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1932-1934 Franklin V-12

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.

Go on to the next page to learn about problems with the new Franklin Airman.

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