One of the world's largest collections of luxury Franklins, a high-end automobile that came to prominence in the early 1900s, can be found in midtown Tucson.
The Franklin Auto Museum sits on 4 1/2 acres in the largely unpaved Richland Heights West neighborhood.
It houses 23 vehicles in three buildings and has been open to the public during the city's cooler months since 1992.
The cars reflect the opulent tastes of America's upper class before the Great Depression.
The Franklin Automobile Co., which was based in Syracuse, N.Y., produced more than 150,000 cars between 1902 and 1934.
"Doctors and lawyers purchased these cars," said Duane "Sparky" Johnsen, curator of collections. "People with influence and affluence. The average model cost as much as a new house."
The museum, set to reopen for the fall on Oct. 17, sits on land once owned by the Hubbard family.
Thomas H. Hubbard was a longtime Tucsonan and a crackerjack car restorer and collector who grew up around Franklins.
His father, Bela Hubbard worked as a geologist in charge of developing oil fields in South America.
After moving to Tucson from New York in the 1940s, the family owned several interests, including a cement block factory on the west side of town.
"They definitely had money," Johnsen said.
Thomas, who came to Southern Arizona years before his parents for health reasons, earned a degree in mining engineering from the University of Arizona, but his passion for fixing up Franklins took him on a different path.
He began rebuilding cars, first for himself, then for others at the family's residence on Kleindale Road.
He soon built a solid reputation among enthusiasts.
William Harrah, founder of Harrah's Hotels and Casinos, bought more than 20 cars from Hubbard over the years.
"He would build cars for big collectors who had more bucks than time," Johnsen said.
Today, the museum -maintained by the Thomas H. Hubbard/H.H. Franklin Foundation - includes Franklins from Hubbard's personal collection, some acquired from as far away as England.
The cars sit side by side in rows, surrounded by framed advertisements and cases packed with gas caps, hood ornaments, vehicle plates and sales manuals.
Included in the collection is a 1931 Dietrich Town Car that Johnsen believes belonged to Franklin company founder H.H. Franklin.
The stately black vehicle has a covered passenger seat, but no top for the driver, as well as functional exterior coach lights.
"That's a real town car, not like the Lincoln that is being sold today," Johnsen said. "The design came from the horse-and-buggy industry. The driver just had to sit there out in the weather."
Another standout is a three-tone tan Series 1600 V12 Sport Phaeton that Hubbard built from scratch, using blueprints.
"These cars don't exist anymore," Johnsen said. "But Tom said, 'I've got all the parts and the blueprints; let's just do it.' That was the type of guy he was."
Hubbard specialized in Franklins that dated back to 1925, but the foundation has acquired several vehicles since his death in 1993 that were made as early as 1910.
Johnsen said the museum attracts visitors from around the world.
"I had a man call from Germany not too long ago to tell me he was coming to America specifically to see this museum," he said.
If you go
The Franklin Auto Museum
• Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays Oct. 17 through Memorial Day.
• Where: 1405 E. Kleindale Road. The entrance is on North Vine Avenue.
• Admission: $5.
• More: 326-8038 or franklinmuseum.org