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Townsend Coachworks


Townsend Coachworks - A Brief History

In the year 1919, not far from the shores of Lake Erie, Townsend Furniture Company underwent a major shift in focus. Company founder Earle Townsend, Sr. passed away suddenly, leaving the company his sons Earle Jr. and Thomas. Makers of fine, handcrafted home furnishings, the company had been stagnant for years. The Townsends were eager to change their fortune, and took their skills with wood and fabric into the automotive arena.

The name changed to Townsend Coachworks, and the brothers hired a handful of local craftsmen and engineers to produce their first models. Lacking a full engineering department at the start, they entered into a contract with local firm Toledo Ironworks to produce the motors they needed.

Townsend’s first automobile rolled out of their workshop in October 1919, one of only three known cars to be built that year by the fledgling manufacturer. It was called the Model 400-A, and was powered by a 140 horsepower, flathead straight-eight displacing 397 cubic inches. Archived drawings show that it had a 138 inch wheelbase, fully boxed steel frame, and a hand-worked body of oak and teak. Townsend was known to make extensive use of saddle leather, exotic woods, and nickle-finished steel in early interiors, and for a few years offered a convertible roof system with a mechanical crank.

Demand for Townsend’s hand-crafted cars grew year over year, with customers ordering everything from flagship luxury cars to exquisite roadsters. More staff was added to compensate for the demand. By 1922, they had outgrown their original location. The brothers received financing to acquire and refurbish an old defunct tool factory adjacent to Toledo Ironworks’s facility along the Maumee River.

Throughout most of the 1920’s, the rapid increase for demand threatened to overwhelm their production capacities, and more tooling and automation was added. Townsend vehicles were no longer completely handmade at that point, and the brothers looked for ways to increase efficiency without compromising quality. Engine delivery shortages prompted Townsend to buy Toledo Ironworks in 1925.

This ended up being their saving grace once the American economy crashed; their products were still affordable to upper class clientele, and there were still enough left to prevent their factory from being shuttered altogether.

The Americans’ entrance to World War II, unfortunately, hurt Townsend almost beyond measure. Though the US Government didn’t need their single factory for producing war materiel, they couldn’t produce cars either. Shortages of strategic resources such as aluminum and rubber precluded any of their designs from being produced, and Toledo Ironworks spent the entire war cranking out engines for fighters and close support aircraft.

After almost six years without producing cars, and with mass-production companies encroaching into the premium market, Townsend’s days as an independent maker were numbered. After struggling its way through the post-war market for a few years, Townsend Coachworks was bought out by Ardent Motor Corporation in 1953.

Though Townsend lost its independence, it continued on as a division of Ardent, producing lightweight sports cars and high-end sedans and touring coupes. Subsidiary Toledo Ironworks maintained a measure of autonomy, and designed several notable engines used under both marques, such as the Triple Three and the Trivalve and TriLite 4’s.


Model 305


1946 Townsend Model 305 in Regal Blue

Development of the Model 305 started in 1939, with an intended release date in 1942 but due to the demands of its design, it could not actually be produced until 1946.

Still, its release proved that Townsend had not lost the touch that gave it fame in the 20’s. Fit and finish was of great quality, and interior appointments, particularly on the 305 Super, were top-notch. Generous application of genuine walnut trim, soft leather, and chrome awaited buyers. To keep down weight and improve performance, the body was constructed primarily of aluminum.

The Model 305 was initially powered by a 305 cubic inch V12 engine with quad carburetors and overhead valves. Throttle response was smooth and positive, and the 266 ft-lbs of torque were enough to burn up the tires at launch if so desired. A 4-speed manual gearbox sent power to the rear end. This combination was good for just shy of 130 MPH.

In 1950, the Model 305 received some minor changes. Modernized gauges and new interior patterns were created, and the engine went from 4 single-barrel carbs to 3 twin-barrel carbs. This change slightly improved dynamic response, as well as giving the car 4 more horsepower and 4 more ft-lbs of torque.

Two versions were available, the well-appointed 4-seat Touring model, and the luxurious 2-seat Super. The Model 305 was briefly carried over after Townsend’s merger with Ardent, with the sun setting for it after the 1954 sales campaign.

Total production from this 9-year model run:
Model 305 Touring: 1773
Model 305 Super: 575

Trim pricing in 1946:
Model 305 Touring, MSRP $2299
Model 305 Super, MSRP $2549

Available colors:
Alpine White
Regal Blue

Rear quarter view of the Model 305. The dual chrome strip extended over the roof, and halfway up the hood.


Townsend T3

1947 - 1952

1947 Townsend T3 Super in Black

In 1946, Townsend Coachworks announced that it would start taking orders for custom coach building once more, to be built on the newly designed T3 series. Not wanting to miss out on general production, this series was actually split into two models. The T3 Touring was built to Townsend’s general specifications, with the T3 Super being the custom-order version.

Both models were powered by a two carburetor version of the 305 CID V12 from the Model 305, mated initially to a 4 speed manual. Performance was more leisurely, but the T3 was never intended to be a barn burner.

Even in Touring trim, appointments were impressive. An air conditioner was standard from the factory, as were details such as full wood trim panels in the dash and door, an in-dash Swiss action clock, dual glove compartments, package shelf, saddle leather seating surfaces, and a 20 watt AM radio.

Supers were ordered to specification by individual customers, and included round-trip train fare and hotel accommodations to Toledo for the client to be measured for fitment, as well as to choose the materials to be used on the vehicle. A wide variety of customization was available, including chrome stripe packaging, vent ports along the hood, and just about anything inside the cabin.

Front quarter view of a 1947 T3 Super in Black

One known example of a personal touch that was ordered was a 1948 T3 Super exported to Canada that had the standard roof liner replaced with cherry planking, hand-painted with the ancestral coat of arms of the purchaser. Originally believed by auto historians just to be hyperbole and a PR stunt, documents found construction archives in 1970 detailing every single T3 Super purchase, including photographic documentation.

Little changed on the T3 during its 6 year run. In 1951, a 2-speed automatic transmission became optional, and the carburetors were changed from single barrel to twin barrel. With Townsend struggling financially, the T3 line was discontinued in early 1952.

Total production for this 6-year model run:
T3 Touring: 1405
T3 Super: 162

Trim pricing in 1947:
T3 Touring, MSRP $2999
T3 Super, Starting at $3899 (Custom material and labor extra)

Available colors:
Alpine White
Regal Blue

1947 Townsend T3 Super in Black


Townsend T4

1950 - 1956

1952 Townsend T4 Super in Enchanted Blue with Black accent

The Townsend brothers were committed to continuing the legacy of their Coachworks, as it had been in the glory days of the Roaring 20’s. Immediately after the release of the T3 platform, they set to work creating a newer, larger platform from which to launch an ultra-luxury line.

Earle Townsend, Jr. passed away in October of 1948, leaving the company solely in his younger brother’s hands. Thomas guided the company’s young design team, among which was Warren Cole, future Ardent designer. New approaches were floated, but due to Townsend’s limited experience and facilities, the T4 ended up as little more than a stretched T3.

Thomas Townsend’s untimely death in June of 1949 nearly spelled the end of the T4 project. With the only Townsend heir being a minor child (Thomas’s 7 year old granddaughter), the company was placed in a trust, and infighting between the remaining executives began almost immediately. Production was delayed, but eventually approved, and the first T4’s were rolling on the street by March 1950.

Like the T3, the T4 came in Touring and Super trims. Appointment and packaging were also similar, with the Touring being a generic base, and the Super being a custom-tailored coach, complete with in-person client consultation.

The main differences were that the T4 received more paint options, the newly upgraded V12 was put in at launch, and no manual transmission was ever offered on the T4; only a 2-speed auto was allowed.

The T4 was available through the end off 1956, and was the last vehicle designed by Townsend as an independent manufacturer.

Total production for this 7-year model run:
T4 Touring: 959
T4 Super: 103

Trim pricing in 1950:
T4 Touring, MSRP $3599
T4 Super, Starting at $4499 (Custom material and labor extra)

Available colors:
Alpine White
Regal Blue
Antique Silver
Enchanted Blue

1950 Townsend T4 Touring in Alpine White with Antique Silver accent.


Townsend Coachworks - Losing Independence

1941 - 1953

Though it couldn’t be predicted at the time, the beginning of the end for Townsend happened in the summer of 1941. Steel and aluminum for non-military production dried up, and the last pre-war Townsend, a Model 410 roadster, rolled off the line. The Toledo Ironworks factory was retooled to produce aircraft engines, which provided the bulk of business revenue for Townsend for the next four years. But the small coachworks factory wasn’t suited to produce any significant war goods. It became a general repair workshop for the locals until the end of the war. Most of the workers left and went to work for other factories, causing a talent drain within the company.

In 1945, restrictions were lifted, and Townsend moved toward production as quickly as they could. They were able to quickly replace their workforce, though it took some time to get some of the new workers up to speed. Earle Jr. also sought to expand the design staff, hoping to push new models in front of the public as quickly as possible.

All seemed to be going reasonably well for the Coachworks initially, with both the Model 305 and T3 seeing decent sales numbers. But the manufacturer wasn’t making enough money to make any significant expansion, and mass-producers were beginning to put pressure on their lower-end model sales.

In October 1948, at the age of 63, Earle Townsend, Jr. passed away of cardiac failure. His brother Thomas was left in charge. Thomas’s loyalty to his brother and insistence that Townsend design the T4 to honor the company’s legacy was, at the time, seen as an automotive tribute. Analysts in the decades to follow would say that Thomas was misguided, staying the course when his company desperately needed to follow the shifting winds.

Less than a year later, on June 8th, 1949, Thomas was killed in an auto accident. He was 57 years old.

Thomas’s death and circumstances surrounding the disposition of the Townsend family estate placed the company in a trust, and the remaining executives scrambled to preserve their own position within the company. This led to much infighting, and nearly prevented the T4 from being released.

In September of ‘49, the internal war ended, with former financial executive Jeffrey Moss taking the helm as the new CEO. Moss understood that major changes were needed from top to bottom if the company was to survive. After green-lighting production of the T4, he immediately set to work reorganizing the company. Impact was deep and immediate within the design department. Staunch advocates of the Townsend brothers’ custom coach philosophy were reassigned or fired, and the design staff at Toledo Ironworks was doubled.

Understanding the need to produce more cars for a lower cost, Moss directed the design department to create both a new coupe and sedan model, code named R3 and T5 respectively. A new V8 engine was ordered from Toledo Ironworks to power the new models, with the intent of being cheaper but providing similar power.

While Jeffrey Moss did everything he could to save the deeply troubled company, it was too little, too late. By September 1952, the T3 was gone, and sales were flagging on both the aging Model 305 and the ultra-luxury T4. Toledo Ironworks had completed design work on a 287 cubic inch V8, and it made its way into a prototype R3 coupe. But the company was bleeding cash, and banks would not extend them any more loans. Townsend Coachworks was also facing a lawsuit from the Townsend Family Trust, demanding sale of the company while it still had value.

In October, 1952, Ardent Motor Corporation made a bid to purchase Townsend and subsidiary Toledo for the sum of 2.1 million dollars. Rather than fight a protracted battle against the family, which approved of the merger, Moss acquiesced.

On March 2nd, 1953, the merger was completed, and Townsend Coachworks ceased operations as an independent entity.




It’s understandable why Ardent had to buy out Townsend. They would have struggled to gain a foothold in premium and/or high-performance segments otherwise.


Townsend T5 Series


1954 Townsend T5 Trinidad Super in Mint Julep

Not quite a Townsend, not quite an Ardent. That was an apt descriptor for the Townsend T5 series automobiles.

Upon taking over Townsend in 1953, Jack Chancellor got a chance to see in-depth what exactly his company had purchased. With two distinctly different models in production and two equally different models in different stages of development, Chancellor at once knew that Townsend’s design staff needed an intervention in order for the nameplate to survive, despite the merger.

For decades, the coach builder had been using light, but labor-intensive space frames on all of their vehicles. The new T5 also was designed with the same, though the R3 had departed the old philosophy and utilized a ladder frame.

Despite the size differences between the two, Jack needed to simplify construction in order to maximize production. Thus, he merged the two products, and ordered a rapid redesign. The R3 chassis was to accept a downsized T5 body. The R3 body itself was scrapped, and a new coupe version of the T5 body was quickly penned by John Case, allowing for a greater percentage of shared bodywork between the planned body styles. In the interest in weight savings and simplifying tooling, the R3’s body material was chosen for the T5. Thus, a generation of unique aluminum-bodied Townsend sedans was born. Interior appointments were updated from, though similar to, the existing Model 305 coupe.

1954 Townsend T5 Templar in Merlot

One of the biggest bright spots in the acquisition was Toledo Ironworks. Their recently completed 287 cubic inch V8 was already powering Ardent models, affording the automaker the luxury of making only minor tweaks before final release. Though not quite as powerful as the 305 V12 it was intended to replace, the 287 put out a respectable 147 horsepower and 241 lb-ft of torque in 1954. It was also a far simpler and more reliable design, and an engine that both Ardent and Townsend desperately needed. Transmission options included a 4-speed manual and a 2-speed ShiftGuard automatic, the latter sourced from Ardent. In 1959, a larger 171HP 333 cubic inch V8 was available as an option on all trims.

Due to the short design and retool process, the unveiling of the production prototypes happened not at the New York or Detroit auto shows as was custom, but at the Seattle auto show in November. Actual 1954 production models didn’t go on sale until April of '54, making the first year quite truncated.

Still, the T5 series models were met with general enthusiasm. Despite the delays, production numbers for '54 were higher than any model for any previous year, more than doubled in 1955, and continued to climb from there.

In all, three bodies were available, divided into two sub-models. The T5 Templar was available as a coupe or coupe-convertible, and the T5 Trinidad was the sedan bodied version.

1954 production numbers:
T5 Templar (coupe): 218
T5 Templar (convertible): 78
T5 Trinidad: 327

Trim pricing in 1954:
T5 Templar (coupe): $2549
T5 Templar (convertible): $2659
T5 Trinidad Touring: $2599
T5 Trinidad Super: $3399

Notable options:
Automatic Transmission: $40 (Standard on Trinidad Super)
Wheel accent paint: $10
Power convertible top: $50 (Convertible only)
333 cid V8: $220 (1959+)

Available colors:
Alpine White
Regal Blue
Race Red (Templar only)
Chiffon (Trinidad only)
Light Bronze
Mint Julep (Trinidad only)
Enchanted Blue
Midas Gold
Antique Silver

1955 Townsend T5 Templar convertible in Midas Gold


Townsend Toulouse

1960 - 1964

Archive photo of a 1960 Townsend Toulouse in Regal Blue. Photo courtesy of Ardent Motors Historical Society.

With the discontinuation of the T4 in August 1956, there was no hand-crafted Townsend in production for the first time since the company’s formation in 1919. Jack Chancellor was deep into his restructuring of Townsend, and the time and cost involved in such “frivolity” (as Chancellor put it) was not something they could afford.

At the start of fiscal Q4 1957, Jack Chancellor had finished his initial restructuring. He brought Jeffrey Moss back on board as president of the Townsend Division. Moss had a new two-fold directive from his boss. First, develop new powertrain options to be used on Townsend and high-end Ardent models, and second to make the Townsend name not only relevant, but prestigious.

Being a subsidiary of a large manufacturer gave Moss a great advantage, in that he didn’t have to devote nearly the amount of R&D resources in most area. Instead, he could select existing Ardent platforms, and escalate them to new heights.

The Toulouse was the first model made from a fully Ardent-designed platform. Its underpinnings were that of the Ardent Manhattan, with some extra splashes of chrome, and larger wheels and brakes. But under the hood and in the cabin, the experience was vastly different.

Ardent Manhattan Mk.1

Keeping development costs of a new V12 down required a little finesse. New forged pistons and con-rods were designed, using the same bore and stroke as the 333cid V8 on the Manhattan. Moss justified the cost as being something applicable to future iterations of the V8, which kept Jack Chancellor happy.

This created a 500 cubic inch monstrosity, generating 305 horses and 445 ft-lbs of torque. Despite the Toulouse weighing over 2 tons and having much longer gearing than its Ardent cousin, it still could get up to 60 MPH in just over 9 seconds.

Once more, a Townsend could be custom-tailored to its owner. Times had still changed, however. Gone forever was the in-person consultation and fitting. Instead, great cost savings were achieved for the company through an ingenious promotion. Once a sale had been agreed upon, the local dealership would go through the customization options with the client, and then the client would be given a voucher to take to any local tailor shop for a free suit (or dress, for the ladies.) The voucher would allow the tailor to be paid for their work, and the tailor in turn would provide the measurements for the customer to Townsend, allowing them to custom craft the seats to fit the customer’s dimensions.

Though a wide range of interior materials and options were available, many customizations were no longer available. For instance, hand-painting was restricted to pinstripe and scroll work, and custom upholstery embroidery was limited to select pre-determined patterns. Still, the level of opulence available made the Toulouse a toy of the truly elite.

Base price in 1960, before custom materials and labor: $8299

Available colors:
Alpine White
Regal Blue
Midas Gold
Pale Rose
Antique Silver
Light Bronze Metallic
Fuschia Metallic
Matador Red Metallic
Aquamarine Metallic


I like the interplay of Ardent and Townsend models. The V12 in 1960 is an interesting choice though.


Townsend Templar

1962 - 1972

1962 Townsend Templar Sport Six in Regal Blue

By 1958, Townsend had become relatively stable under the Ardent umbrella. To further streamline operations, Chancellor and Moss sought to match several Townsend products to Ardent platforms. At the same time, Moss ordered development of a new platform for a flagship sports car, lighter than the existing Midnight model.

Unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show in '61 and hitting showroom floors in November, this new model took the Templar trim name and departed from the previous sedan-based model to bear the name.

Aluminum-on-steel body construction was kept, but the platform was shortened by over a foot. A new base six cylinder was used this year, displacing 140 cubic inches and putting out a mere 101 horses. The V8 option came in the form of a Toledo 287.

All 4 seats were faced in pillowed, vinylized leather, and a fully transistorized AM radio was standard as well. Power steering was incuded on V8 models, and not available on six-cylinder models.

1965 Townsend Templar Sport Eight in Matador Red Metallic

Options were shifted around, and powertrains revamped in 1965. The Sport Six got 3 more horsepower, the Sport Eight was bumped up to a 333 cu in V8, and a new two-seater Super Eight trim appeared with a 231 horsepower Triple Three. A three-year run Super T/A model existed from 1969 to 1971, with 274 horses from its Triple Three, and special graphics and hood.

The first generation of Templars would be sold through the 1972 season, with a mild facelift in 1969. Exports were limited, with the European markets able to receive the Sport Six and some Sport Eight models.

1965 Templar Super Eight in Antique Silver

Available colors:
Race Red
Alpine White
Antique Silver
Regal Blue
Sunflower Yellow
Matador Red Metallic
Medium Blue Metallic
Evergreen Metallic
Light Bronze Metallic


Townsend Toulouse Mk.2

1965 - 1972

1965 Townsend Toulouse in Merlot with Black roof

Ardent Manhattan Mk.2

The second generation of Townsend Toulouse continued on as a hand-tailored version of the Manhattan. The same methods were used for customization, with the client receiving in-dealership consultation and a tailor’s voucher.

Patterns for upholstery customization increased in number, and new materials for door card covers were introduced, including quilted satin. Two-tone paint was standard, if desired, as was metallic paint.

Power for the 500 cubic inch twin-carburetor V12 was up to 326 horsepower, with 449 lb-ft of torque. Through the 3 speed auto, this was good for a 0-60 of just 8.1 seconds.

Due to long-term cost savings from platform sharing, the Toulouse managed to retain the same base price as the previous generation, despite inflation.

Pillar and quarter detail

Base price in 1965 (before custom material and labor): $8299

Available colors:
Alpine White
Race Red
Enchanted Blue
Pale Rose
Regal Blue
Antique Silver
Light Bronze Metallic (Premium)
Aquamarine Metallic (Premium)
Fuschia Metallic (Premium)
Glacier Ice (Premium)
Cobalt Metallic (Premium)
Champagne Metallic (Premium)


There’s still dissonance in my head over a V12 coupled with that design. Madness.


Townsend Trinidad

1963 - 1974

1962 Townsend Trinidad Super Six in Matador Red Metallic

In 1962, after the discontinuation of the T5 platform, the two previous submodels split and became their own distinct models. The premium sedan born of this was the Trinidad.

Appointed with comfortable, upscale seats and a transistorized AM radio (with programmable presets on the Super Eight), Trinidad was positioned above Ardent cousins Starlight (in '62) and Sentinel ('63 on).

A brand new, compact, and smooth 140 cid straight-6 was standard for the Trinidad, with a Toledo 287 V8 under the hood of the top-trim “Super Eight” model. A 4-speed manual was available only on the base Sport Six trim, with all other receiving a 3-speed ShiftGuard automatic. Likewise, the base model was the only one without power steering.

A minor refresh of the model in '68 gave it a few more years of life, with this generation ending in 1974 and receiving a complete redesign for '75.

1962 Trinidad Super 6

Trim pricing in 1962:
Sport Six, MSRP $1879
Super Six, MSRP $1949
Super Eight, MSRP $2449

Available colors:
Alpine White
Matador Red Metallic
Regal Blue
Pale Rose
Antique Silver
Evergreen Metallic
Aquamarine Metallic
Flame Red


Townsend T100

1959 - 1963

Townsend had a brief initial flirtation with pickup trucks in the late 1950’s, when they received an upscale, badge engineered version of the Ardent Huron truck. While not as large as a traditional pickup, this “coupe utility” nevertheless found a niche audience for its 5-year run.

Only a single engine was ever offered, the Vela 286 cubic inch straight-6, with an output of 143 horsepower. Transmissions included a standard 4-speed manual or a 3-speed ShiftGuard automatic, the latter of which was far more popular on the Townsend version.

In addition to a premium ClearWave AM radio and pillowed upholstery, the T100 had some cosmetic upgrades over its Ardent brother. This included bed rail chrome trim, a passenger side mirror, and additional sound deadening inside the cabin.

Trim pricing in 1959:
T100, MSRP $2109

Notable options:
Air Conditioning - $100
Automatic Transmission - $100
Metallic Paint - $50
Power Windows - $40

Available colors:
Enchanted Blue
Sunflower Yellow
Light Bronze
Alpine White
Race Red
Regal Blue
Aquamarine Metallic (premium)
Alpine Lake Metallic (premium)
Matador Red Metallic (premium)