1926 Franklin 11A Sport Runabout Boattail

Wheel Tracks is 70 years old this month!

I promise that this is the last time I’ll toot my family whistle in regards to the beginnings of the VAE. After all, Gary told me, “It’s about the car.” I’ve said in past Wheel Tracks that the Franklin was the car that inspired Anne Gypson to have Ken’s car friends over for his birthday and to form a club.

Oh yeah, the car. Dad spotted the Franklin in farmer Harold Green’s field on the west side of Route 22A in Addison, Vermont. Being a Franklin and a boattail roadster to boot (Franklin’s official model designation is 11A Sport Runabout), he couldn’t not stop! It was being used, of all things, as a chicken coop. (No, not coupe.) Dad had to really twist Harold’s arm and part with $50 so Harold could build another chicken coop.

Gypson's 1926 Franklin 11A Sport Runabout
Ken Sr., Anne and 3-year-old Ken Jr, in the Franklin

Dad was able to drive the car home to Essex Junction. I’m guessing that there are Gypson, Rice, and Galbraith stories long lost on that trip. When he got the Franklin home it just needed tires and a tune up. As I’ve written in the past, Keith Marvin drove it to New York when we moved to the Albany area. The engine was rebuilt by the last living (and legally blind) Franklin mechanic from the Troy Franklin Motor Sales Co., Inc.

Dad drove the car very little and had intentions of restoring it. Midgets and sprint cars got in the way. After dad’s passing I inherited the car. All I’ve done is put new tires on it, had the top and side curtains redone, and installed an electric fuel pump as a backup to the vacuum system. The car is insured, NYS inspected, and driven about 100 miles a year.

Editor’s note…
I hope you can see why we chose May of this year to feature the Franklin; our 70th year as the Vermont Automobile Enthusiasts! The ideas, hopes and dreams of that small group in 1953 was the beginning of this world class auto club we have today.

1926 Franklin 11A Sport boattail

More editor notes…

The Franklin auto company was located in Syracuse, NY and built cars from 1902 until 1934. Their total production was reported at 154,022 automobiles. It is also reported that about 3700 Franklins have survived to today.

The year our featured Franklin was built, a total of 7606 automobiles were built. The models included sedans, coupes, limos, cabriolets, and roadsters. A sixth model was a sport runabout, Nancy’ and Ken’s model.

The Franklin was a high-end automobile in its day. In 1926, a Chevy or a Dodge could be purchased for around $800, A Ford model T touring car sold for $290. The least expensive Franklin, according to the Lester-Steele Handbook, was the 5-passenger touring car that sold for $2635. Some say, this is the main reason the company did not surviving the depression.

The Franklin engine was the center of the brand’s importance, you see, they were allows air cooled. The 1903 engine, when the company began, was an air cooled, 4-cylinder, that produced 10 HP. By 1905, they were using 6-cylinder engines that produced 30HP.

From 1930 to 1934 their engines were producing 100HP. Nancy and Ken’s aluminum bodied car, weighs about 2500 pounds and is powered by a 25 HP air cooled engine. Franklin’s “very light” engines were also favorites for airplanes and helicopters and were used extensively during WWll. After the war, Preston Tucker purchased the Franklin engine patent, and added a water jacket for his line of automobiles. The air cooled engine lives on today, in Poland. The Polish government purchased the engine rights in 1975 and the design is used mainly in their helicopters.

Gary Fiske

1951 Mercury

Ken Gypson’s Journey with His Mercury Creation 

The old car hobby has many facets, maybe too many. Grandpa was into Maxwells, early Buicks and Pierce Arrows. Dad was into British sport cars, open wheel race cars (midgets and sprint cars) and Franklins and Packards.  Me? I’m into all of the above plus vintage stock cars and traditional Kustoms. 

1951 mercury hot rod back

The 49-51 Mercurys are the holy grail of traditional Kustoms. (Yes, with a “K” as coined by George Barris.) 

I bought mine in 1988 for $3,500. It was already a mild Kustom. Nosed, decked and shaved. (Nosed – hood ornaments removed, decked – trunk emblems removed, shaved – all other non-essential trim and latches removed.) It had a modified ’51 Merc grill that I immediately replaced with a shortened ’55 DeSoto grill. Door handles were removed and replaced with ’57 Plymouth trunk locks. I also “frenched” the head lights (no outside trim rings). Shortly thereafter the stock flathead went south. In the course of a rebuild the flathead was bored 40 over, given dual Stromberg 97carbs, a Chevy 283 distributor and a one wire alternator upgraded to 12 volt negative ground. 

While the engine was out for machine work, I got the crazy idea to chop the top. I had no idea the task I created for myself. I took a perfectly good car and whacked it 5 and a half inches! 

1951 mercury hot rod paintjob

With such a radical lowering I had to get a donor ’50 Merc for the rear window. The ’51 window has a 90 degree corner and would have been 2” below the fender line. The ’50 is rounded and worked perfectly. 

I also slanted the door posts and removed the drip moldings over the rear quarter windows, and installed a ’49 Merc dashboard with brand new VDO gauges. I drove the Merc in enamel and lacquer primer until 2018. During this time I also installed a MSD electronic distributor and adapted a Chevy S-10 5 speed overdrive tranny to the flathead. 

1951 mercury interior

It was time to refresh the Merc. I was also determined to finally get an interior done up for it. All those years it had late Chrysler seats and NO other interior. My friend, Dave, and I took the ’51 Merc interior seats and panels from a local junk yard to Labaron Bonney 2 days before they closed their doors. The shop manager took the seats home with her and did a great job in her home shop. 

Dave and I stripped the car and did whatever minor body work was needed to paint it. We flush mounted the skirts and had a body shop friend shoot the car in SEM Products Hot Rod Black. It took 3 months to put back together and install the beautiful black and red Naugahyde interior. 

I now have at least 6 times the amount of money into the Merc than what I paid for it! And, I only got to drive it one day before the snow came! 

1951 mercury flathead