1932-1934 Franklin V-12

Desperate times, it is said, call for desperate measures. Desperate was certainly the adjective of the day for the early 1930s, the years of the Great Depression. In those circumstances, Franklin, the plucky little carmaker from Syracuse, New York, produced about 200 air-cooled V-12s in 1932-1933, then quietly passed away.

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Franklin V-12 front view
Publications International, Ltd.
The first Franklin V-12 was introduced in 1932, during the Great Depression. See more classic car pictures.

­During the postmortem by those who were now j­obless, the question became this: Did the person who ordered the making of those final V-12s do it to help save the company? Or did he do it as a deliberate act of corporate homicide?

The person in question was Franklin's newly arrived vice president and general manager, Edwin McEwen. Those who had to deal with McEwen nicknamed him "The Undertaker." Not that they ever got to know him well, but they knew him well enough not to like him. And McEwen seems to have done everything in his power to reinforce that perception.

The Undertaker had worked at the Velie Motor Corporation long before it went out of business in 1928. Earlier, he had been at the F. B. Stearns Company, which expired in 1930.

Although McEwen had nothing to do with the deaths of Velie or Stearns, he ended up with a reputation as an automotive funeral director, a motor-company grave digger. In the end, his nickname might have been justified, because he did help bury Franklin.

McEwen had been sent to Syracuse by a syndicate of seven banks. These banks had lent Franklin some $5 million in the late 1920s, when the future looked rosy. Franklin was selling 7100-7500 cars a year back then and hoped to increase plant capacity. The loans would also help develop new Franklin automobiles.

As it happened, Franklin expected to sell nearly twice the usual number of cars in 1929 -- around 14,000 -- but then came the stock market crash of October 29, 1929.

By late 1931, when the 63-year-old McEwen arrived in Syracuse to salvage what he could for the banks, the H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company and its car-marketing subsidiary, the Franklin Automobile Company, were in dire financial straits. Something had to be done quickly.

Go on to the next page to learn about the Franklin Airman and the Franklin Olympic.

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