The Crosley automobile was a valiant attempt by industrialist Powell Crosley to provide an ultra-compact, ultra-affordable car that would allow all of America the joy and freedom of motoring. Alas, after selling nearly 75,000 cars in the years just before and after World War II - and losing a good chunk of change in the process - Crosley threw in the towel in 1952. Those frugal sedans and station wagons failed to capture the favor of a nation intent on conspicuous consumption.
Some of the company’s more interesting prodigy lived on well after it exited the car business. The Crosley automobile was no more but the engine that had propelled it still found widespread application. The durable overhead cam mill would go on to power everything from motor boats to military generators, refrigerators to racing cars.
And from 1958-64 it found itself in the engine bay of a pint-sized SUV called the Crofton Bug. Do not confuse this with the more famous insect from Germany. The Volkswagen was called the Beetle (and nicknamed Bug) because it was cute. The Crofton was called the Bug because it crawled over rocks like one.
When W.B. Crofton, a successful San Diego GMC truck and Aerojet Marine dealer, purchased the rights to that versatile Crosley engine in the late 1950s, he also got the plans for the Crosley Farm-O-Road utility vehicle. The Farm-O-Road was built on a toughened up Crosley sedan chassis. It was a pint-sized truck-let that could go anywhere a mule and cart could with a lot less fuss… and not much more comfort. Six hundred Farm-O-Roads were sold over more than 2 years.
Crofton made numerous modifications in turning the Farm-O-Road into the Bug. Length grew by over a foot, while still maintaining its maneuverable 63” wheelbase. Output from the 44cu in 4-banger was increased to 35hp, giving a slight bump the old Farm-O-Road’s 40MPH top speed. Despite the modifications, this was an SUV at its most basic. The Bug was 3 feet shorter and 1000lbs lighter than the Jeep CJ-2. It made that humble WW2 Jeep seem plush in comparison.
In 1959 a range topping Crofton was added called the Brawny Bug. The BB was brawny indeed, with a compound transmission, a skid plate and either flotation or mud tires. The engine was bored out to 53 cu in and sported a pavement ripping 45hp. Even with the mightier mill, this brick-like, agro-geared buff Bug could do no better than 50mph.
Beyond the two versions of the Bug, Crofton sold in very small numbers a work truck called the Tug. Similar to Jeep’s Forward Control trucks of the same era, the Tug had the driver’s seat atop the front wheels to allow for more cargo area.
A little more than 200 Crofton Bugs and Tugs were built form 1958-64.
The Bug - as well as the Farm-O-Road before it - are usually compared to the early Jeep, that iconic granddaddy of the modern SUV. It might be better, though, to think of the Bug as early ancestor of the mud-slinging, brush-hopping ATV terrors we have today. It was made for folks who lived good portion of their lives in the elements. For the farmers, ranchers and hunters who made up the Bugs core buyers, this was just the perfect mule to saddle up and go check out the Back Forty.
Copyright@2018 by Mal Pearson