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All Franklin cars were air-cooled, which the company considered simpler and more reliable than water cooling, and the company considered light weight to be critical in making a well-performing car given the limited power of the engines then available. Most Franklins were wood-framed. The very first used an angle iron frame (1902) and beginning in 1928 the heavier cars adopted a conventional pressed-steel frame. The use of light weight aluminum was used in quantity in all years, to the extent that Franklin was reckoned to be the largest user of aluminum in the world in the early years of the company.
An example of the offerings for 1904 included a touring car model. It had a detachable rear tonneau and could seat 4 passengers. List price was US$1300. The transverse-mounted, vertical straight-four engine, producing 10 hp (7.5 kW), was situated at the front of the car. A 2-speed planetary transmission was fitted. The car weighed 1100 lb (499 kg).
Franklin cars were technological leaders, first with six cylinders (by 1905) and automatic spark advance, in 1907. They were the undisputed leader in air-cooled cars at a time when virtually every other manufacturer had adopted water cooling, being cheaper and easier to manufacture. Prior to 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 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. With the exception of the early cars, all Franklins up to 1928 had wood chassis. This afforded excellent vibration absorption and a smooth ride. Styling, as well as the cost which became considerable, made the wood frame impractical.
Franklins were always a rather "odd" looking car, although some were distinctly handsome with their graceful Renault-style hoods. Starting in 1925, at the demand of dealers, Franklins were redesigned to look like conventional cars sporting a massive nickel-plated "dummy radiator" which served as an air intake and was called a "hoodfront". This design by J. Frank DeCausse enabled the Franklin to be a particularly handsome car with timeless classic stying. That same year, Franklin introduced the boat-tail to car design.
In 1930 Franklin introduced a new type of engine which ultimately produced 100 horsepower, giving Franklin one of the best power-to-weight ratios of the time. In 1932, in response to competition amongst luxury car makers, Franklin brought out its own version of a twelve cylinder engine. Air cooled with 398 cubic inches (6.5 L) it developed 150 hp (110 kW). Originally designed to be in a light weight chassis, it became a 6000 pound behemoth when Franklin engineers were overruled by management sent in from banks to recover bad loans. Although attractive, the Twelve did not have the ride and handling characteristics of its forebears. Unfortunately, this was simply the wrong vehicle to be building after the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. The cars sold poorly and came nowhere near to recouping the company's investment. The company declared bankruptcy in 1934.
Car production did not survive, but the name and assets were sold and other companies were formed to continue the manufacture of air cooled engines for commercial and aircraft use.
The company (Air Cooled Motors of Syracuse) was bought after World War II by Preston Tucker. The flat, opposed six engines were fitted with water cooling jackets and used in the short lived Tucker Automobile. The company was sold again after Tucker was disbanded.
Franklin engines powered numerous light planes as well as (thanks to their light weight) most early American-built helicopters. "Air Cooled Motors", the last company to manufacture air cooled engines under the Franklin name, declared bankruptcy in 1975 and its designs were sold to the Polish government. Engines based on these designs are still in production.
- Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly (January, 1904)
And read Walter E. Gosden - J. Frank De Causse. The man of mystery and his motorcars - Automobile Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 2