1959 Charles Townabout Concept Car

1959 Charles Townabout Concept Car Styling

A dipped bodyside "character line" and trendy tailfins set the Charles Townabout apart from the VW Karmann-Ghia that inspired its body design.
A dipped bodyside "character line" and trendy tailfins set the Charles Townabout apart from the VW Karmann-Ghia that inspired its body design.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

The 1959 Charles Townabout concept car styling resembled a mildly customized Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia coupe -- which essentially it was. The car's high-quality body was molded in fiberglass from a contemporary VW Karmann-Ghia coupe, hence the obvious visual resemblance. There was even a similar torsion-bar suspension.

Still, the Townabout had plenty of differences. Most naturally involved motivation, which comprised four 12-volt car-type batteries linked in series to twin electric motors that were coupled directly to the K-G's rear halfshafts -- one motor to drive each wheel.

Gears were cut for a 6:1 rpm reduction and beveled for quiet operation. The motors, supplied by Baldor of St. Louis, developed 3.2 shaft horsepower apiece, roughly equal to 11 horses from an internal-combustion engine.

To keep weight down, the VW's steel "backbone" frame was replaced by a special box-section aluminum chassis with a welded-on platform to serve as both floorpan and body carrier. Curb weight ended up at about 1,800 pounds.

The light weight, sprightly gearing, and 22 total horsepower produced acceleration along the lines of popular period economy cars -- like the Karmann-Ghia. Naturally, there was no power lost to a transmission or differential because they weren't needed and were thus omitted.

Also missing was the K-G's token back seat/parcel shelf, the space being used instead to stow the bulky battery pack. The motors and allied components lived farther behind, in what had been the VW's engine bay.

Veteran auto journalist Joe Wherry later wrote that, appearances notwithstanding, the Charles Townabout body was made entirely of fiberglass molded from a stock Karmann-Ghia. However, bulkheads, floorpan, roof, windshield pillars, and the battery deck were formed as a single unit for strength, matching that of the lightweight chassis.

To keep the Charles Townabout from being confused with Wolfsburg's car, Graves and company remodeled the nose a bit and etched in a below-the-belt "character line" that took a saucy dip before kicking up into trendy tailfins.

Townabout prototypes wore a fake grille and rather contrived bumpers. Later versions were spared the former, got small Ford-like round tail-lamps in the fins, and carried simpler bumpers comprising two wraparound chrome tubes connected by a third tube curved into an inverted U.

Read about the pros and cons of the 1959 Charles Townabout concept car in the next section.

For more on concept cars and the production models they forecast, check out: