Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Antiques? No, Ahead of their Time

A substantial portion of the ATQMRA’s history is associated with the Crosley automobile engine, which was the dominant engine from the club’s founding and which remained in competition into the 1980s.  This, despite the Crosley automobile having last been produced in 1952.  Today the Crosleys are back on the track with the Vintage Club.

The Crosley was a tiny car, built in Indiana, and it sold in relatively small numbers.  Introduced in 1939, Crosley cars built before World War II were powered by two-cylinder Waukesha engines.  When Crosley automobile production resumed following the war, the Waukesha engines were gone, replaced by a remarkable overhead-cam inline four cylinder engine known as the CoBra.

“CoBra” was a contraction of “Copper Brazed,” because the engine block was fabricated from sheet metal!  The engine was developed during the war for military purposes, and served those purposes well, so Crosley adopted it for the cars beginning in 1946.  The block and cylinder head assembly weighed less than 15 pounds, and complete with all accessories (including the flywheel) the engines weighed only 133 pounds.  Displacement was 44 cubic inches (724 cc) and in original form the engines produced 26 hp at 5,200 rpm.  At the time this was the greatest horsepower output per pound of any engine.

In the military applications engine life was monitored by hours and careful maintenance schedules kept the sheet metal engines performing as designed.  But the postwar application in civilian automobiles led to corrosion problems for the engines, which damaged the reputation of Crosley cars.  For the 1949 model year, the engine was redesigned to incorporate a cast iron block assembly, nicknamed CIBA.

The Crosley CIBA Engine

Even with the change to a more traditional cast iron block assembly, the Crosley engine remained powerful for its weight, and soon became a popular choice in 750-cc class sports-car racing even before being adapted to TQ midgets.  Once the ATQMRA was founded, the cast-iron Crosley dominated the competition for 30 years.

If you’ve been following the timeline, your realize that this domination was accomplished by an engine that was in production only for the years 1949 through 1952, in a niche automobile that never sold in large numbers.  The engine’s longevity in racing is a testament to its remarkable design.

So, too, is the engine’s production life after Crosley automobiles were discontinued in 1952.  According to the experts in the Crosley Automobile Club, the rights to the engine changed hands a number of times, with Aerojet-General Tire, Fageol, Crofton, Homelite, and Fisher Pierce all owning the rights to the engine at one some point.  Each produced their own versions of the engine for a variety of uses, such as both inboard and outboard boat engines, refrigeration unit power sources, and for landscaping equipment.  Fisher Pierce, which marketed the engine as the Bearcat 55, discontinued it in 1972, some 20 years after the last Crosley car was built.

While there exist no specific records as to the last Crosley victory in an ATQMRA race, we can recall that the first ATQMRA race with no Crosleys in the field took place at the Freeport Stadium in the 1980s.  The Crosley had been displaced by the high-pitched two-cycle snowmobile engines that themselves dominated ATQMRA racing for 20 years.  The 2-strokes, smaller and lighter than the Crosley, were themselves displaced by the 750-cc motorcycle engines in use today.

1949 Crosley Wagon

1951 Crosley Hotshot