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The Franklin Model Z: A 4-Cylinder Car with Promise, Yet Never Produced

By Carl T. Doman
Air Cooled News, Issue No. 10, July 1956

The experimental Model Z
                      developed in the early 1920's for a projected
                      selling price of $1,000 By many, H. H. Franklin was called an aristocrat. Just why, I don't know for sure, but I heard it was because he wouldn't permit his name to he connected with a "cheap car." Knowing that Mr. Franklin stood for quality, I am sure he would never approve the production of a cheap car. However, I am sure he never was averse to producing a high quality, low price car such as the Model Z, a car nearly ready for production, but suddenly relegated to the storeroom.

During my summer vacation of 1921, 1 worked in the Experimental Department of Franklin. It was at this time that I first saw the beautiful little Franklin 4-cylinder, the Model Z. I was intrigues with it, hut was never permitted to drive or "touch" it, as I was assigned to duty in the dog house gang. As a member of that group, my duties were specifically running test engines, day and night, and nothing else. Nevertheless, when the summer ended and I was ready to return to Ann Arbor to complete my senior year at Michigan, I was offered a permanent jog - student engineer - at graduation.

During the spring months of 1922, James L. Yarian, Chief of the new Small Car Division of Franklin, tried to hire my father as Chief Electrical Engineer. Dad weighed the offer at length and from all angles, typical of a good engineer, and refused the offer with thanks. He reasoned that many of his friends had invested in The Doman Manufacturing Company and he could not "run out" on them. So he said, "Mr. Yarian, I can't accept, but why not hire my son, Carl? He will be through college with an E. E. Degree and I will steer him."

So, when I returned to Syracuse in early September, following a trip to the West Coast in a Model T Ford, I joined Mr. Yarian's group as Chief Electrical Engineer. Often I am inclined to think the job was more responsibility than authority.

I just mentioned the Small Car Division. Yes, following my return to Michigan in the fall of 1922, Mr. Franklin decided to set up a group to concentrate solely on the 4-cylinder program. Apparently he concluded that the regular Franklin "6" with all high price features would suffer if it were too closely associated with the low cost 4-cylinder car.

The building selected to house the activity was located on South Salina Street in Syracuse, next door to a large high-grade tool shop, Frostholm Bros. The most capable personnel were "drafted" from the parent group to staff each department. Robert Lay, a very capable engineer, was assigned the Purchasing responsibility; Joseph Babcock the Production job, including building and equipping a new factory; and James Yarian, former Truck Engineer, as mentioned, assumed the task of engineering the new vehicle for production. Of course, other departments, such as Sales, Service, and Advertising, were also staffed, but in those days I paid no attention to those activities. I, so I decided, was an engineer, an important person, and other jobs were minor (today I think otherwise).

Mr. Babcock sold management that a new plant should be built outside the city limits to avoid heavy taxes. So a large piece of property was purchased on Thompson Road, across the street from Oberdorfer Brass and Aluminum Company, where the majority of aluminum castings were obtained. The new Franklin was to continue Franklin tradition - light weight - and this meant generous use of aluminum. (The site of Joe Babcock 'a dream is presently occupied by the Carrier Corporation's new plant. The area surrounding it is called Franklin Park. The Franklin name still lives). Unfortunately, I never saw the drawings of the new plant. However, Mr. Babcock described his plans for a single story high production factory. Anything Mr. Babcock told me, I believed, as he knew his business.

Mr. Lay, due to his engineering background, followed Mr. Yarian in his engineering progress, with the result that he suggested many cost saving innovations. Yes, there was professional jealousy apparent at times, but that was to be expected in a young vigorous organization.

Mr. Yarian had joined the H. H. Franklin Company as Truck Engineer, following his resignation as Chief Engineer of the Auburn Automobile Company. So, when road tests on the original 4-cylinder vehicle demonstrated to management its great possibilities, Mr. Yarian was selected to head the Engineering Department of the Small Car Division. Mr. Yarian had vision, endless drive and, at the same time, appreciated the need for low costs.

I joined Mr. Yarian's group on September 6, 1922, driving in from my home town, Elbridge, New York, with my sister Ruth, a young architect. I well recall the thumping of my heart as I announced to Mr. Yarian's secretary that I had arrived. I was told to wait as Mr. Yarian had not yet arrived. But eventually he arrived and immediately outlined in the most direct concise language, my job. He then announced, "I will pay you $.58 an hour." (So you can see my title of Chief Electrical Engineer was a little inflated). He then concluded by saying, "Follow me."

Mr. Yarian took me down stairs to the experimental shop. He introduced me to Russell Kerry, Dynamometer Engineer; Mike Welch, General Foreman; Matty Gallagher, Chief Mechanic; Joe Barnell, Chief Test Driver; and Al Long, Superintendent. Then we toured the building - yes, toured - as I never imagined that I would work in such a large experimental department. The machine shop had every type of unit. It could make anything, it seemed. Each machine was manned by a mature capable work man. The garage was most complete. Here the experimental units were assembled. When ready, they were taken out for road test.

Next, we inspected the dynamometer room. Its operation was directed by Russell Kerry, a young engineer from Pratt Institute and an extremely capable man.

Following the tour, Mr. Yarian led me to a corner of the garage and announced, "Here is your spot; that desk is yours." (The desk was a small unit nailed to the wall). Then he described my duties something like this:

"Doman, you are in charge of everything electrical. It's up to you to see that every test car is wired properly and each piece of electrical equipment works properly. Furthermore, it is up to you to select for release the best generator, starter, distributor, coil, lamps, horn, wiring, etc. at the least cost." He then concluded, "It's up to you to figure out how to test all the units. Get anything made in the machine shop you need." With that he turned on his heels and went up to his office.

I could write a book on my approach to the job. It was difficult, but everyone helped. Yes, helped to cover up my inexperience and lack of know how. But this story is about the Model Z, so right here I will close talking about my specific duties.

Very frankly, my association with the development of the Model Z car was limited, so my story here will be based on my memory and the suggestions of John Burns.

John tells me the original Model Z car followed the basic design of the Series9 Franklin. In other words, it had a separate selective gear transmission located just underneath the floor and connected to the little 4-cylinder engine by universal joints. The engine was 3" bore 4" stroke and incorporate Series 9 cylinders, thus giving 132 cubic inch displacement.

I am sure you are asking, how much power? Well, I can only guess and use my slide rule, but the installed output could not have been over 20 h.p. at 2500 r.p.m.

Later, when Mr. Yarian took over, a unit power plant was used, or a design similar to that developed for the Series 10. He was never satisfied with the power and incorporated many innovations which were claimed in later engines to result in a 28 b.h.p., 2500 r.p.m. power plant. Some engines were built with 3-3/8" bore and 4" stroke, giving 160 cubic inches.

Possibly it was from the 160 cubic inch engine that the 28 h.p. was obtained. I can say for sure, however, that the earliest Model Z out-performed the Series 10A just entering production in the fall of 1922.

To be sure, troubles developed. The increased output from each cylinder was accompanied by cooling troubles, cracked cylinders, valve and valve seat troubles, camshaft troubles, valve spring surge, timing chain stretch and wear, and, yes, bearing troubles. Yet Mr. Yarian and Russell Kerry never were licked. As the days passed, I admired them more and more, because I realized we were in a race, a race of two engineering departments - the big one on Geddes Street and our little one on South Salina.

The original Model Z cars used wood frames, full elliptic springs, tubular axles, aluminum shell on wood bodies, and aluminum hoods. But Mr. Yarian's and Bob Lay's studies showed costs to be too high for a thousand dollar car, so attention was directed to a steel frame, forged front axle, stamped rear axle housing, semi-elliptic springs, and steel bodies.

This change in design started great rumors. "Yes, Yarian's 4-cylinder car was heavier than the Series 1OA 6-cylinder." "Yarian's car wouldn't perform." "Yarian's car overheated." Yet the comparative runs of the "heavier" Yarian car and the higher cost "true Franklin car" were about the same, but the good ride was definitely sacrificed. Nothing then or in 1956 approached the full elliptic springs for a comfortable ride, accompanied by unusual handling characteristics. Yet cost figures proved that the car could only compete with the new Durant at $1,000 to the customer when built to the lower cost "Yarian" specifications. To me, the final Yarian design was sound and would have sold, but suddenly the entire program was to be stopped.

Where rumors start in 1956 or started in 1922, no one knows, but they do start. For a couple of days the grapevine said that Mr. Yarian was fired, Joe Babcock was to be General Manager, etc. Then Mr. Yarian called me to his office and began immediately by saying, "Doman, this Division is all washed up and is being closed out. You better get yourself a job up at the main Engineering Department on Geddes Street I am sorry, as you have done a good job. I am fired." He shook my hand and I left his office, never to see him again.

I phoned Serges Vernet, Laboratory Engineer at the Geddes Street Franklin office. I told him that I needed a job. He asked my pay and I told him it was $.58 an hour. He thought a minute and then said, "Come to work tomorrow, but keep your rate secret, as you are getting $.08 an hour more than my other boys."I thanked him and told him I would start the next morning.

Looking back on this entire experience, I believe it most valuable, especially from the fact that it forced me, by closing up, to take the regular student engineering course at the main Franklin Plant. I learned in that two year course, basic engineering and manufacturing facts which have assisted me all my life.

You ask, what has all this to do with Mr. Franklin's reputation as an aristocrat? Simply this - I am sure Mr. Franklin desired to build the Model Z at a production rate of 1000 cars per day and sell it at $1,000 in a 4 door sedan. Furthermore, I think he believed that he could build a quality vehicle worthy of the name Franklin, provided he had sufficient working capital. Therefore, for the lack of adequate capital to pay for a new plant, tooling, equipment, engineering, and work in process, the program was suddenly terminated. Understand, this is my personal belief in 1956, as I resurrect the events of 1922. My estimate of needed capital totals $30,000,000, and that is on the low side. In 1956, $120,000,000 wouldn't do the job.

Yes, I believe Mr. Franklin was sound in his judgment to predict. Yet it is a tragedy that the Model Z never saw the light of day in Joe Babcock's new plant.