Monday, December 29, 2008

The Ones That Got Away

I try not to obsessively check Craigslist and ebay multiple times a day.  I don't have the time, money or space to properly maintain the small army of Crosleys that I already have, so I certainly don't need any more.   But, it's a losing battle.  I hate the thought of something really neat slipping by, and I delude myself that if i get a new car I'll surely get rid of one of the others to make room.


In the end I do seem to turn up a few cars each year that, in a perfect world, I would own.  This year there were three.

This isn't a photo of the actual 1951 wagon I missed this spring, but I didn't save a picture of that one, and this is pretty close.   When this beautifully fixed up wagon (with rebuilt engine no less) popped up on CL for $3K, less than 100 miles from my house, I sprang.  There was no number in the ad so I sent several emails and waited impatiently, only to have the seller call to say that the car had sold.  Only then did we realize that we'd traded several emails a few years back.  He said that the new owner was a young guy who seemed excited about his purchase and couldn't wait to join the Crosley Club.   He was glad that the car had gone to 'new blood'.

It was less than a week later that I spied the car again, this time on Ebay.  The seller lovingly detailed the car's history and restoration process, evincing sadness that the time had come to part with it as though he'd owned it forever.  No mention that he'd owned it less than a week, and naturally, the minimum bid was way over what he'd paid.  To be a pain in the ass I called the guy and asked lots of questions, waiting for him to mention the real story.   He came across as a complete snake oiler... unsurprising given the snow job he'd given the old owner.  

I mean c'mon- I don't mind somebody getting a deal, but he had to know the guy he bought it from would see it for sale a week later.  "Yes sir, I can't wait to join that Crosley Club."   Lame.    One note: when I talked to the ebay seller, I didn't bother to point out the piles of speed equipment on the motor, and the many other rare parts that he obviously had no clue about.    In the end, somebody else got a deal too.

The next car I missed was one I've been watching for a long long time.  The Art Babin Super Sport emerged about two years ago after 50 years in storage.  I responded to a vague sale posting about a Crosley Hotshot with race history back in early 2007.  A car nut named Steven George had inherited the car (along with a whole batch of race cars) from a car buddy and didn't know too much about it other than it had been raced and it was in some old magazines and even a Crosley ad.  

The mention of the ad rang a bell with me, and i began to wonder if it was the car that I'd seen one photo of and had always thought of as the prototype for my own Super Sport.  That car had tasteful, sensible modifications: opened front wheel wells, scooped doors, lowered windshield-- and a supercharger.   I'd always wondered what had become of that car, and the more I talked to Steven George, the more I thought I'd figured it out.   He soon sent some photos, and confirmed exactly what i'd thought: it was the same car.

Art Babin was a Crosley Distributor from NY who liked racing.  When Crosley introduced  the Hotshot he began to think of competition as a way of promoting his business and boosting sales.  Stock Crosleys were soon outclassed on the tracks of the early 1950s and Babin responded by doing what most did: he modified.   The 1952 Super Sport that he set up for racing had a reworked frame, an Austin 4 Speed trans and the aforementioned Italmeccanica supercharger, resulting in a top speed of 102 mph and several class wins.  Perhaps most historically significant, the car took second in class at Watkins Glen.  Babin hoped to set up shop building Babin Super Sports, but the demise of Crosley put an end to the dream.

The car continued to be raced until it was retired in 1956.  George's friend the sportscar collector bought the car around this time and stored it with his collection of Allards, Porsches and other assorted thoroughbreds.  The car didn't see the light of day again until George inherited it from his friend-- with under 3000 miles on the clock.

Though I really couldn't afford the nine grand Steven was asking for the car, it was the historical significance that kept me from trying too hard to buy it.   Yes, I'm a Crosley nut, and yes, I have spent probably 10 hours staring at that one photo of this very car over the years.  But, in the end I realized that as much as I liked the car, it would be better off in the hands of someone else... someone who didn't want to drive it in street traffic and who probably had a climate controlled garage and who would actually take it out on a race track where it belonged.
Still, that didn't stop me from calling Steve every few months to make sure that it was still there... just in case.  It took the better part of two years, but I did finally see that it recently  sold to someone in Texas, and I hope to someday see photos of it sliding through the curves amidst a hoard of like-vintage sporting machines.

This is the first Crosley I ever saw.

Gordon Becher was a true Crosley man.  Gordon knew more about Crosleys than I will ever learn, even if I spend the next 40 years trying.  He owned about a half dozen Crosleys and had even bought out the parts inventory at the Crosley dealership in his hometown!   The '48 sedan above was his first car.  He bought it in the mid fifties and kept it until the day he died. 

I first saw the car drive past me at an auto swap in the mid nineties.  The strange whirring engine noise made me look, and even though I'd only read abut Crosleys at that point I knew that's what it had to be because, I thought, "nothing else is that ugly."  Gordon drove that car to the auto swap, to work, wherever.  He painted it with a brush in the early sixties and installed a tape deck sometime in the seventies.  It may have looked a bit rough around the edges, but it ran perfectly.

I finally met Gordon when I started looking for a Crosley.  He helped me know what to look for and even gave me some leads on cars with the proviso that if I didn't buy them I couldn't tell anyone else about them.  When I finally dragged home 10 boxes of Super Sport he was the first person I called to come take a look.  Of course he drove up in the '48.

Gordon died of cancer in 1998.  I had known that he was sick, but didn't realize it was as serious as it was until I ran into him at an auto swap.  He was unable to speak, but tried to smile and shook my hand for a long time.  He was gone less than two weeks later.

Gordon's son Keith inherited an unbelievable assortment of Crosley gunk.  Though not initially a Crosley fanatic, he soon became one.  Keith usually brings some of Gordon's collection to the West Coast Club Meet, but lately he's been bringing cars of his own.  Gordon owned a prewar Crosley, and Keith really connected with that two cylinder runabout.  He's acquired a few more of them over the past few years, and has focused most of his Crosleying on those earlier models.

I was pretty surprised when Gordon's sedan showed up for sale on ebay last month.  It just never occurred to me that Keith would part with the car.  Unfortunately, he'd run out of room and  something had to go.  The '48 was it.  

I tried to figure out a way to buy the car, but by the time I'd noticed the auction there wasn't enough time for me to scramble my finances or my storage situation in time.   Even if I had  bought the car I'd have had to put it outside, at least for a while.  Reluctantly, I let it go; I know that I'm really going to regret that one day.

Gordon's sedan sold for $3000.  Somebody got a deal, and I hope they realize that they got more than that too.

All in all, I can' t complain.  Even if I missed these, I did manage to get the one car that I was most excited about this year, but I'll save that for another post.


Anonymous said...

Dude, that wagon is sweet!

-Ed C.

d a v i d e said...

Italmeccanica supercharger?

Bloody italians!!

Ol' Man Foster said...