The Franklin automobile was produced by Herbert Henry Franklin. All it took was a ride in an air cooled automobile designed by John Wilkinson, a Cornell University educated engineer and bicycle racer, and Franklin decided to have his company build the car.

franklin series 6
1914 Franklin Series 6

Franklin’s manufacturer, the H.H. Franklin Manufacturing Company, began in business in 1893. In 1901 Franklin and Wilkinson joined together to build the Franklin automobile. The company that would produce and sell this car was the Franklin Automobile Company. Franklin put his name on the business, operated as CEO and primary shareholder and  issued John Wilkinson stock and named him as chief engineer.

The car that Franklin had his Syracuse, New York company produce, beginning in 1902,  eventually became the largest employer in Syracuse. During it’s peak, the H.H. Franklin manufacturing Company employed about 3,200 people.  It’s interesting to note that the first Franklin automobile built in 1902 was the first four cylinder car produced in the U.S. A total of thirteen cars were sold in 1902. Today, the first Franklin that was built resides at the Smithsonian.

franklin air cooled engine
The Franklin air-cooled engine

The Concept of the Air Cooled Light Weight Franklin

John Wilkinson, the designer of the Franklin, was an engineer by profession and designed his vehicle to be light weight using wood and aluminum. The focus of the design was  functional as opposed to ornamental.

Everything with this automobile was designed around Wilkinson’s air cooled engine. At that time air cooled engines were considered by many to be simpler and more reliable than water cooled engines. No radiators, water pumps and hoses were required. This was also the time before anti-freeze was developed so the air cooled design fared much better at freezing temperatures.

The frame employed wood consisting of three ply laminated ash. The suspension used full-elliptic leaf springs. The Franklin was light and better able to absorb shocks. This provided a relatively smooth ride over the primitive roads of the era. The company advertised light weight and high power.

franklin 6
Headlamps on the 1914 Franklin 6

Just two short years after the first Franklin was introduced, the company came out with a four passenger touring car in 1904. The engine on the 1904 model put out 10 horsepower and weighed about 1,100 lbs. New car price was $1,300. As a historical comparison, Buick came out with their first two cylinder production car in 1904 at a cost of about $950. In 1904 Ford was selling their Model A for about $750.

Franklin Engines

The Franklin was first built with a four cylinder inline engine and later models were built with both four and six cylinder versions. All were air cooled and all were inline.

Franklin also was one of the few American automakers that ventured into the world of V-12’s. Although the company considered a straight eight at one time the feeling was that cooling would present a problem. Franklin then decided to pursue a V-12. The twelve cylinder engine wasn’t something entirely new since there were many car models with 12 cylinder power plants during the late teens.

The Franklin V-12 was designed by aircraft engine designer F. Glen Shoemaker. Franklin’s V-12 had finned, cast-iron cylinders mounted on an aluminum crankcase, and topped with aluminum cylinder heads. A fan mounted at the nose of the crankshaft directed cooling air to the cylinders through steel shrouding. The engine was essentially an aircraft engine on an automobile. The run of these Franklin V-12’s was short and lasted from 1932 until the company shut down in 1934.

In 1937, the Doman-Marks Engine Company purchased the rights to Franklin. The company was renamed Aircooled Motors Corp. Franklin engines went on to power many types of aircraft for decades including the first civilian helicopter. For a full timeline of the H.H. Franklin Company history, the Aircooled Engines Corp as well as the various  Franklin aircraft engines during the later years see website…

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Two excellent sources regarding the Franklin automobiles include…The Franklin Automobile Company: The History of the Innovative Firm, Its Founders, the Vehicles It Produced (1902-1934), and the People Who Built Them (Historic Motor Car Company Series) by Sinclair Powell and also by the same author…The Franklin Automobile Company: The History of an Innovative Firm.

1914 franklin
View of the rear of the 1914 Franklin Series Six Touring car

1914 Franklin Specifications

The 1914 Franklin had an inline six cylinder overhead valve air cooled engine delivering 30 horsepower.

Brakes were two wheel mechanical drum.

Suspension both front and rear were full-elliptic leaf springs with a hollow beam front axle and a live rear axle.

The car’s wheelbase was 120.0 inches.and the shipping weight was 2,700 lbs.

As mentioned above, the cars were built to be light and the Franklin had an ash frame with an aluminum body.

The Franklin Collector Car

A bit over 1,100 1914 Franklin’s were produced. It’s unsure how many have survived as of today however it’s thought that the number are few. The H.H Franklin Automobile Company began in business in 1902 in Syracuse, NY and closed it’s doors in 1934 in the same city.

The last 1914 Franklin Six that was offered at auction several years ago had an estimated price of between $60,000 and $80,000. As of this writing we also see a later year 1933 Franklin Olympic Sedan with an asking price of $26,500. It’s also possible to come across drivable Franklin project cars requiring restoration with asking prices under $10,000.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 AutoMuseumOnline)