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."
Go on to the next page to learn about further production on the Franklin V-12.
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