Driving 9300 miles across America in my grandfather’s 1919 Franklin Series 9 Touring

Courtesy Jim Eby

My grandfather was born and lived his life on a northern Indiana dairy farm. In 1919, he and his brother, my Uncle Willis, bought their first car—a 1919 Franklin Series 9 Touring—for $3000.

The car included the famous air-cooled 25-hp six-cylinder engine and was capable of a sustained 40-mph cruise. My grandmother was aghast at the purchase price and would only refer to his pride and joy as “That Three Thousand Dollar Car.” In 1928, Uncle Willis drove it to Los Angeles and back to visit cousins. A year later, they retired the Franklin, and it became the farm utility vehicle.

In 1936, Grandpa decided it was time for the Franklin to go. My 9-year-old father had other ideas and begged Grandpa to save the car for him. Grandpa relented and put it on blocks until Dad became driving age. Dad then proceeded to drive the Franklin daily to high school and college.

1919 Franklin vintage image
Courtesy Jim Eby
1919 Franklin vintage photo
Courtesy Jim Eby

In 1948, he purchased a new Ford, and the trusty Franklin was again retired to weekend use. I then spent 60 years lusting after it until Dad reluctantly gifted it to me. Having total faith in the car’s reliability, I immediately drove it from Indiana to my home in Florida.

One of Jay Leno’s reviews of the Pebble Beach Concours introduced me to the concept of a “survivor” class. The Franklin was a perfect candidate, so I submitted my 2018 application—promising that if accepted, I would drive the car from Florida to Monterey. I was promptly rejected. Unfazed, and upon learning there was a Concours d’Lemons scheduled for the very same Pebble Beach week, I forwarded a similar application. I was promptly accepted!

1919 Franklin jay leno speaks
Courtesy Jim Eby

Had I really just committed to driving a 99-year-old family car from Tampa to Monterey and back? After much consideration, my wife Therese and I decided even that was too easy, so we revised our route to take us north to Lake Superior, then west through the northern Rockies, then to San Francisco, and finally to Monterey.

I drove and Therese navigated. Interstate highways were out of the question for this trip, so we opted for the prettiest back roads whenever possible. Our daily plan was to cover about 225 miles, with at least two sightseeing stops. We loaded our camping gear into the same running-board trunk Uncle Willis used for his 1928 trip and filled the back seat with the rest of our stuff, and the adventure began.

1919 Franklin camping out
Jim and Therese Eby covered 9300 miles over 2.5 months in the family Franklin, hitting three Concours d’Lemons along the way. Courtesy Jim Eby

Driving an open car on less-traveled roads at low speeds is wonderful. You see and experience so much more along the way. In Georgia, for instance, we stopped beside the road to take a look at an interesting water wheel. The owner came out to invite us in for a closer look. In Michigan, we had a wheel failure, and while I was replacing it, a trucker stopped to lend a hand and then shared a pizza with us. In Montana, we stopped at a small town’s car museum, only to find it closed. A gentleman walked over from a neighboring business with the keys. He let us in and gave us a personal tour.

The stories like this are endless. The trip, however, was not, and with three days to spare, we rolled down California Highway 1 and into Monterey. Goal achieved!

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