A luxury automobile comparable to Cadillac in its heyday, the Franklin motor car has largely faded into obscurity. But enthusiasts have managed to keep the carmaker’s legacy alive at places like Tucson’s Franklin Auto Museum.
The Franklin motor car was invented by John Wilkinson in 1900 and manufactured by the industrialist Herbert H. Franklin. Its air-cooled engine set it apart from other vehicles—it had no need for the radiators, hoses, or pumps of water-cooled engines, which were heavy and prone to temperature fluctuations. The Syracuse, New York-based company quickly became the largest manufacturer of air-cooled automobiles in the United States.
But like so many other businesses of the era, the Franklin Automobile Company was claimed by the Great Depression. Of the 150,000 Franklins manufactured between 1902 and 1934, approximately 3,700 remain. The H. H. Franklin Club was founded in 1951 to preserve the legacy of these unique cars. It has about 900 members and hosts an annual meeting in upstate New York. And thanks to one Tucson businessman, a sizable collection can be found in Arizona.
Thomas Hubbard was born in New York in 1925, but was raised by his aunt in Tucson. Every year Hubbard’s parents would make a cross-country trip to visit him in their Franklin, inspiring his love for the automaker. He stayed in Arizona and bought a Franklin of his own in 1953.
Over the years, Hubbard amassed a collection of the cars and started running a restoration shop. By 1992, he had enough cars to fill three buildings, totaling 7,000 square feet. Hubbard wanted to ensure that his collection was preserved, so he created a nonprofit that would be able to carry on his work after his death.
The Thomas H. Hubbard/H.H. Franklin Foundation now maintains the museum, which holds 26 vehicles. Some of the highlights include a 1905 cross-engine (the only Franklin-made truck still known to exist), a 1910 Model G with just 6,000 miles on the odometer, and a 1927 sedan that’s been maintained but unrestored—a tribute to the many well-loved Franklin cars that have not survived quite so long.