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1932-1934 Franklin V-12

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.

Go on to the next page to learn about the Development of the Franklin V-12.

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