AUGUST IN IOWA brings out the worst in people. They say it’s not the heat. It’s the humidity. Covered by a miserably wet blanket of perspiration, tempers tend to rise with the thermometer.
Years ago, Kat wanted me to go see Powel Crosley, Zeke said. She thought he might help me save these old baby cars. I was too stubborn back then. But now, my back’s against the wall. So I’m driving to Cincinnati. Leaving tomorrow morning.
The sudden news stopped me in my tracks. Wow! Can I come along?
I sure would appreciate the company, Bobby. But groveling is something a man does alone.
As autumn drew near, Zeke taught Bobby all about the postwar baby-car boom when some of the most unique vehicles ever built in the United States were born. Most were ill-conceived products of entrepeneurs who hoped to make a fast buck before The Big Three resumed automobile production. Others deserved a closer look.
THEY DESERVED A BETTER FATE
Bobbi-Kar was among the first newcomers to make national headlines. The pocket-sized roadster was to carry its engine in the front or rear, depending on the owner’s preference. The company president lost control of his operation in a hostile take-over and the roadster and companion station wagon came to market wearing another name.
The sporty Playboy was a more sophisticated offering that hailed from Buffalo, New York. The prototype carried a cloth top, but the factory crew was not particularly skilled with fabric. So they crafted the first retractable hardtops ever offered on an American production car.
Of all the postwar independent baby car manufacturers, Powel Crosley was the most successful — at least initially. The 1946 Crosley sedan was an odd looking egg of a car, but the public was starved for anything new. They bought them by the carton.
The single-cylinder King Midget was introduced in 1946. Over the next few years, it grew into a two-passenger roadster with jeep-like styling. As an automobile, it made a great golf cart.
FROM DREAMS TO SCHEMES
On the flip side, more than a handful of postwar American baby cars seemed too good to be true. In fact, some were little more than stock sales schemes.
The sleek Davis with its hide-away headlights and pointed nose rolled on three wheels. The automotive press hailed it as the car of the future, but the marque was short-lived after the company president was sent to jail.
Captain James V. Martin had his hand in several baby car concepts, most of which were built on metalwood platforms with three wheels. Perhaps no other entrepreneur tried as hard, built as many prototypes, or failed as often. But as the old saying goes, If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
When it came to personal transportation, not even the sky was the limit. Several reputable engineers had us convinced that the automobile was meant to fly. With names like Aerocar, Airphibian, and Roadable, their cars literally flew from one destination to another.
Unfortunately for the manufacturers, few of their stories had happy endings. Readers of the ORPHAN BABIES series can only hope that Zeke and his baby cars fared better. Be sure to read all three volumes. Learn with Bobby and you, too, can graduate from Zeke’s impromptu nine-week summer school of antique automobilia.
ORPHAN BABIES VOLUME 3 HAS NOT BEEN PUBLISHED.
ORPHAN BABIES, Volume 3 1943-1969 is a work in progress. We are not accepting pre-orders.