if Toyota Land Cruisers and Land Rovers had them in the 80s in the US?

      • 0 avatar


        The contest was not about which car was the last that could be hand started, it was about a mystery car at the Orphan Car Show.

        ” Another car owner alluded to that rule when he looked around before lifting the hood of his car and said, “They’re supposed to be stock”. I’m sure some of that engine was still stock but it didn’t leave the factory with that carburetor, those cast valve covers or those headers. I don’t want to get the owner in trouble with show organizers so I’ll just say that it was a later first generation version of a car whose second generation has been the subject of one of Murilee’s Junkyard Finds, an import sold by a company that still exists but under a brand that no longer is sold in the United States, a model name that has been used by the same parent company over the course of many decades on a variety of cars. Note: The first person who correctly identifies the year, brand sold under in the USA, model, country of origin and engine family will win a new car (taxes and delivery fees not included). For tie breaking purposes, please also include all the different models that wore this nameplate.”

      • 0 avatar

        i must have misunderstood

      • 0 avatar

        i must have misunderstood

  • avatar

    Although, I’ve seen a few VW Buses from the 1950’ies and a couple of 181 Things with the proper pulley bolt for a hand crank – I’ve never seen anyone use a hand crank to start a VW – until today on youtube.

    With Kettering ignition points and a generator for charging, in theory one could hand crank a VW with a dead battery to get the motor started. I would think that it would still be easier to push start the vehicle by rolling it forward in neutral and then just pop the clutch in second gear.

  • avatar

    Real men still use skateboards made from steel-wheel roller skates… the type requiring a skate key to force the clamps upon one’s Keds or Converse early-version sneakers.

  • avatar

    The year I was born (1948) my dad bought a new Willys CJ 2 A which I still own and it came with and still has a hand crank. The front bumper is drilled for it but after a few tries using it (things like using the headlights for lighting up a nighttime fishing spot could drain the 6 volt system so not enough juice remained to run the starter) my friends and I found push starting was easier as was parking on a hill if I had to delay buying a new battery due to low funds in my teen years.

    The crank did work but it was not easy and if not done tight could kick back painfully.

    I know the hand crank provision was gone from the CJ by the time of the CJ 5 in the early 50s but I do not recall if was gone by the CJ 2 Bs time or the CJ 3.

  • avatar

    Would Landrovers count? The Series III was sold in the US until 74, made until 85 and had a handcrank in the toolkit until at least 1980 when the 5 bearing engine came out.

  • avatar
    Ex Radio Operator

    My 1962 MGA came with a crank. I used the crank several times to start it. Worked just fine.

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    I am 68. My father had a Peugeot that I had to crank one cold night in Rochester, NY when the battery got weak. I think the Peugeot was a 404 about 1959 and I cranked it in about 1961. The French cars use to have great seats and my father and I had 2 Peugeot 404s and 2 Citroen ID 19s. Wish I could have kept the seats to use in my later Toyotas.

  • avatar

    A buddy of mine has a late 30’s or early 40’s ford tractor that belonged to his grandfather. The steering wheel slips off of the coulumn and fits on the end of the crank and that’s how you start it. I can’t remember if it also has a regular crank.

  • avatar

    Being that lawnmower engines were mentioned, there was an alternative that slotted between the free rope that was wound around the pulley and the ubiquitous recoil starter of today. As a small boy we had a lawnmower with a flip handle that wound a clockspring. The handle was then folded over which released the spring’s energy to spin the engine. Sears, if I recall.

  • avatar

    I have car show envy Ronnie, an orphan car show would be high on my list.

    • 0 avatar

      The Detroit area has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to first rate car shows. I’m about three or four events in arrears when it comes to posting pics on my web site. There are also a number of worthwhile car museums in southern Michigan and northern Indiana and Ohio, ranging from large extensive collections like the Henry Ford Museum and the Gilmore collection of museums near Kalamazoo, to specialist museums like the Wills Ste. Claire Museum in Marysville and Ye Olde Carriage Shop in Spring Arbor.

  • avatar

    Dad’s 1965 Datsun station wagon could be crank started- it came in handy out in bush once or twice.

  • avatar

    I think Austin Healey’s had a provision for crank starting right to the end of their run in 1967.

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