Johnson City’s Crosley Automobile Dealership Recalled by Area Resident

My cousin, Wayne Whittimore, and I recently conversed by phone concerning the Crosley automobile dealership that his father, Ernest, and another man, Jess Crigger, opened and operated about 1949. They appropriately named it C&W Motor Sales.

Ernest previously worked for (J. Norton) Arney’s Motors while Jess was once employed by Potter's Auto Repair (whose business was on the New Jonesboro Highway). Whittimore had previously worked at a King Street repair garage and at a Maple Street shop. The businessmen acquired a building on E. Main Street, two businesses east of Broadway Street on the right (west) side. 

The photo at the bottom of the collage, taken in 2013, shows the same building used for the Crosley dealership in the late 1940s and early 1950s

Crosleys were the only products they sold. The front showroom was fairly small, being just large enough to display two of the diminutive vehicles. However, the back portion of the building was spacious enough to service 15-20 cars.

Although Crosleys were not overly reliable, they were so affordable that, depending on the maintenance problem encountered, it was often more economical to buy a new car rather than repair an old one. Wayne recalls that the shop was usually full of automobiles. He further recalled that the owners obtained parts from Knoxville. Although the autos averaged about 50 miles to the gallon, it was barely large enough for four normal sized people to sit comfortably in them, thus adding new meaning to the expression “no frills.”

Wayne indicated that while he later owned a Crosley, his father never did because he was a staunch Buick man. My cousin recalled that the smallish Crosley weighed nearly 1100 pounds, possessed a 4-pound engine block, had four cylinder pistons and measured 4-foot wide by 12-foot long. The consumer was limited in factory color choices that included gray, yellow and blue. It has been said that four husky musclemen could pick up and carry the vehicle a short distance, making it the target of pranksters.

Wayne alleged that the most unusual Crosley product was a “Farm-O-Road” (meaning “farm or road”). It could be modified by installing two extra wheels on the rear and used on the farm as a tractor. Afterward, the wheels were removed and the car driven onto the highway.

Powel Crosley, Jr., already well-known for producing low cost radios, reasoned that a basic, no frills car would attract scores of customers. A $300 Crosley had a chassis with an 80-inch wheelbase, half elliptic springs with beam axle in front, quarter elliptics in the rear, a 2-cylinder Waukesha air-cooled engine with the fan a part of the flywheel, a 9-inch diameter clutch and a 3-speed transmission. If a patron desired a rear seat, it cost extra.

The first Crosley produced was a two-door convertible that weighed under 1000 pounds and sold for $250. While not an instant success, the company introduced additional body styles in 1941 to boost sales.

The Crosley was so narrow that it could go though a standard commercial store door, allowing dealers to sell radios and cars from the same building. A glove compartment, barely large enough for a pair of gloves, was set into the right side of the dash, while above the steering column was a crank for the manual windshield wiper. Although windows slid open for signaling and ventilation, a standard summertime modification was to remove the side glass entirely.

In 1949, a station wagon, a pickup truck, and a sports model called the “Hotshot” were added to the product line. It was the first real postwar sports car in America and lived up to its name by winning the first Sebring 12-hour race.

According to Wayne, C&W Motor Sales stayed in business about four years, closing around 1953. By the early 1950s, demand for the little cars began to diminish. I asked my cousin if he still owned his Crosley. He said he finally sold it to a person in Johnson City who fully restored it and let him drive it. He was thrilled at the make-over because he has a soft spot in his heart for the Crosley.

If you owned a Crosley, I would like to hear from you.