The Franklin represents the most successful chapter in air cooled engine production and development in American automotive history. For more than thirty years, from late 1902 until 1934, the company consistently pushed the envelope in developing automotive technology and yet, today, the Franklin is less than an obscure footnote to the history of the American auto industry.
This was one of the first companies to offer a suspension with full elliptic springs. It was also one of the earliest to offer overhead valve engines, a three speed selective transmission and shaft drive.
Initially the car engine was cooled without benefit of a fan. In 1905, with engines now mounted in front under a hood, a front mounted, gear driven fan was utilized. The following year Franklin introduced it first six cylinder engine, an engineering marvel with a seven bearing crankshaft.
In 1910 the fan was incorporated with the flywheel for suction cooling. This continued through the 1923 Series 10 models. On these cars the fan was geared to the front of the crankshaft.
Franklin also pioneered the use of aluminum for automotive application. In 1915, aluminum pistons were employed. This was followed with aluminum crank cases and extensive use of aluminum in the bodies.
Franklin represented more than cutting edge automotive technology. Vehicles built by this company were also some of the most durable available.
In 1904 a Franklin was driven from New York City to San Francisco in just under thirty three days. This cut the old record established by drivers of a Packard almost in half and represented the first time an automobile was driven coast to coast without mechanical failure.
In an automotive competition held in 1912 a Franklin was the only vehicle to complete the course without overheating, more than four hundred miles from Los Angeles to Phoenix, Arizona.
Cool running engines were a Franklin hallmark. To ensure the public never lost sight of this unique quality advertisement often heralded “Fifty degrees below zero or one hundred degrees above …”
Stunts were also employed. Few, however, equaled the run from San Francisco to Walla Walla, Washington, in low gear!
Economy was another Franklin claim to fame. An economy run in 1917 saw 179 Franklin’s average 40.3 miles per gallon.
Celebrity spokesmen were often employed to proclaim the praise of Franklin built automobiles. One devotee of the Franklin that lent a great deal of star appeal to the Franklin was Charles Lindbergh for whom the Airman series introduced in 1927 was named.
The swan song for the company came in 1934. The power beyond this behemoth was a highly advanced, air cooled V12.The automobiles built by Franklin that survive today are as scarce as finding someone who remembers the companies illustrious history. The extensive use of aluminum made them prime candidates for the scrap drives of World War II. Production never exceeded 20,000 units per year. Moreover, until 1928, the company utilized wood frames.
With that in mind the Franklin Airman in these photos is truly a rare find. What makes this car truly a rare gem is its astounding condition.
The current owner, a dealer/collector in Kingman, Arizona, has replaced the stained and dried interior with material that replicates the original. This and the headlamps converted to sealed beams at some point in its history are the only modifications from factory as this car sports just 23,000 miles and has spent the majority of its life in dry storage! This is truly an automotive time capsule.