The Crofton Brawny Bug is the weird, tiny Jeep you never knew existed
Have you ever wanted a Jeep, but also wanted a Jeep you could throw in the back of your pickup (or park in your closet)? Well, feast your eyes on the Crofton Bug. It’s like a John Deere Gator, decades ahead of its time. Or a half-step between golf cart and actual automobile.
The Bug is either too cute for its own good or just plain goofy. But what’s certain is that it is extremely rare. Only about 200–250 were built from 1958–63, and far fewer than that remain.
The Bug’s roots go back to the beginning of the 1950s to Crosley, that plucky Ohio carmaker that brought us the first postwar American sports car and the first American car with caliper-type four-wheel disc brakes.
In 1950, Crosley also introduced a multipurpose vehicle called the Farm-O-Road. Intended as a cheap runabout for farmers, the Farm-O-Road only sold a few hundred copies before Crosley went under in 1952. Crosley’s assets changed hands, and eventually the Crofton Marine Engine Company of California bought the rights to Crosley’s potent little four-cylinder engine. Crofton felt there was still a market for something like the old Farm-O-Road and built a nearly identical, slightly stretched version with a 44-cubic-inch engine good for 35 horsepower. The humble Crofton Bug was born.
The Crofton Bug was always intended to be a basic agricultural runabout, but if you really wanted to get serious you could pay an extra $450 ($1800 total) for the “Brawny Bug,” which got you chunkier tires, skid plates, Powr-Lok differential, and a compound transmission that effectively turns the normal three-speed into a six-speed with two reverse gears.
Brawny Bugs also packed an extra 7 cubic inches in the engine bay and 10 more horsepower (45 total), but between its gearing and the aerodynamics of a cinder block, top speed was only about 50. Although Bug speedometers technically up to 60, that area of the gauge is marked off with a confidence-inspiring “Out of Warranty” warning. Alas, four-wheel drive was never an option. But at barely 1100 pounds, perhaps the “Brawny” Bug just bounces over the obstacles that bog down those fancy Wranglers and Land Cruisers, right?
These ridiculous little things do pop up for sale every now and then, and you can bid on a fully restored Brawny Bug at this week’s Mecum auction in Las Vegas. It has a sporty-looking aftermarket steering wheel that just doesn’t look right, plus aftermarket wheels, but the original wheels are reportedly included in the sale. It otherwise looks to be in tiptop condition.
As for value, with vehicles that are as rare and off the wall as this, it’s often simply a case of however much someone is willing to pay for it at the time. That said, the results we have seen have been consistent. Mecum sold another very nice one for $15,400 in Portland two years ago, and McCormick’s sold one for $15,750 in Palm Springs back in 2015. We also track the older, slightly more-common Crosley Farm-O-Road in our pricing data, and that includes values ranging from $4800–$19,800, depending on condition.
If you have an appetite for tiny, cute off-roaders, the Brawny Bug might be your flavor of quirky.