It’s not often at all that we come across a car that I’ve never heard of or seen before. Every once in awhile, however, it does happen. Such is the case with our encounter of a 1916 Franklin car we found one hot summers day as we were out enjoying the weather and landscapes of Vancouver Island. You can well imagine my surprise as we were heading back to our car, and in the parking lot in the distance I noticed a front-end of a car that was completely foreign to me. At first, I thought perhaps it was European, a Renault or a Peugeot or something along those lines. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a new friendship and experiences with a car that I can honestly say I’ve never heard of in my life.
As it turns out, the Franklin Automobile Company was a very important anchor in the history of automobile design and manufacturing in the United States as this new-fangled form of transportation was beginning to emerge. During the early 1900’s, several car companies came to life, each espousing their particular virtues, and each exhibiting a personality and character that was really unique to the company and brand. The Franklin was no different.
The Franklin Automobile Company was responsible for many firsts and innovations in the field, as outlined in this quote:
Franklin innovations from Wikipedia: Franklin (automobile):
Franklin Automobile Company of Syracuse, New York – showing longitudinal mounting of four cylinder engine.
Franklin Automobile Company was a leader in innovation. Franklin cars were air-cooled, which was considered simpler and more reliable than water cooling. The company’s advertisements and brochures explained that air cooling did away with the “radiators, hoses, water pumps and headaches of ‘normal’ engine boiling and freezing.”
In July 1902, H. H. Franklin Manufacturing Company introduced a constant level carburetor. It was originally designed to enable an engine to operate through great ranges of speed and throttle without a change in quality of the mixture to compensate for a problem with earlier carburetors where the speed of the engine was limited by the amount of gasoline as the engine drew differing amounts of air.
Franklin cars were technological leaders, first with six-cylinders (by 1905) and later that year, the first eight-cylinder engine was built by Wilkinson in preparation for the “Vanderbilt Cup” race by placing two four-cylinder engines in tandem. The automatic spark advance was introduced in 1907. They were undisputed leaders in air-cooled cars at a time when virtually every other manufacturer had adopted water cooling as cheaper and easier to manufacture. Before the invention of antifreeze, the air-cooled car had a huge advantage in cold weather, and Franklins were popular among people such as doctors, who needed an all-weather machine. The limitation of air-cooling was the size of the cylinder bore and the available area for the valves, which limited the power output of the earlier Franklins. By 1921, a change in cooling—moving the fan from sucking hot air to blowing cool air—led the way to the gradual increase in power.
H. H. Franklin Mfg. Co. – Franklin 4-cylinder vertical air-cooled motor – August 17, 1905
The automobile was lightweight, a critical determinant in a well-performing car for that time, given the limited power of the engines available. Most Franklins were wood-framed, although the very first model in 1902 was constructed from an angle iron frame. Beginning in 1928, the heavier Franklin models adopted a conventional pressed-steel frame.
Franklin’s wooden frames, along with full-elliptic leaf springs, offered a “baby buggy” ride over the unpaved roads of the day. Wilkinson used a wooden frame constructed of three-ply laminated ash. The benefits were twofold: decreasing the weight of the vehicle and providing a better material to absorb shocks.
Aluminum bodies were part of John Wilkinson’s obsessive quest for the “scientific light weight” he strived for in all Franklin vehicles. Lightweight aluminum was used in quantity, to the extent that Franklin was believed to be the largest user of aluminum in the world. Franklin offered “scientific light weight and flexible construction at a time when other luxury car manufacturers were making ponderous machines.”
Through 1915, some Franklin models were capable of a top speed over 65 mph (105 km/h) and others could provide 32 miles per US gallon (7.4 L/100 km) under certain conditions. The last year of exposed valves in the engine, “with exposed points that were meant to be lubricated every day at noon, according to the car’s manual”, was 1914. Subsequently valves were enclosed in individual dustproof chambers or “rocker boxes”, lubricated by oil-soaked felt pads.
Several key inventions were designed to solve specific problems, with the core idea behind the car being a vehicle that was very dependable, requiring little mechanical knowledge from the owner who could depend on these cars to get them where they needed to go, trouble free.
You have to remember, the early 1900’s had no superhighways designed to whisk us along briskly across vast swatches of land, the roads were dirt and often in very poor condition. Who in today’s world would enjoy bumping and grinding along on a path better intended for herds of cattle, only to have a breakdown in the middle of nowhere? This, of course, would never happen when you were wearing your dirty work clothes… nay, this would more likely occur on Sunday morning as you were dressed in your very best, heading to church. Fun, eh?
So, you can imagine how terrific it would be to own a car capable of driving literally across the country, on the poorest roads, and getting you to where you wanted to go no matter the weather. This was a pretty big deal. As the years passed, the fact that you could count on your Franklin in both freezing cold or blazing hot conditions was unique, and something that was undoubtedly appreciated very much indeed.
It was with great delight that we were invited out one weekend to go for a drive in this wonderful antique with our new friends Robert and Margaret. They are very much enthusiastic and passionate curators of this slice of history, taking incredible care of a car that just passed it’s 100th birthday and still runs like a top today. This is a direct result of Robert’s handy ability to identify problems and come up with ways of finding the parts, and in cases where this isn’t possible, having them made to spec.
We had a wonderful time cruising around Vancouver Island with the top down, waving at everyone who stopped in their tracks as we drove by to frantically wave back. The sound of the Ahooga Horn made everyone laugh and smile, instantly transporting us back to a simpler time where things like this were a much more common sight on our roads. The sound of the engine, the feel of the air as it gently wafted through the cab of the car, and the heightened vantage point all combined to create a feel that is second to none. One that can only be fully appreciated by experiencing it in person.
To see all the photos we captured during our day with the 1916 Franklin and Robert and Margaret, please see our gallery “1916 Franklin“. A detailed article is also available on the history of the car and the company at “Franklin (automobile)” on Wikipedia. Also, there is a thriving car club devoted to these classic cars, the “H. H. Franklin Club, Inc.” for those wanting to learn more and see other models of this incredible car.
As we roll off in the sunset here, we send our deepest thanks and appreciation to Robert and Margaret for sharing this wonderful antique with us, giving us a day of memories that we will always reflect on and never forget.
Thanks for visiting us here at The Hollow today, we really appreciate it. As always, we love to hear from all our visitors, so please feel free to leave us any comments you may have below.