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1950 Crosley Farm-O-Road - Backward Glances

Posted in Features on February 27, 2015
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Photographers: Jim Allen Collection

If you ask a Crosley Farm-O-Road owner if his rig is a 4x4, he’ll answer, “Of course! Four traction tires, and all four are powered.” He doesn’t mention that all four of those traction tires are on the same axle. The Crosley Motor Company is best remembered for building economical small cars way before it became popular, but they also had connections to the world of four-wheel drive and utility vehicles.

The owner and founder of Crosley was Powel Crosley, a man who had built a fortune making radios and refrigeration systems in the ’20s and ’30s. His 1939 entrance into car manufacturing was not the first time at bat. In 1907, at age 21, he created the Marathon Six automobile, but it never got beyond a prototype. He made several other abortive attempts but finally left auto manufacturing in 1914. In short order, he owned an automobile accessory company, then an electronics company, and pretty soon he was the king of the low-cost radio realm and known for providing quality products people could afford.

Success in radio gave Powel the time and money to pursue his first love, cars. With his brother, Lewis, he began building experimental cars in 1937. In 1939, he debuted a tiny four-passenger job with a two-cylinder Waukesha engine and a $325-$350 price tag. In the second half of 1939, Crosley sold just over 2,000 units and continued producing them by the thousands into 1942, even expanding the model line before being stopped by WWII.

Both these are ’50 models, but since Farm-O-Roads are all virtually the same, owners don’t quibble about model years. From this angle, you can see the Jeep-style T-handles that hold the rear box in place on Sherman’s unit. You can also see the longer dump bed and hydraulic drawbar below on Anspach’s. This green is the standard and only FOR color, but they could reputably be special ordered in any color offered on Crosley cars.

Crosley produced a number of products for the war effort, but the most interesting was the Pup 4x4 prototype. The Pup was a tiny, air-portable 4x4. Crosley was just one in a group of auto manufacturers competing for the contract. Some 37 Pups were built for testing and were among the better of the various makes tested, though none were chosen for mass production.

After the war, Crosley geared up to produce a new line of cars for 1947. They got a full restyle and slight enlargement, but the major addition was a lightweight four-cylinder engine from Taylor Engineering, to which Crosley had exclusive rights. Through the late ’40s, Crosley struggled to gain a foothold in the burgeoning car market. It looked good early on, but then the market fell away in a euphoric “bigger-is-better” frenzy. In 1950, to broaden its potential sales horizons, the company tried a sideline in the commercial and agricultural market by building the Farm-O-Road, a rig that could certainly be called a precursor to today’s UTV.

The Farm-O-Road took its cues from the Jeep and the wartime Pup. It had a boxy, minimalist body with everything you absolutely needed but nothing you didn’t. It weighed 1,100 pounds, had a 63-inch wheelbase, and just about everything was extra. Even the detachable rear cargo box cost an extra $25. Two models were offered: the FOR-1 at $795 (1950’s prices) and the FOR at $939. The difference was the presence of a hydraulic system and a hydraulically operated drawbar, both of which could be also added as an accessory. Front and rear PTOs were an option.

Tiny but tough! With only a 2.5-inch bore and a 2.25-inch stroke, this four prefers the higher-rpm ranges. Known as the CIBA (Cast Iron Block Assembly), the 44ci engine, and its later derivatives, actually has an extensive racing history in a variety of sports and race cars. It does not have a removable cylinder head—rather the combustion chambers, valve seats, cam supports, ports and cylinders are one casting, and the crankcase is another. In both the early and later cast-iron engines, the crankcase is aluminum. In the early “Tin Block” engines, the cylinders and upper parts were stamped heavy sheetmetal that was copper-brazed (hence the nickname “CoBRA”) into an assembly. The cast-iron CIBA engine debuted in 1949 and was only about 30 pounds heavier than the CoBRA.

The Farm-O-Road was powered by a 44ci, 26.5hp cast-iron overhead cam four-cylinder. This was a tiny, but very potent and surprisingly durable, engine. It had a very long production life that surpassed Crosley by decades. The engine was backed up by a three-speed Warner T-92 transmission with a two-speed, PTO-capable range box mounted behind. The reduction in the range box was 4:1 and combined with the 5.38 axle gears in the narrowed Spicer 23, the crawl ratio was 70.0:1. The Farm-O-Road had a mechanical traction aid in the form of brake lever that operated as a parking brake on both wheels but could also be operated on each rear wheel individually.

Crosley offered many accessories for the Farm-O-Road. The dual rear wheels were what gave it “four-wheel drive.” The duals could mount either the standard non-directional treads or optional 5.00-12 Goodyear Sure-Grip agricultural tires. Among the farm implements available were a single bottom plow, rolling coulter, disc harrow, cultivator, reel mower, cutter bar mower, hay rake, seeder, row guide, velocity governor, hand throttle, radiator chaff screen, front wheel skis, post-hole digger, and spring blocks.

The Farm-O-Road was introduced in July 1950, and production continued until Crosley Motors shut the doors in July of 1952. Exact production numbers aren’t known, but historians with the Crosley Automobile Club estimate less than 600 were built. Crosley continued building engines for a short while to fulfill a government contract, but eventually the rights to the engine were sold, and it was built by a variety of manufacturers until at least 1972. Crofton Marine Engineering bought the rights and tooling for the Farm-O-Road and put it back into production from ’59-’63 as the Crofton Bug to the tune of about 250 units.

OK, so it isn’t a “true” 4x4, but we hope you’ll accept the Farm-O-Road owner’s definition of four-wheel drive with a wink and a nod just because it’s so cool!

Deane Sherman’s unrestored, barn-find Farm-O-Road mounts one of the more expensive accessories available from Crosley, the $175 four-foot sickle mower. It’s belt driven from the rear PTO. This rig has both front and rear PTOs. fw

The Details
Vehicle: ‘50-‘52 Crosley Farm-O-Road
Owners: Deane Sherman, David Anspach
Estimated value: $10,000-$15,000
Engine: 44ci, four-cylinder, OHC CIBA
Power (hp): 26.5 @ 5,400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 32.5 @ 3,000 rpm
Bore & stroke (in): 2.5 x 2.25
Comp. ratio: 7.8:1
Transmission: Three-speed manual, Warner T-92
Reduction Box: 4:1 low
Front axle: I-beam
Rear axle: Spicer 23
Axle ratio: 5.38:1
Tires: 4.50-12, non-directional, 5.00-12 v-bar (opt.)
L x W x H (in): 91.5 x 48 x 56.5
Wheelbase (in): 63
Payload (lbs): 500
Curb weight (lbs): 1,100 (standard model)
Fuel capacity (gal): 6.5

PhotosView Slideshow

Special Thanks To
Jim Bollman

Crosley Automobile Club

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