Pint-Size Crofton Bug Is an Off-Road Utility Vehicle Seen as a Forebear to Modern-Day ATVs

Initially developed in Japan to be used in agriculture and to help isolated farmers transport their crops and supplies across difficult terrain, ATVs have come a long way. But as progressive as today's models may be, it's always interesting to look back at where they started.
1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle 15 photos
Photo: Mecum Auctions
1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle
Automotive history says that the first models introduced in the United States were produced by Honda, Kawasaki, and Suzuki, with American-based manufacturers like Polaris following suit after seeing their growing popularity among hunters and farmers. However, the powerful all-terrain vehicles we see today had humble beginnings. Over the years, there have been quite a few iterations of ATVs, and before Honda dominated the emerging industry, there were other off-roading vehicles that also deserve to be mentioned in the history books.

A lesser-known name in automotive history is the Crofton Bug, a pint-sized off-road vehicle that was smaller and more simply made than a Jeep but was capable of tackling any type of terrain. But we cannot talk about Crofton without mentioning a few words about Crosley, another obscure name in the car world.

Crosley was a small American manufacturer of affordable cars for the masses that started operations in 1939 and disappeared after just eleven model years. Between 1939 and 1952, the company produced various car models, from sedans and convertibles to pickups and even a sporty two-seater.

1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle
Photo: Mecum Auctions
Though the carmaker had a relatively short lifespan, it left a major mark on automobile design. Its compact cars gained the moniker "mighty midgets" due to their miniature size and served as inspiration for many to come.

More importantly, Crosley was an innovator, being decades ahead of its time. The automaker was the first to introduce a mass-market vehicle equipped with an overhead camshaft engine and a leader in braking technology, fitting its vehicles with 4-wheel disc brakes. The company is also guilty of developing the first post-WWII sports car, the Crosley Hotshot, and using for the first time the term "Sport(s) Utility," indicating the birth of a new vehicle category.

When the company went defunct in 1952, a San Diego GMC dealer by the name of W.B. Crofton bought the rights to the Crosley overhead camshaft engine as well as the Farm-O-Road design, a tiny Jeep-like utility vehicle introduced in 1950. The successful dealer set out to build a successor to the Crosley Farm-O-Road, and that's how the Crofton Bug was born.

The Crofton Bug utility vehicle can be considered, in many respects, one of the first ATVs. Just like the Crosley it is based on, it was designed as a small and lightweight all-terrain vehicle for farmers, hunters, and gamekeepers, and many see it as a predecessor of the modern side-by-side vehicle. Its diminutive size and agricultural/industrial uses make it quite similar to modern-day Polaris SSV/ATVs.

Just around 200 units of the Crofton Bug were produced between 1958 and 1964, and fewer than 100 are known to still be in existence, which makes them quite rare.

1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle
Photo: Mecum Auctions
The vehicle pictured here is an original 1960 Crofton Bug that appears to have gone through a restoration process that brought it back to a pristine condition. It features a bright yellow livery mated with a black vinyl interior and rides on matching yellow steel wheels.

It uses the original body-on-frame construction and features rear-wheel drive. Moreover, the Crofton Bug is a very light utility vehicle. It is 1,000 pounds (454 kg) lighter than the Willys Jeep CJ-2, a similar vehicle it could compete against back when it was launched. It is also significantly narrower, which allows it to access smaller trails that other compact vehicles could not venture on.

Its lightness and open design meant that if it ever got bogged down, it was literally possible to jump out and try to get it unstuck from the mud by simply pushing it.

1960 Crofton Bug utility vehicle
Photo: Mecum Auctions
The interior configuration offers seating for two in the front and a big enough cargo area in the back to carry a hay bale, diverse animal feed, or whatever else is needed on the farm.

In the front, there are also quite simple controls - a steering wheel, the manual gear lever, and three pedals. A rather optimistic 120 mph speedometer is also part of the minimalist dashboard.

This rare 1960 Crofton Bug is scheduled to roll across the auction block this week. Though details about it are very scarce, we do know this particular example is powered by a correct 44 cubic inch 721cc Crosley inline four-cylinder engine that should produce 45 hp (46 ps). The mill, which was relatively advanced for its time, is mated to the Crosley three-speed manual transmission sending power to the live axle rear wheels.

If this collectible utility vehicle piqued your interest, know that it only has 15 miles on the odometer and is offered with a price guide of $10,000 – $15,000 USD.
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About the author: Ancuta Iosub
Ancuta Iosub profile photo

After spending a few years as a copy editor, Ancuta decided to put down the eraser and pick up the writer's pencil. Her favorites subjects are unusual car designs, travel trailers and everything related to the great outdoors.
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