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1951 Crosley Le Mans Special

LeMans--The clock ticked to 3:59:58 PM. As the rising humidity caused sweat to drip off his brow, George Schraft found himself readying to race against some of the greatest names in motorsports. Juan Fangio in his Talbot Lago, Sidney Allard in his Allard J2, Maurice Trintignant in his Simca Gordini T1, and Stirling Moss in his Jaguar XK-120C. Time slowed. A year was lived in each second. The clock ticked 3:59:59PM, and Schraft looked across the Circuit de la Sarthe. On the other side of the macadam sat his small, quirky, one-off Crosley. It was surrounded by Renault 4 CV’s, Panhard Dyna X’s, a DB Panhard and an Aero Minor, its direct competitors in the 750cc class. Time seemed to stand still. After what seemed an eternity, 4:00 arrived with a flurry of excitement. The silk tricolor dropped. Schraft sprinted to the Crosley, sharing a look with his teammate Phil Stiles. As Schraft jumped into the cockpit of the tiny racer, the world exploded with sound of 100,000 screaming fans. The two Allards led the grid onto the maiden lap of 19th Grand Prix of Endurance, a legendary race that came to be known as the 24 Hours of LeMans.

Schraft spent the first two hours of his initial driving stint gaining ground in his class. Thanks to suspension and body design genius of Floyd “Pop” Dreyer, the car was able to lap the entire track in third gear, protecting the fragile Borg-Warner Transmission. Powell Crosley had warned the trans would fail if they changed gears too frequently. The French spectators enjoyed Schraft’s aggressive corning. At the end of Schraft’s stint, teammate Phil Stiles took command of the Crosley. When Stiles turned on the headlights, the amperemeter started sounding an alarm. The low amps alarm could be overcome by the driving full out, but this seized the Marchel generator, ripping it from the mounting brackets, disabling the water pump and cutting the ignition wiring. The Marchel generator had been fitted to accommodate brighter headlights. With some barnyard engineering, they were able to get “Le Biplace Torpedo” back on to the track. However, their adventure didn’t last long, as the little car was retired from the race after completing only 40 laps.

How did this modified Crosley Hot Shot make it to the most prestigious automotive endurance race? To understand that we step back in time a year to the first running of the 6 hours of Sebring. The usual fare of Ferraris, Porsches, Allards, and Cunninghams contended for the top spot on the podium. There was also Crosley Hot Shot chasing the “index of performance” trophy. While the Crosley lost the race by a good margin, when the distance traveled was calculated against the engine displacement, it won the “Index” by a full 12 laps. At dinner that night, Schraft and Stiles were joking about how funny it was that a Crosley ‘be