Sunday, December 18, 2011

NASA Super Sports, 1952

Just came across a neat shot of a JPL (Jet Propulsion Lap) Motorsports Club meet from 1952 on the NASA website.  Most of these space pioneers had MGs, but there's a Crosley Super Sports and a Ford Model A (probably a hotrod) nestled in among the brit iron.  Plenty of cool stuff in the background including a Willys wagon and a Hudson Hornet.
Here's a blowup of the Super Sports, or click on the main photo to see it bigger.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Comics and Crosleys

Sometimes the world gets awfully small.

Such was the case today when Georgia Crosley nut Pete Berard posted a page of a comic strip about a Crosley convertible that looked just like mine, asking if anyone knew the source.  I didn't know where it came from, but I recognized the artist instantly: underground comix legend Justin Green.

Justin Green started doing comics around 1970 and is credited with creating the first autobiographical comic book: Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary.  He used to live not far from me in Winters, California, which was then also the home of underground cartoon legends Robert Crumb (Mr. Natural) and Robert Armstrong* (Mickey Rat). Green had a regular strip in Pulse! Magazine and also did a comic for the signpainter industry magazine - signpainting was his dayjob. 
I googled 'Justin Green Crosley' and quickly found the original source of the page: the June 2006 issue of Cincinnati Magazine.  A little more sleuthing and I managed to get a copy of the two page strip (click on the images for bigger versions):
Finding Green's comic strip reminded me that I'd actually put a Crosley in my own comic strip!  I snuck a CC sedan into the comic strip I did for my college paper around 2001:
This Crosley/comics overlap is probably not that amazing to most of you, but for me, it was all kinds of worlds colliding.  I have been a comics obsessive for 35 years - more than 75% of my lifetime.  I've drawn comics since I was about ten years old, and even worked as a professional comic artist for a while.   While other kids looked up to sports and movie stars, my heroes were cartoonists like Will Eisner,  Alex Raymond and Wally Wood.  Comics have probably shaped my life more than any single thing outside my family, so stumbling into a Crosley comic strip by a respected cartoonist - who used to live practically in my backyard no less - was pretty amazing.

Perhaps more amazing is that this isn't the first time the two worlds have collided.  An ultra rare Crosley-powered Bandini racecar popped up for sale about a decade ago.  The ad said it needed a total restoration (there was a tree growing through it) and didn't have a price, so I called, thinking that maybe I could swing it.  I was a little surprised at the price ($75K).  I was a lot surprised by the provenance: it had been Alex Raymond's car
If you don't know the name Alex Raymond, you know his work: Alex Raymond created Flash Gordon.  Raymond's sci-fi comic strip debuted in 1934 and promptly set the comics world on its ear.  An immediate success, Flash made Raymond a star.  His stories were imaginative and his draftsmanship was nothing short of incredible.  Raymond's art set a standard for adventure comics, and his style is emulated even today.
Raymond himself was a bit of an adventurer, and he began racing sports cars after World War II. He acquired a Bandini in the early fifties and liked it so much that he ordered a new Crosley-engined Bandini Barchetta from Italy in 1956.  Soon after ordering the Bandini, Raymond took his friend's new Corvette out for a spin.  Losing control on a rain-slicked Connecticut road, Raymond shot off the pavement, hitting a stand of trees 60 feet off the road.  He was killed instantly.  The Barchetta arrived months later, only to be sold as part of Raymond's estate.
Alex Raymond's Bandini sold quickly - even with the high price tag.  The owner completed an immaculate restoration and I found the pictures you see here on the Hemmings blog.  I wish I still had the 'pre-restoration' pics... that was some project.

When I learned of the Bandini's Raymond connection, I couldn't believe it.  I'd known that Raymond had been killed in an auto accident, but not much more than that.  Discovering that one of my heroes (I'd actually done a tribute comic strip called Alex Raymond in Junior High) had actually owned a Crosley-powered sports car was an incredibly exciting revelation - I'd found a connection to one of the best cartoonists who ever lived.   Not much, maybe, but I'll take it!

*To get really incestuous: Robert Armstrong provided the cover art for the Sol Hoopii LP which features 'I Like You' - the soundtrack to the Crosleykook movie.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Six Engines, One Wagon, a '37 Chevy, Two Siatas and a Couple of Dodges (More or Less)

You never know what's going to happen when you respond to an ad; I sure wasn't expecting the chain of events that started with a pile of Crosley parts and led to six engines, a complete 1948 station wagon, a 1937 Chevy coupe, two Dodge pickups, a wooden-wheel bicycle and TWO Siatas... all from one quick email about a Craigslist posting.
I couldn't resist: a Craigslist ad for a pile of Crosley motors, plus more parts, for sale an hour from my house, $995. Now I don't NEED more motors but who could ignore that ad? I sent an email when I saw the ad on a Sunday night, and the next morning the seller let me know that there were a half dozen motors, and that he'd just put the lot on Ebay, and that there was a 1948 station wagon that was also up for sale but not listed yet.

Turned out the guy was selling the parts for his friend who was getting toward the end of a battle with cancer and wanted everything gone so his family didn't have to deal with it. Not a fun deal.  He also mentioned that someone had called about the motors and that they were probably going to be sold the next day. Prepped, I called Lynn, the owner, to ask about the 1948 wagon.

Someone Lynn knew had fully restored the car about 25 years ago, driven it for a few years and then parked it.  Lynn had picked it up 12 years ago, registered it in his name and then also let it sit.  When he first decided to sell it (a couple of years ago) he'd had the rims blasted and painted, and put all new rubber on the wheels - other than that it hadn't been touched in over 20 years!  He said there was a small spot of rust on the roof above the passenger door, but that otherwise it was nice. He wanted $2700.  I had a crazy work week ahead, so that same night was the only time I could possibly go look at the car.  With visions of that dream 'barn find,' I hit the bank after work and sped toward El Sobrante. 

Barely an hour later Lynn was walking me through his carport.  He was moving a little slowly, but for someone with lung cancer he was doing great.  He was really sorry that he'd never gotten around to getting the Crosley running again - he thought it was a pretty neat car.
The wagon was straight and complete, but had been sitting outside for a very long time.  The bay area's salty air had not been kind.  The only rust-THRU (a nickel-sized hole) was over the passenger door, but there was a liberal dose of scaly surface rust on many of the exterior surfaces.  The interior metal was solid (the floors were beautiful) but the gauges and upholstery had cooked in the California sun.   My favorite part of the car was a really neat vintage accessory taillight on the back with 'stop' cast into the lens.  Sadly, the matched blue '70s California plates were no longer registered to the car, but the good news was that Lynn had non-opped it, so there would be no DMV fees due.  It clearly had been a nice car which just went to pot from neglect.
Lynn took me back to his storage to show me the parts.  There were a lot of them: six motors, nearly as many transmissions, an axle or two, plus several radiators.  There was a guy coming tomorrow morning to look at the stuff, and I advised Lynn not to go down too much on his price- $995 was a good buy for all that stuff.  I told him to call me if they didn't sell and I'd help him find a buyer.
While we were there Lynn opened his workshop door to show me his pride and joy: a 1937 Chevrolet business coupe that he'd owned for 42 years. It was a California car from new and Lynn was the second owner.  It had a neat accessory truck bed that was sold through Chevy dealers when the car was new - Lynn had driven almost halfway across the US to buy it in the early seventies.  The car still had its original inline six, with immaculate Nicson valve cover and sideplates and Fenton intake.  He fired it up and it ran so smoothly I almost couldn't tell it was running - until he rapped the throttle.  Just for fun he had a matching engine perched in the bed.  I saw an ancient 'Inliners' decal in the window and asked him about it.  Turned out that he's known Sacramento hotrod/kustom car legend Dick Bertolucci (also an Inliner) for years.
Lynn had all sorts of fun stuff in the shop: ancient engines for Overlands and Model Ts, tools that were so old I wasn't sure what they were for, and a wooden-wheeled Crown Bicycle from the WWI era.  He really liked that bike- he'd had a wooden-wheeled bike as a kid so he'd always wanted another one.  It was neat.
Out in the yard we passed two Dodge pickups - a 1939 and a '46.  Both seemed fairly straight, complete and nice - the '39 even had 1939 California plates.  Lynn said, "$3000 for the pair.  They gotta go."  I took a couple pictures to show to a friend.
We got back out to the Crosley and I confessed that I didn't want it.  He asked if his price was high and I told him I thought it was, considering the condition.  Turned out he was asking about what he'd paid 12 years ago, but he realized it was probably unrealistic.  He asked what I thought it was worth, I told him, and I also mentioned that I knew someone looking for a Crosley and that I'd send his number and the pictures along.  He said that'd be great.

I got home and called Lloyd.  I'd met Lloyd at the Crosley Meet in Buellton this past September.  he and his wife had pulled up Friday night on their way to a vintage Ford meet nearby.  He was VERY intrigued by the Crosleys and said they'd be back tomorrow after the Ford meet.  They showed up bright and early, hoping to find a CC sedan or wagon for sale, but as luck would have it, my Utah pickup was the only thing for sale at the meet.  Lloyd was interested, but I did my best to convince him that if he wanted a sedan or wagon he should hold out.  I also told him I'd help him find one and I'd been keeping my eye out ever since.  Sure enough, Lloyd was very interested in the El Sobrante wagon, so I sent him pictures and Lynn's phone number along with all the details I could remember.

I also called my pal Johnny Crasharama.  I met Johnny when I rented a warehouse from him nearly 20 years ago. We've gotten to be good friends and it's hard to remember that to a lot of folks, he's not a person - he's a legend.  Johnny has been a professional stuntman for 40 years and these days his 'day job' is running the Hell Drivers stunt show.  When he's not crashing into walls of fire or doing ramp jumps, he's collecting old cars.  He's got well over a dozen classics, ranging from a 1913 Model T, and a 1937 Ford business coupe hotrod to a 1947 Buick convertible, all of which sport a heavy dose of patina.  Those Dodge trucks looked to be right up his alley. He looked at the pictures and said he'd probably give Lynn a call.

The next afternoon I got an email saying that the motors had sold to a guy from Berkeley named Paolo, and that Lloyd had called about the Crosley.  The guy that had bought the motors had said he planned on keeping only some of the stuff and Lynn's friend suggested that I could call the guy if I wanted to buy anything he didn't want.  I didn't so much care about the motors, but I was intrigued by a Crosley guy in Berkeley - I didn't know there were any Crosley folks there.  I got the number and called.

"Hi, I got your number from the guy who sold you the Crosley motors. He said you might be interested in selling some of the stuff you're not going to use."

"Yeah, I got a lot of stuff.  What are you looking for?"

"I might be interested in the generator motors."

"That's what I wanted."
It turned out that the buyer was a sportscar mechanic named Paolo who wanted the motors for parts for a wrecked Crosley-powered Siata he was restoring.  He was surprised that I knew about Siatas until I mentioned that my friend Marty Stein had one.  He laughed.  "I was at Marty's place last weekend." Paolo's car is one serial number from Marty's, and he also has another, non-Crosley Siata.  We talked about Siatas and Crosley stuff and he invited me to come check out his shop in Berkeley.  He restores all kinds of vintage sportscars...  so, he has the job that I and many, many of my pals dream about.  I'm scheming on when I can make a trip down that way to take him up on the offer.

Now, a couple of weeks later and it's all said and done.  Lloyd spoke with Lynn and made him an offer he couldn't refuse.   It took him a few days to get up from Solvang to pick up the car, but he called me this week to say that he got it home and he is very happy with his project. 

Johnny drove up to El Sobrante and bought the trucks the day after I sent him the pictures.  Lynn had all the paperwork in order and even had receipts for engine work done on one of them - they'd been sitting for some time but Johnny says he's got spark on the '46 and expects to fire it up this week.  Lynn also sent Johnny home with an extra Dodge flathead, new bearings and a crankshaft.

I never could have imagined all of this coming out of a one sentence ad for Crosley parts.   But, I'm not surprised.  Crosley folks are interesting people, so you never know what will happen. I've met some wonderful people through the Crosley world, and Lynn is just the latest in a long line of really nice folks.  It's very telling that his friends are going out of their way to help him through this - that tells you a lot about a person.   

He's leaving his beloved Chevy to his son.  I'm sad to think that he will never get to see his other cars all dolled up by their new owners, but I don't think he minds.  He just seemed happy that it was all going to good home.   Lynn, I hope so, and god bless.