By on May 17, 2015

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In 1957, Ronnie Kaczmar was 15 years old and, like most teenage boys living in Dearborn, Michigan in the 1950s, Ronnie and his younger brother Jim loved cars. Unlike most of the boys in Dearborn, though, Ronnie Kaczmar wasn’t into flathead Ford hot rods. No, he was into hot shots, as in the Crosley Hot Shot and other Crosley automobiles.

 

Ronnie Kaczmar and his first Crosley in 1957

Ronnie Kaczmar and his first Crosley in 1957

In 1957, Ron Kaczmar bought his first Crosley – a 1948 station wagon – and based on the date on a photo with his brother, he soon acquired a Crosley convertible sedan that same year. His love for the tiny but technologically advanced American cars made by radio pioneer Powel Crosley lasted the rest of his life and made his family name synonymous with Crosley enthusiasm. The family still owns that ’48 Crosley wagon. Ron’s brother, Jim, bought his own Crosley, also a wagon, in 1963. While it’s clear Jim Kaczmar loves the little cars, it’s even clearer that he loved his big brother.


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In time, Ronnie Kaczmar became the go-to guy for Crosley information, history and parts. It’s impossible to research the brand without coming across his name sooner or later. Eventually, he started a small business selling Crosley parts and the occasional restored Crosley. While the marque may not be as known as more popular brands, it has an active community of collectors and enthusiasts, with over 1,000 people in the Crosley Auto Club. Just about everyone loves cute little cars, so there’s ongoing interest in Crosleys.

 

Ron Kaczmar and his father Walter drove this 1951 Crosley Super station wagon to all 48 contiguous United States.

Ron Kaczmar and his father Walter drove this 1951 Crosley Super station wagon to all 48 contiguous United States and it has the window decals to prove it. I believe that’s real wood veneer.

You’ll see them at car shows and at auctions, but you’re not likely to see a Crosley in one of Murilee Martin’s Junkyard Finds like you would the slightly less oddball Nash Metropolitan. While the Metropolitan is a cute little car and it had its own novelty song, the Crosley has a better story, starting with the personality of Powel Crosley and his various enterprises.

 

Ronnie (L) and Jimmy (R) with a Crosley convertible.

Ronnie (L) and Jimmy (R) with a Crosley convertible.

Prescient about the value of small, lightweight cars when Detroit was busy going longer, wider and embracing road hugging weight, Crosley’s cars were true pioneers achieving a number of notable automotive firsts. They made the Farm O Road, Crosley’s take on the jeep concept, and the COBRA engine made up of steel stampings copper brazed together. There’s plenty of history to add interest to the Crosley story. Besides, as small as the Metropolitan is, it’s still about 30% heavier than the truly tiny Crosley station wagon, making the little Nashes worth more at the crusher.


The water pump was run off of a power take off shaft on the back of the generator, which was about half the size of the engine itself.

The brothers weren’t the only family members to appreciate the brand. By 1968, Ronnie and his father Walter had driven Ronnie’s blue and white ’51 Crosley Super station wagon to almost all of the 48 contiguous United States.

 

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The Crosley wagon on a trip to Florida in 1968

In 1992, Ronnie took a 6,000 mile trip with a lady friend from Dearborn to Long Beach and back, via Seattle, to complete the list. The car also took trips to Florida with Kaczmar and his parents. As of last fall, the wagon had 38,300 original miles on the clock.

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Ronnie Kaczmar passed away a few years ago, but his brother Jim continues to operate Kaczmar Crosley. If you’re interested in a properly done Crosley, he’s the person to see. Jim also continues to show his brother’s collection of Crosleys.


The grille spinner/propeller was a Crosley factory accessory.

Jim Kaczmar’s enthusiasm for Crosley cars has probably only been exceeded by that of his brother, but in talking to him at Ypsilanti’s Orphan Car Show, it became obvious to me that, while he clearly has affection for the cars of Powel Crosley, he continues his involvement in the hobby more as a tribute to his brother than to the Crosley brand. At the Orphan Car Show last September, there was a for sale sign on the family’s wagon, listed at $9,800. Checking at Hemmings.com, that looks to be about $3,000 over market, but I don’t think you’ll find a Crosley with better provenance, or a better story.

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I can relate to Jim Kaczmar. My interest in cars was spurred by my own big brother, Jeff, whose ’63 Mini Cooper and ’66 Lotus Cortina forever turned me on to unusual little cars that make going around corners fun. Jeff’s even influenced the stories that I write here at TTAC, providing me with a lead on the history of airbags from when he worked for Eaton, along with my continuing coverage of the Elio Motors startup. One reason why I’m interested in Elio is that they’re trying to make a reverse trike.

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Years ago, when Jeffrey and I were kids designing a go-kart we were building using a scavenged two-stroke lawnmower engine (he designed the frame, I did the steering and brakes), we realized we couldn’t afford all the wheels, tires, bearings, etc to make a live axle in the back. Instead, we opted for a mid-engined reverse trike with a single rear wheel. What we didn’t know was reverse trikes need a forward weight bias to keep both front wheels on the ground when cornering. Elio’s trike is front wheel drive with the motor up front. Unlike the go-kart Jeff and I made, the Elio doesn’t lift the inside tire a foot off of the ground on a hard turn. But I still think of my brother whenever I write about Elio.

Photography by Ronnie Schreiber. For more photos of the vehicle in this post, please go to Cars In Depth.

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 get a parallax view 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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10 Comments on “Brotherly Love… For Crosleys...”


  • avatar
    jim brewer

    What does that spinner thing do?

    • 0 avatar
      JPaulV

      That spinner thing is decorative.
      To add: A modern materials version of the COBRa 850cc SOHC engine would significantly reduce engine weight in the drive to reduce the mass of automobiles; just have to solve the combustion noise problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      The spinner provides extra power when going uphill. If it had wings, it would take off!

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    I actually had the pleasure of driving a Crosley a number of years ago after the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix event when they were shutting down for the day. I had made nice with the guys driving it and it had the replacement CIBA engine (instead of the CoBra that had turned to swiss cheese decades prior) and it was nimble for that time. It was certainly faster than the bug eyed sprite I had driven as well and really was a more ‘fun’ car than most things from that era. It’s definitely small though, shorter than an MBA/B but probably not as narrow (at least it didn’t feel that way).

    The real issue was that he built these cars a decade too early. If these cars showed up in 1957/8 instead it would have likely survived long enough to be relevant. Americans just wanted cars in 1946 and Crosley bet on a vehicle more suited for Europe’s rationing than America’s excess. Still, they are amazing little cars if you take the time to love them. I’m not sure I would ever want a Crosley with a roof but to get a hotshot would be tempting.

  • avatar
    InterstateNomad

    This is a wonderful article. Thanks for sharing this piece about a almost forgotten part of the American automotive history. I see well maintained cars from the 40s and 50s every now and then in the nearby retirement community, driven by collectors, but I remain ignorant on the subject. Thanks for sharing this.

  • avatar
    mca1686

    There is a pick your part in Irwindale CA that up till a year a go had a huge lock upwl with tons of old rust free cars. When lkq bought pick your part they started putting cars out in the general yard. I remember they had 2 of these woody wagons that they put out. Just sad

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    These cars are neat. I discovered them a few years back up in Lincoln NH at a mini car museum that is part of a variety/souvenir shop. They had other makes in there including a Cadillac, yes Cadillac tow truck and a Ford camper with a boat built into the top of it (doubled as a roof). I believe Hudson made some small cars as well. Some of these claimed 30+ mpg. Interesting to see that these cars were made in the 30s long before anyone gave a crap about gas mileage.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    There are always interesting Crosleys at the Ault Park show here in Cincinnati, since Mr. Crosley was from here. They park them with the other old tiny things, a Honda 600, a Fiat Jolly (interesting story on that one – with wicker inside), some Renault electric thingy from the early 80s, Isettas, etc. All interesting and cute stuff to look at. I especially like the SS convertible and the Farm-O-Road.

    It’s hard to judge how small these are until you’re next to one in person. If you see them at a show, check them out. The owners of Crosleys in particular always seem affable and wanting to discuss them.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The PBS Station in Cincinnati, OH aired several times a documentary on Powell Crosley narrated by Nick Clooney, George Clooney’s father. Crosley was a fascinating man who is largely forgotten. Not only did Crosley make cars and radios but refrigerators (first to have shelves and compartments built into the door of a refrigerator), airplanes, and even airplane engines. Powell Crosley even owned the Cincinnati Reds. Mr. Crosley even had his own TV and radio stations, WLWT, which helped him sell radios and TVs.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    I love those little underdogs…

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