Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tucker The Man and The Machine

Here is an interesting auto story about Preston Tucker. He started in the racing business working on Indianapolis 500 cars during the 1930's. Since WWII was in progress, he designing a armored combat car for the U.S. government. The car could reach over 115 mph (185 km/h), far in excess of the design specifications. The armored combat car was rejected by the government. Shown above is a rare example of Tucker Torpedo.
The U.S. Navy selected the highly mobile, power-operated gun turret the combat car featured earned the interest of the U.S. Navy. The Tucker Turret was soon in production... it was used in PT boats, landing craft, B-17 and B-29 bombers.
After the war, he had visions of building a advanced automobile superior to anything else on the road. He was able to get preliminary funding and production started on the 1948 Tucker Torpedo.

The technical features of the Tucker Torpedo were very innovative. A perimeter frame surrounded the vehicle for crash protection. General Motors in the in the 1980's came out with their "space frame" which is a similar design. The space frame design was used on the Saturn line of vehicles, and the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird. If this design had been used as a standard in the would have saved tens of thousands of lives. Currently, there are over 40,000 automobile related fatalities in the U.S. every year. GM subsequently discontinued the design due to cost and weight factors.
The Tucker engine was a flat-6 cylinder with hemispherical combustion chambers, fuel injection and overhead valves. These features would have been auto industry firsts in 1948. Most have become industry standards in the subsequent fifty years. The flat-6 has been a BMW engine design feature on their 3-series for decades....and does Hemi sound familiar.
The following features were left on the drawing board... magnesium wheels, disc brakes, and a direct-drive torque converter transmissions. One of the Tucker's most unusual features was a third headlight located directly in the center of the front facia. It was called the "Cyclops Eye", the light turned as the vehicle turned. This feature has just been re-introduced almost fifty years later...except both headlights turn rather than a center light.

One of Tucker's most innovative business ideas caused trouble for the company, however. His Accessories Program raised funds by selling accessories before the car was even in production. The SEC brought formal charges against Tucker and six other executives in 1949. It went to the jury in January 1950, and Tucker and the other executives were acquitted on all charges just seventeen hours later. However, Tucker Corporation, now without a factory, was no more. Only fifty one of the cars ended up being assembled before it was said and done.

To counteract the bad press, Tucker again took the cars on the road. He scheduled a two-week public test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a few of the cars that had been built. One car was rolled at 100 mph (160 km/h), and the driver walked away with just bruises. Public perception changed from outrage at Tucker's alleged misconduct to anger at the press and the government.

During the trouble Tucker faced while trying to promote his car and get it into production, he claimed that the "Big Three" automakers were deliberately attempting to sabotage his efforts, through the influence of Detroit Senator Homer Fergusion, who is commonly held responsible for initiating the SEC's pursuing of Tucker's business.

This is one of the saddest stories of the automobile business in the U.S. Tucker was a visionary, and an innovative entrepreneur. In fact, 1988 movie, Tucker: The Man and His Dream is based on the his story and production of the car. I would highly recommend the is quite entertaining and informative!

The great majority of the Tucker Torpedoes are in excellent condition. When the cars are sold at auction, which is rare, they command premium prices. The last Tucker sold was for the record-setting price of $1,017,500. The Tucker can be viewed at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles...they have a wonderful collection of classic cars! When you are in the Los Angeles area, it is well worth the trip.

My take on the Tucker is that is a car that should have been built! The big three auto manufacturers and the government were responsible for holding a innovative and forward thinking entrepreneur from improving cars for decades to come! The auto companies would have had to improve their products to compete....only recently have they come to that conclusion.

Information via Wikipedia!


  1. Hello Pete,

    I enjoyed the movie "Tucker". It is one of my most favorite today. I did not know Torpede was that innovative and many features became industrial standard later on.

    Big companies are always slow like big 3 you mentioned. We could have enjoyed the features adopted and planned by Tucker.

    Thank you for your informative post.
    Shaw Funami
    Fill the Missing Link

  2. Hi Pete .. sounds really interesting .. he seemed to be a visionary .. is the cyclops eye on the Vauxhall Insignia by chance? I haven't seen the movie .. but sounds an informative film.
    Seems like the big boys got him!

    Thanks .. I didn't know about Tucker ..
    All the best Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters

  3. Peter, maybe the the big 3 would be in better shape today if Tucker would have been able to produce the cars that he dreamed of. It is sad what they did to him, for there own greed. Thank you for this post. Very nice.
    Dan and Deanna "Marketing Unscrambled"

  4. Hi Shaw,

    Tucker is a very fascinating story! I moved up the post date since you made a comment on the Tucker!

    Your correct....large companies are slow in adopting new technology. This was an example of greed!

    This behavior actually cost the U.S. companies market share and profits, as companies from other countries imported better cars.

    Thank you for your great comments!

    Pete Baca
    The Car Enthusiast Online

  5. Hello Hilary,

    The movie is a fascinating film, I think you would enjoy it! The big boys did get him...although I think in the end they did themselves a disservice.

    Where would these companies be now if they had decided that innovation should be a key business principle? They would have better market share and profits!

    Thanks for your comments!

    Pete Baca
    The Car Enthusiast Online

  6. Hi Dan & Deanna,

    Your comment is right on target! One of the problems with the U.S. auto industry is that they have put short term corporate interests over the interests of the country and the people.

    Yes, they burned Tucker! They also burned a lot of everyday people. Thousands of people could have been saved by the safety features...Detroit fought these safety features for years.

    They also burned themselvles long they reap what they soe! Then they wonder why a lot of Americans will not buy their cars! U.S. auto companies have been so mismanaged over the years that it is a travesty!

    Thanks for your comments!

    Pete Baca
    The Car Enthusiast