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Restored car a labor of love
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Bobby Lawrence (left) and his son, Doug, pose with a 1942 Crosley they restored.
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Monday, November 26, 2007

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Aah, the hum of the motor, a glimpse of the past, a chance to ride in a gleaming classic car on a beautiful day.

Bobby Lawrence recently went for a brief spin in the 1942 Crosley convertible sedan that he and his son, Doug, have restored. They spent about a year and half on their labor of love and the chance to restore a piece of history because few of pre-World War II Crosleys remain.

Starting in the parking lot of Lawrence Auto Repair at 1013 E. Church St., Bobby Lawrence pulled a knob to engage the starter and then let the engine warm a few moments. Then he drove several dozen yards on Church Street at about 15 mph and pulled into the parking lot of Advance Auto Parts, where he circled the parking lot several times. At one point, he honked the horn and waved before returning to Lawrence Auto Repair.

Lawrence said that was the farthest he or his son had driven that car and he did not want to push it too hard. The men figure the car eventually will reach a speed of up to 35 to 40 mph.

When they bought the subcompact, fuel-efficient car from an area resident for an undisclosed amount, it had minor damage to the roof and some compression problems in the engine, as well as wear to the exterior and interior of the vehicle.

Doug Lawrence said they began the project by disassembling the car, which he referred to as "the little fellow" several times.

"It's not much more trouble to do it all and do it right," than to do it halfway, he said.

They also did much research on the Crosley, including its history, specifications of their vehicle, how the engine was put together and operated, etc. For example, Doug Lawrence learned by researching the car's serial number that the 1941 Crosley they had bought actually was a 1942 Crosley, probably made in December 1941 shortly after the Japanese bombed the Allied fleet at Pearl Harbor.

It was the 619th of 1,092 1942 Crosleys that were manufactured from September 1941 to February 1942, when the U.S. government had the company's plants cease production of civilian vehicles and convert to war production, Doug Lawrence said.

According to Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia, Crosley was the last U.S. company to cease production of civilian vehicles, partly because of gasoline rationing and the vehicle's good mileage. It averaged about 50 miles per gallon.

The car's good mileage prompted Doug Lawrence to tell a story or two he learned during his research. In 1941, car promoter and race car driver Erwin George "Cannon Ball" Baker drove a Crosley vehicle 6,517 miles from Cincinnati to Los Angeles to San Diego and New Orleans, to Jacksonvile, Fla., and then to New York and Chicago. The cost? $29.37, which set a record for driving the greatest distance at the least cost, Lawrence said.

The Crosley averaged 50.4 miles a gallon. "He never had to make a stop for anything, not even a flat tire," Lawrence said.

Civilian car production resumed in 1945 and continued until 1952.

After disassembling their car, Doug and Bobby Lawrence began to put it back together the way it was supposed to be so that it would be in mint condition. That involved such things as sandblasting the frame, reassembling the body, stripping the British racing green (forest green) paint off the exterior and having the exterior repainted the way the vehicle originally was (mostly Sequoia cream with Chinese red on the fenders).

Also, in the interior, the seats and door panels, which were covered with black imitation leather, were recovered with Chinese red leather, and the worn black loop carpet was replaced with black loop carpet trimmed in red. A khaki canvas removable roof was installed, the fenders were cleaned, the wheels were painted Chinese red and Crosley hubcaps were installed.

Only minor engine repairs were required. The Lawrences installed new rings on the pistons and resurfaced the cylinders to correct the compression problem, which was wasting energy.

Now the car is a beaut.

By the numbers, the car is 44 inches wide, 9 feet 8 inches long and 58 inches tall. It has a 35.3 cubic-inch, 12 horsepower, two-cylinder, air-cooled engine, which is about half the size of a Volkswagen engine. (Compare the 1942 Crosley engine with a 1989 Chevrolet station wagon, which has a 350 cubic-inch engine with 250 horsepower, which is on the lot at Lawrence Auto Repair.) The 1942 Crosley has a three-speed manual transmission and four-wheel brakes.

The 1942 Crosley is not a speed machine but an economy car. It has two seats in the front, which tilt forward so that two small- to medium-sized people can get in the back.

There are only three gauges on the dashboard: a speedometer/odometer (the latter records mileage), an oil pressure gauge and an ammeter, which measures electric current. The car has a tiny glove box, which can't hold much more than gloves; a small rear-view mirror; only one windshield wiper (on the driver's side); horizontal sliding windows on the driver's side and front passenger's side; and a horn in the engine that looks like a band instrument. The car has an engine hood that curves to a point in the front like the front of a canoe.

And FYI, the 1942 Crosley convertible sedan originally cost $350.

The Lawrences, who have restored 15 to 20 cars over the years, plan to use the 1942 Crosley mainly for show. For example, they hope to show it at the Antique Automobile Cub Association show in Charlotte next year.

According to Wikipedia, Crosley Corp. and later Crosley Motors Inc. manufactured the Crosley automobile in the United States from 1939 to 1952. Over the years, the company produced various body styles. Notable Crosley owners included Gen. Omar Bradley, Humphrey Bogart, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Art Linkletter, Nelson Rockefeller, Gloria Swanson, Fred Waring and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Doug Lawrence said that his research showed that of the 5,759 Crosleys produced from 1939 to 1942, fewer than 120 remain.

"This is a dying breed," he said.


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