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.