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
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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.

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The Franklin Airman and the Franklin Olympic

Something had already been done about the Franklin V-12 just before McEwen arrived. The company pared its offerings to one car line, the Airman. But since the 1932 Airman stood squarely in the medium-price class at $2345-$2445, it didn't sell well. In 1933, 81 percent of all cars sold in America were Fords, Chevrolets, and Plymouths, cars in the $500-$650 range.

Franlin V-12 rear view
Publications International, Ltd.
Development of the Franklin V-12 was headed by two men: Fred Shoemaker and his successor, John Rogers.

So for 1933, Franklin hastily brought out the Olympic, a smaller and less-expensive series than the Airman. To make the Olympic happen quickly, the Syracuse automaker arranged with the Reo Motor Car Company to buy quantities of its Reo Flying Cloud model.

Franklin bought entire cars -- well, not entire. They were Flying Clouds minus engine, hood, and radiator but otherwise complete. Into those Reo Flying Clouds Franklin stuffed Airman engines, added Franklin hoods and grille shells, and offered the cobbled result as the Franklin Olympic.

Franklin sold 1509 Olympics in 18 months even though most people realized in 1933 that they could buy a Reo Flying Cloud for $995 or pay $1385 an Olympic. The biggest difference was the air-cooled engine with 15 more horses. (In a similar transaction, Marmon also bought Reo bodies to make the 1932 Marmon 8-125.)

The individual responsible for the Olympic decision was none other than Herbert H. Franklin himself, the man who'd been running the company since 1902, the year it sold its first car. Franklin, referred to by friends and associates as "H.H.," was generally well-liked.

Born and raised on a farm 57 miles south of Syracuse, his formal education never went beyond high school. "College" consisted of first apprenticing at, then editing, and finally publishing a small-town newspaper. In the process, he became a proficient writer, with a gift for producing polished, persuasive ad copy. He also discovered that he had a flair for business in general.

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Success for the H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company

According to Sinclair Powell's definitive book about the manufacturer of the Franklin V-12, The Franklin Automobile Company, in 1893, when he was 27 and still in the newspaper business, H. H. stumbled across an opportunity to buy a patent for the process of diecasting.

Franklin V-12 engine
Publications International. Ltd.
All Franklin cars used air-cooled engines.

He grabbed it, opened a diecasting shop in Syracuse (probably the first in the nation), called it the H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company, and soon found himself with more money than he'd ever dreamed of.

Eight years later, H. H. met a bright young bicycle racer, John Wilkinson, at a local machine shop. Wilkinson belonged to an established, respected, wealthy Syracuse family. Rugged, good-natured, outgoing, and athletic, he attended Cornell University, where he starred in tennis, track, baseball, and football, and, amazingly, finished his coursework with honors.

Wilkinson took a degree in mechanical engineering in 1889, soon landed a job with a local bicycle manufacturer, and went on to become a champion cyclist. He also became curious about the workings of internal combustion engines and motor cars.

Before he met Herbert Franklin, Wilkinson designed and built two prototype automobiles. His designs interested a group of New York businessmen, but they couldn't quite decide whether to put Wilkinson's car into production.

Finally, one member of the group introduced Wilkinson to H. H., who took a ride in Wilkinson's second prototype. That ride impressed H. H. and persuaded him to shell out $1100 so that Wilkinson could build a third prototype. This led to the car that went into production.

Franklin put his name on the enterprise, becoming CEO and primary shareholder. He gave Wilkinson stock and made him chief engineer. The first Franklin Model A went on sale in June 1902 and holds the distinction of being the first four-cylinder automobile produced in America.

The company sold 13 cars in 1902, and from that modest beginning, Franklin went on to become not only a successful car company, but one ideally suited to the quiet, tree-lined streets of Syracuse.

For 28 years, from 1902 to 1930, the H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company thrived, and during much of that time, it enjoyed the distinction of being the city's largest employer. Some 3200 people worked for Franklin in its heyday. H. H. ran the business side, but he was wise enough to let Wilkinson make the engineering and manufacturing decisions.

Wilkinson took his responsibility seriously, was revered by his underlings, and set quite a high standard in everything he did. He insisted on constant improvement and innovation, and he seemed to revel in the fact that Franklin automobiles marched to a different drummer.

Air cooling became Franklin's hallmark. All Franklin cars used air-cooled engines, all had overhead valves, and most used flexible wooden chassis frames and aluminum bodies.

As the company's ads and literature explained, air cooling did away with the radiators, hoses, water pumps, and headaches of a "normal" engine's boiling and freezing.

Franklin's wooden frames, along with full-elliptic leaf springs, gave a "baby buggy" ride over the unpaved roads of the day: supple and floaty. Aluminum bodies were part of John Wilkinson's obsessive quest for "scientific light weight."

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Edwin McEwen and H. H. Franklin

The Undertaker, Edwin McEwen, and H. H. Franklin -- manufacturer of the Franklin V-12 -- were polar opposites, totally unalike in personality and temperament. H. H. was reserved, gentlemanly, even a little shy. He'd been born with a cleft palate and a hare lip, and although he tried to hide these defects behind a bushy mustache, he dreaded speaking in public.

Franlin V-12 hood ornament
Publications International, Ltd.
The Franklin V-12 was named after H. H. Franklin.
On a personal level, though, Franklin was cordial and fairly approachable. But he never married, and usually ate lunch alone at a nearby hotel.

H. H. owned a large, comfortable home on James Street in Syracuse's best neighborhood, yet both he and it were anything but ostentatious. Nor was he particularly civic-minded or philanthropic.

Franklin's maiden cousin, Gladys Bliss, lived in the house and managed his domestic staff: two maids, a cook, a gardener, and a chauffeur. She was active socially and gave lively dinner parties, providing H. H. with a life outside his office.

H. H. liked to play cards, enjoyed golf, dabbled in painting and photography, and occasionally took trips out of town accompanied by young women. He introduced them as his nieces. For a time, he maintained a suite at a Manhattan hotel.

Franklin traveled extensively. He attended auto shows in New York and Chicago, regularly visited Franklin dealers throughout the country, golfed in North Carolina, and vacationed in New England and Europe.

John Wilkinson remained Franklin's chief engineer until 1924, when he and H. H. had a falling out. The argument seems to have centered on the latter's insistence on making the 1925 Franklin look more like other cars.

The new model, designed by J. Frank de Causse, wore a false radiator-grille shell. Wilkinson, who'd always strived for light weight and form following function, noted that the faux grille not only looked out of place, it weighed more than the traditional one-piece aluminum hood/ grille that he'd designed. One word led to another, and Wilkinson ultimately stormed out.

In contrast to H. H. and Wilkinson, relatively little is known about The Undertaker, Edwin McEwen. There seem to be no pictures of him, and no one ever described what he looked like. Those who worked with him said he had a way of stepping on toes.

McEwen was 63 years old when he arrived in Syracuse, and he must have realized immediately that he couldn't compete with H. H. for the loyalty and affection of Franklin workers. So he apparently made up his mind to take the opposite tack: to be as hard-nosed as he needed to be, and if that made him unpopular, so be it.

The banks had given McEwen two conflicting missions. Plan A was to save Franklin as an automaker. If that didn't work, there was a Plan B to wring as much cash as possible out of the company.

He pursued these goals with a zeal no one could have anticipated, and it soon became clear, especially after McEwen began cleaning house, that Franklin would not survive as a manufacturer of automobiles.

One of McEwen's first acts was to fire or lay off as many workers as he reasonably could. Ho gutted the engineering department and pared the administrative staff to the bone.

To help cut costs, Herbert Franklin and other company executives volunteered to work without pay, and that's what they did throughout 1932-1933. McEwen's own salary apparently came from the banking syndicate, so he wasn't affected.

McEwen soon canceled Franklin's long-standing contract with its principal body supplier, the Walker Body Company, of Amesbury, Massachusetts, which put Walker out of business. Franklin would henceforth build its own bodies, and for that, McEwen hired a number of former Walker craftsmen and brought them to Syracuse.

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The Development of the Franklin V-12

In late 1931, at about the time McEwen arrived at Franklin, the company planned to unveil the Franklin V-12. The car at that stage was to be a stretched version of the 1932 Airman, with 5.5 inches added to the front of the frame to accommodate the slightly longer engine.

The V-12 itself had been under development since 1928, when H. H. decided that Franklin needed a grander engine to stay competitive. Most automakers in Franklin's price range were coming out with straight eights: Studebaker, Peerless, Auburn, Marmon, duPont, and others.

These would soon be joined by the likes of Buick, Hudson, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Chrysler, and Dodge. A cylinder race was under way, and Franklin didn't want to get left behind.

But because air-cooled straight eights weren't practical (for reasons we'll come to in a moment), H. H. hired an outside engineer, Fred Glen Shoemaker, in 1928 for the task of leapfrogging the eight and developing a V-12.

Shoemaker had been an aeronautical engineer at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, where he was concerned mostly with cylinder cooling, ignition systems, and flow characteristics in aircraft engines.

After H. H. brought Shoemaker to Syracuse and handed him the V-12 assignment, he worked on it for a year, suggesting improvements to Franklin's six-cylinder engine along the way.

Shoemaker laid the groundwork for sidedraft cooling, in which air flowed across and between the cylinders rather than down from above. He also advocated the use of aluminum cylinder heads and introduced ways to improve cooling-fan efficiency.

All of these advances were used in the 1930 Franklin. By then, though, Shoemaker had left for General Motors, where he worked on Charles F. Kettering's two-stroke diesels. After he left, Franklin's senior engine designer, John Rogers, took over the V-12 project, but progress remained slow.

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Air-Cooled Engines and the Franklin V-12

At this point, it might serve to examine some engineering basics of the Franklin V-12's air-cooled engines. Ultimately, all automotive engines are air cooled. That's because air carries the heat away from a water-cooled engine's radiator, just as it does from an air-cooled engine's fins.

Franklin engineers called their system "direct air cooling." To them, a water-cooled engine used "indirect air cooling."

Any directly air-cooled engine hides within it several inherent advantages and compromises. The most obvious advantages are no freezing or boiling points. The normal operating temperature of a Franklin engine is 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit, while water-cooled engines normally run at between 180 and 245 degrees.

The hotter an engine can run without overheating or detonating, the more efficiently it can burn fuel. Thus the Franklin was a good deal more thermo-dynamically efficient than the typical water-cooled engine of its day.

Another advantage to direct air cooling comes in weight reduction, since there's no radiator, no water, etc. As for complexity, that's probably a toss-up: The absence of hoses and waterjacketing is offset by ducting, baffles, fins, oil coolers, and so forth in an air-cooled engine. Liquid coolants can corrode passages in the block and radiator, but air passages can cake up with oil and dirt.

However, air cooling carries several disadvantages, too. The cylinders in an air-cooled inline engine need to be spaced relatively far apart, with enough room between them for large volumes of air to flow.

This means a long crankshaft, and long cranks tend to whip. That's why Franklin never produced a straight eight. (The company did experiment with them and even built one unsuccessful eight-cylinder racer in 1905).

It's also why the company's inline sixes used seven wide main bearings, and why most modern air-cooled auto and motorcycle engines have opposed cylinders with short crankshafts.

Air cooling also limits cylinder-bore diameters, because too large a bore traps heat at the middle of the piston. The piston center heats up and eventually melts. This bore restriction was one reason the Corvair engine couldn't grow and why Porsche switched to water cooling.

Limiting bore diameter also restricts valve size. Small bore means small valves, which cut volumetric efficiency (breathing) and thus restrict power output. Franklin engineers were always fighting too-small valves, and it was Shoemaker who suggested making the six-cylinder Airman engine's exhaust valves smaller so the intakes could be bigger.

Another problem: Air-cooled power-plants usually need more exotic and expensive metals than water-cooled engines. Franklin metallurgists tried various aluminum alloys over the years, along with copper cooling fins.

As mentioned, all Franklin engines used overhead valves, and in the early days, valvetrain noise tended to be a problem. This was caused by the different heat-expansion rates of the metals used. Franklin solved this by using a simple compensating-stud device that maintained valve clearances throughout the engine's heat range.

Another early handicap involved the cooling fan absorbing quite a lot of power. It's been estimated that early Franklin fans drew as many as 20 bhp.

But again, by 1928, Franklin engineers had come up with scirocco fans attached to the front of the crankshaft, plus baffles within the cooling stream, that drew only four to six horsepower -- no more than the fan and water pump of a conventional water-cooled engine.

Air cooling does make an engine louder than water cooling. That's partly because the water acts as an insulating material and partly because a big fan blasting large volumes of air past fins creates noise.

Because most aircraft used air-cooled engines -- and airplane engines were known for performance and reliability -- Franklin capitalized on that link. Factory literature stated in 1932, "The Franklin Twelve is fundamentally an airplane type engine, with all its inherent reliability and high power characteristics."

Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Frank Hawks were internationally known aviators who drove and promoted Franklin automobiles. Even the series name Airman capitalized on Lindbergh's historic transatlantic flight of 1927.

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The Production of the Franklin V-12

Soon after Shoemaker arrived in 1928, he offered up three possible plans for an air-cooled Franklin V-12 engine. All three were to be built on the same-sized crankcase, but the cylinder barrels were to have different internal dimensions. Two of these V-12s were based on the bore and stroke of Franklin's six-cylinder production engines.

The smallest V-12 in this trio displaced 340 cubic inches, and the largest had a capacity of 544 cid. In between, a 398-cid V-12 showed the greatest promise. Like the other two, the 398 kept the five-inch bore centers that all Franklin engines used after 1922. It also had the same bore and stroke (3.25-4.00 inches) as an earlier-production Franklin six.

Engineer John Rogers, in studying Shoemaker's V-12 designs, soon discovered that when it came to building actual running V-12 prototypes, there was no room inside the 60-degree vee for lifters and pushrods.

The intake manifold and cooling fins took up too much space. So he ended up with two camshafts nestled low in the crankcase and pushrods running up the outsides of the cylinder barrels.

Most vee-type engines of the late 1920s and early 1930s used updraft carburetors. The problem with this system is that, in an air-cooled vee engine, an updraft carburetor would have interfered with the cooling airflow.

Just before Shoemaker left Franklin, several carburetor manufacturers announced downdraft carburetors, so he chose a Stromberg two-barrel downdraft carb that stood above and outside the V-12's cooling system. Shoemaker took air from the fan cage, brought it up through a small, flat duct into an air cleaner, and then to the mouth of the carburetor.

Franklin advertised this intake system as "supercharging," but it wasn't supercharging in any conventional sense since it delivered a very weak stream of forced air that had very little effect on performance.

According to Tom Rasmussen of Odyssey Restorations in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Franklin's induction system might have increased power ever so slightly at low rpm, but at high rpm, the flat, narrow duct between the fan and the carburetor actually restricted airflow.

Rasmussen says that in his experience, the V-12 delivers eight to 10 more horsepower at high rpm with the "supercharger" ducting removed. The factory rated the 398-cid V-12 at 150 bhp at 3100 rpm.

To equalize cooling to all 12 cylinders, engineer John Rogers installed thermocouples to measure the heat at various locations on the heads and cylinder barrels. In a typical air-cooled engine, up to 75 percent of the heat exits through the head, while much less leaves via the cylinder barrels.

Thus, the Franklin V-12 took a lot of experimental work to determine the best size, location, and spacing of fins on the heads, plus trial and error with cooling-passage baffles to provide equal volumes of air to all cylinders.

Normally, the rear cylinders get the greatest volume of air, which "packs up" against the engine cover and then flows forward toward the front. Franklin engineers placed a small wedge-shaped baffle near the fore section of the vee to equalize airflow to all cylinders.

At 60 mph, the crank-mounted, 15-inch cooling fan shoved 5720 cubic feet of air per minute through the vee of the mighty Twelve. But even after the engineers optimized airflow, oil in the crankcase still heated up to around 340 degrees, this despite a 10-quart sump.

The concern was engine durability and longevity, so in the final test version of the V-12, Franklin engineers mounted a little oil cooler in the airstream. The cooler dropped oil temperature to around 240 degrees.

The engine was made up of a cast aluminum crankcase with an aluminum oil pan, individual chrome-nickel iron cylinder barrels and aluminum heads with ni-resist valve inserts. The heads and cylinders were liberally finned. Three test engines were built, of which two were installed in "mules" or prototype cars. Each of the mules was made from a stretched-wheelbase 1932 Airman.

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The New Franklin Airman

Franklin hired Erwin "Cannon Ball" Baker in 1928 to establish a transcontinental record in the then-new Franklin V-12 Airman Limited. Baker indeed set the record, averaging 42.5 mph on the ungodly roads of that day.

As a reward, Franklin made Baker a full-time employee, paid him well, and set up an office for him in Syracuse. Cannon Ball's main function was to generate publicity by setting records and driving Franklin automobiles to odd and unlikely places, like Death Valley, California.

In 1932, Baker drove one of the V-12 mules to Daytona Beach, Florida, then on to California and back to Syracuse. The car apparently performed well enough, although details of the trip seem to be lacking. Baker made some high-speed runs at Daytona, mostly for the fun of it, but he didn't try to set any records with the V-12 mule.

Testing and development continued, and about a year before McEwen arrived, H. H. Franklin brought in a former colleague, Fred Haynes, to help run the company. Haynes had worked at Franklin before, but left to join Dodge, where he ultimately became president. H. H. rehired him in 1930, hoping Haynes could restore the company to its former health.

By early 1931, Haynes and H. H. had pretty much made up their minds to produce a version of the Airman with the V-12 engine. In March 1932, two V-12 Franklins were exhibited at the New York Auto Show: a five-passenger sedan and a limousine.

The sedan might have been one of the mules. This marked the first time the public had any hint that Franklin was even working on a V-12, and the fact that the company intended to produce the car made dealers supremely happy.

But due to the sinking economy, nothing really happened with the V-12 program until after McEwen arrived, and once he got there, everything changed. Why McEwen turned his attention to the V-12 no one knows. It might have been ego or to show H. H. and the world his ability to move and shake things.

At any rate, McEwen dived into the V-12 program, and even as the Airman-based V-12s were being shown in New York, he decided that the car in its final form would not be an Airman clone, but rather would emerge as an entirely different kind of automobile.

Soon after he arrived in Syracuse, McEwen must have gotten in touch with the Briggs Manufacturing Company in Detroit. Through Briggs' LeBaron subsidiary, directed by Ralph Roberts, McEwen acquired an all-new body design for the V-12.

McEwen bought the design only, with no intention of having Briggs or LeBaron build the V-12 bodies. (As an aside, there's been talk that LeBaron's Franklin design might have originally been drawn up for Edsel Ford as a Lincoln proposal, because it looks like an enlarged version of the 1933-1934 Ford.)

McEwen's decision to scrap the Airman heritage meant that nearly every component would be different from earlier specifications. The 12-cylinder car would now use a 144-inch-wheelbase frame supplied by Parrish, as opposed to the Airman's 132-inch flexible-steel frame.

It would use front and rear axles purchased from E. L. Cord's Columbia Axle Company (Franklin traditionally built its own axles, including housings and differential gears). It would use driver-adjustable, double-acting Delco shocks and semielliptic leaf springs instead of the Airman's fully elliptical springs.

Along with other Franklins, the three-speed transmission came from Warner Gear, and Oberdorfer Foundries of Syracuse cast the V-12's aluminum crankcase and oil pan. In other words, very little about the new car was genuinely Franklin.

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Problems with the New Franklin Airman

H. H. and his staff weren't exactly thrilled with the new Franklin V-12 Airman, and it's easy to see why. Here was H. H. Franklin, the man who'd run his company his way for decades, being told by a bank employee exactly how to engineer and assemble this newest model.

There must have been some very bitter words between H. H. and The Undertaker, but McEwen knew he held the cards, and, in the end, it was he who dictated every line, dimension, and component of the 12-cylinder car.

The first LeBaron-styled prototype was hurriedly assembled and stood ready to drive on the chilly afternoon of March 24, 1932. Edwin McEwen inspected it, then ordered John Burns, Franklin's experimental engineer, and research engineer Carl Doman to give the car a rigorous shakedown run. "Take it to California and back," he told them.

March 24 was a bitterly cold day after a heavy snowstorm, and 3:30 P.M. didn't seem like the best time to start such a long journey. Why not wait until the next morning? Burns and Doman put this question to McEwen, but The Undertaker stood firm. He ordered Burns and Doman into the car, and away they drove toward California.

The pair made the round trip in a little less than two weeks, and they quickly discovered all sorts of problems. The car's front brakes grabbed violently; Doman wrote later that "in high-speed driving, with sudden application of the brakes, the car would dive left or right with great severity. If care was not taken, the car would many times have turned over." The brakes wouldn't be fixed until the trip was nearly over.

Meanwhile, rain water gushed in through the doors; a tie rod slapped against the oil pan; the springs were so soft that on a rutted dirt road, Doman was thrown up off his seat and cut his scalp on a roof bow; the carburetor ran rich; and the engine burned a quart of oil every 50 miles.

On the other hand, Burns, who did most of the driving, averaged 84 mph across the Mojave Desert and experienced no heating problems in Death Valley.

The test car reached Los Angeles on March 31, turned right around, and arrived back in Syracuse on April 7. At eight o'clock the next morning, Burns and Doman drove to Franklin headquarters and were immediately summoned to McEwen's office.

Wrote Doman in 1954, "[H]e started to criticize everything we had done on the trip . . . including accusing us of being out on a joyride, when we had been to California and back in approximately 13 days, slept little, and worked on the car every minute that we could spare to keep it going."

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Further Production on the Franklin V-12

By the time Burns and Doman got back to Syracuse, the factory already had 49 more Franklin V-12s in various stages of "production." All Twelves were built very much by hand, and although a factory brochure stated that major body stampings were turned out by Franklin's "large sheetmetal presses," Franklin presses could produce only small stampings.

Body assembly occupied the top floor of Franklin's main plant, and here a group of workmen hand formed the body over ash-wood framing. Each front fender, rather than being stamped whole, was made up of four or five separate small stampings butt-welded together. Door skins similarly consisted of at least two stampings.

According to Franklin restorer Thomas H. Hubbard, "The reveals around the windows and some of the moldings are formed entirely of lead." (Estimates put the amount of lead in each body at 300 pounds.)

In the course of restoring several V-12s, Hubbard found bodies with large sections of the wood framing scorched where the metal had been leaded over. Exterior locks were set into different parts of the doors on different cars, and bodies could be off dimensionally by more than an inch, side to side.

As produced, the Franklin Twelve, dubbed the Series 17 and sometimes referred to as "The Banker's Car" -- McEwen being seen as a bank employee -- weighed almost 6000 pounds in its heaviest models, 1800 pounds more than the Airman-based prototypes.

Burns and Doman had been disappointed because the earlier Airman V-12 prototype had much livelier performance than the one they'd driven across the country.

Still, last-minute fixes turned the V-12 Franklin into quite a decent automobile. Engine tolerances were tightened up to meet the industry norm of 750-1000 miles per quart of oil instead of the previous 50.

Nearly all Twelves came with a Columbia two-speed "Double High" rear axle. The Columbia's top ratio of 3.4:1 boosted fuel economy, helped acceleration, and gave a claimed 100-mph top speed at 3470 rpm.

A number of owner/ restorers, among them D. Cameron Peck, preferred driving their Franklin Twelves to other classics in their collections, saying the Franklin V-12 handled better, had a more comfortable ride, and was simply more fun on the road.

Among its lesser engineering nuances, the car had ball-bearing spring shackles, 15-inch Lockheed hydraulic brakes, thermostatic hood-front louvers, and freewheeling, which purportedly saved fuel and made it possible to shift without the clutch.

The Series 17 came in four body styles: five-passenger sedan, seven-passenger sedan, limousine, and two-door club brougham. The seven-passenger sedan and limousine had jump seats; the limo added a divider window.

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The Legacy of the Franklin V-12

The V-12 arrived in Franklin showrooms in late April 1932, priced at $3885 to $4185. Sales took off with a painful thud. The reason wasn't just the Depression. For those prices or less, a buyer could browse among a number of V-12s, including Cadillac, Auburn, and Pierce-Arrow. Lincoln's new "small" V-12, the KA, added another lower-cost rival for 1933.

The last Franklin V-12 was built in the winter of but wasn't sold until late spring and even then at $1000 less than the 1932 price. Today only 18 Twelves survive, according to the H. H. Franklin Club.

Around Thanksgiving of 1933, Edwin McEwen wasn't feeling well and checked into a Syracuse hospital. He returned home a few days later, contracted pneumonia, and died in January 1934.

McEwen's two years at Franklin were probably as awful and frustrating for him as for everyone else, and in the end he'd done nothing useful to help the company survive. The H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company went into bankruptcy on April 3, 1934.

Herbert Franklin was 67 when the company shut down, and despite its failure, he managed to live comfortably in Syracuse and never had to work again. He petitioned the bankruptcy court to pay him $45,272 in back wages, eventually settling for about 10 cents on the dollar, the same as most other claimants.

H. H. had always been outside the automotive mainstream, but he admired Henry Ford, so when he could no longer requisition cars from the Franklin motor pool, he bought himself a new Ford. In April 1956, after suffering a series of strokes, H. H. passed away at home. He died in relative obscurity a few months short of his 90th birthday.

Assets of the company were ultimately bought by Ward Canaday, the Toledo entrepreneur who soon also bought the assets of the bankrupt Willys-Overland Company.

Canaday sold off Franklin's real estate and plant machinery, and put the money into Willys-Overland. A few years later, he guided that struggling automaker into the profitable manufacture of wartime and postwar Jeeps.

The Franklin name was acquired by Air Cooled Motors Corporation, a company founded by former Franklin engineers Ed Marks and Carl Doman. Air Cooled Motors made aircraft and helicopter engines during the war, and the 1948 Tucker Torpedo used a Doman-Marks flat six converted to water cooling.

The Carrier Company then bought the Franklin plant for back taxes and manufactured air conditioners there for many years.

Today, the H. H. Franklin Foundation, endowed by restorer Tom Hubbard, operates a museum and library in Tucson, Arizona. The H. H. Franklin Club Incorporated sponsors an annual Franklin Trek, and its 850 members keep the flame burning that H. H. and John Wilkinson lit just over a century ago.

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John Willys and the 1932-1934 Franklin V-12

The Franklin V-12 that would provide the power for the first jeep and a basis for dragsters began as a desperate attempt to beat bankruptcy. John North Willys retired from his car company in 1929 and was appointed U.S. ambassador to Poland.

But when the Depression hit Willys sales hard, he came back in 1932 to save the Franklin V-12 and the firm that bore his name. He approved the 77, a new model already in development to replace the other lines.

John Willys started as a car dealer. Among the lines he handled was Overland, and when a shipment of them failed to arrive, he went to the factory to investigate. He ended up buying the company in 1908. Willys' sharp mind and contagious enthusiasm propelled a minor bankrupt firm into one of the nation's largest automakers by 1910.

Willys introduced a car under his own name in 1914, but continued to make Overlands. By 1927, the Overland had been replaced by the small, European-inspired Whippet. Priced to compete with Ford and Chevrolet, and offering good performance, Whippet moved the Willys-Overland Company to the industry's number-three position in 1928.

The 77 was an improved Whippet. The flathead four-cylinder engine was strengthened and horsepower upped to 48. The frame was also enhanced and wheelbase was a compact 100 inches. The sloping hood and faired-in headlights were considered radically aerodynamic in 33.

While the low-priced three were getting costlier and adding six- and eight-cylinder engines, Willys believed that the Depression market needed an economical small car. Price for the 33 coupe was $395; advertised mileage topped 30 mpg.

With a compact size and weight just over one ton, the 77 was quick and maneuverable. A specially bodied 77 was successful in sports-car racing, beating not only Bugattis and MGs, but also larger-engined Fords. Drag racers would later discover that the Willys was one of the lightest cars into which one could fit a full-race V-8.

In spite of John Willys' efforts, the company went into receivership. It found itself in the frustrating position of having orders that it couldn't fill until the court granted permission to build an allotment of cars. The 77 gradually pulled the firm out of bankruptcy in 1935, but Willys died of a heart attack just days later.

The company modified and rebadged the 77 until World War II. The engine, again improved in power and durability was dubbed "Go-Devil." When Willys submitted its prototype for what became the jeep, it was this engine that really impressed the army.

Go on to the next page to learn about models, prices and production of the 1932-1934 Franklin V-12.

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1932, 1933, 1934 Franklin V-12 Specifications

Models, prices, and production figures for the 1932-1934 Franklin V-12 are listed below.

1932 Weight Price
Series 17 (wb 144)
4d Sedan
Club Brougham
4d Sedan, 7P
Limousine, 7P
Total 1932 Series 17

1933-1934 Series 17 (wb 144)
4d Sedan
Club Brougham
4d Sedan, 7P
Limousine, 7P
Total 1933-1934 Series 17


*Estimated. Some sources suggest a lower series total closer to 200 cars. Source: Encyclopedia of American Cars, by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Publications International, Ltd., 2002.

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