Car Collector Corner: 1959 Henney Kilowatt
Q: Hi Greg. Did you ever hear of a 1959 Henney Kilowatt? I have one. Thanks, Perry McFarland, Illinois.
A: Mr. McFarland, I indeed have heard of the 1959 Henney Kilowatt, mainly because I was always a fan of the French made Renault Dauphine that roamed the streets in the 1960s. However, I've never seen a Henney Kilowatt in person.
As for some Henney Kilowatt history, The Henney Car Company in Freeport, IL, was a noted coachbuilder of the day with roots dating back to 1916. In 1953 Henney purchased the Eureka-Williams Company, known mostly for its vacuum cleaners. Henney's chief stockholder at the time was businessman C. Russell Feldmann, who six years later would merge Eureka-Williams with National Union Electric Corporation, the latter of which he was also chairman.
National Union Electric produced heating and air-conditioning, adding to Eureka-Williams' offerings of vacuums, oil burners, school furniture, aircraft generators, hydraulic motors, starters, inverters, and thermal batteries. Feldman later took Eureka private, and it became a division of National Union.
A skilled entrepreneur, Feldmann also loved "mechanical tinkering" and became a respected inventor. One of his new ideas involved building an electric car, which he planned to sell through utility companies instead of the usual network of car dealers.
The Henney Kilowatt came about thanks much to the insight and technological input of famous scientist Linus Pauling, who Feldmann hired to help on the project. Pauling, however, knew that traditional lead-acid batteries would not provide the power to give Feldmann's 2,245 pound electric car the performance necessary to attract consumers, and tried to convince Feldmann to re-think his proposed electric car unveiling in 1959.
Unfortunately, Feldmann pushed forward, and in 1959 the Henney Kilowatt debuted utilizing 18 two-volt batteries and a total output of 36-volts. Battery chargers were built into the car and could be re-charged in eight to 10 hours via 110 volt, 20 amp outlets.
However, just as Pauling warned, the Henney Kilowatt could generate only 38 mph and travel about 40 miles on a full charge. That wasn't too impressive for a car costing $3,500 in an era of $2,400 automobiles.
Realizing too late that Pauling was correct (and sales were dismal), Feldmann had his Eureka Williams subsidiary build a 72-volt system for the 1960 model, utilizing 12 six-volt batteries. The 1960 Henneys could run as fast as 60-mph and travel 65 miles on a full charge, but sales were still non-existent as the price went over $3,600.
Overall, of the 100 Henney Kilowatts built, only 47 were ever sold and just four to eight exist today. This puts you, Mr. McFarland, in an "extremely rare car" ownership category.
The most recent sale of a surviving Henney Kilowatt came at the April 2012 Mecum Auction in Houston, where $35,000 changed hands.
Could you be that owner, Perry?
Please let us know yes or no, send us a photo and we'll give our readers more on this very interesting collector car subject.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader input on old cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at 116 Main St., Towanda, Pa. 18848 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)