If I had a wayback machine, I can think of no one I would more like to buy a beer for than Preston Tucker


The name Tucker strikes a chord in the heart of every true car enthusiast. One of the final hand-built models to roll off the line, Tucker no. 1043 is probably the last car to be fully restored out of 47 total Tuckers remaining today. Upon completion of its restoration in 2003, it made its first public appearance at the Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance, where it captured the "Innovation Through Leadership Award." The car is in absolutely exceptional overall condition, essentially flawless and in better than new condition, arguably the best restored Tucker in existence.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1948 Tucker 48
Years Produced:1948
Number Produced:51 (includes cars completed after plant closing)
Original List Price:$2,450 (projected)
SCM Valuation:$250,000-$350,000
Tune Up Cost:$2,500
Distributor Caps:$225
Chassis Number Location:on a data plate on the firewall
Engine Number Location:on front of the bell housing, stamped on top of the block
Club Info:Tucker Automobile Club of America, 9509 Hinton Dr, Santee, CA 92071
Alternatives:1948 Tasco (1 built), 1958-1963 Dual Ghia, 1951-1954 Muntz Jet
Investment Grade:A

This 1948 Tucker 48 sold for $495,000 at the RM Arizona auction, January 23, 2004.
There is a short list of celebrated figures in the automobile business I would have liked to have met and known, but sadly, most of them have long since passed away. Just imagine Walter P. Chrysler showing off the Airflow, or spending a few days with Sir Henry Royce or Ettore Bugatti talking engineering, or Fred and August Duesenberg telling racing
secrets now lost to history. All great stuff indeed. But if I had a wayback machine, I can think of no one I would more like to buy a beer for than Preston Tucker.
Six feet tall, handsome and a sharp dresser, at various times in his life Tucker was an office boy at Cadillac, a policeman, a race car builder, an inventor, a salesman, and a defense contractor, as well as an automobile manufacturer. He also managed to become one of the most talked-about, controversial, and colorful characters of the mid-20th century.
As an office boy, Tucker impressed by putting on roller skates and
delivering the intra-office mail quicker than anyone else-until he turned a blind corner on his skates, directly into his boss. As a police officer in a Detroit suburb, Tucker assembled an impressive record of bringing in bootleggers running booze from Canada. He got into hot water on that job for punching a hole in the firewall of an unheated squad car to run heat off the manifold.
Tucker built successful race cars with legendary constructor Harry A. Miller, and was the father of the Tucker Tiger, a crossbreed of a Jeep, a tank and a race car, a vehicle able to go an unheard-of 118 mph. Though rejected by the military, its
innovative turret top became the basis for those used in World War II aircraft. Ypsilanti Machine and Tool Company, owned by Tucker, produced many of the turrets.
Tucker once took a dog in trade on a car deal, earning him a reputation as one of the original “outside the box” thinkers, a reputation that would lead to jobs with Studebaker, Ford, Stutz, Chrysler, and Pierce-Arrow. A hustler all of his life, his reputation for going to almost any length to get a deal done would be not only his greatest asset, but would also lead to his eventual downfall.
Long before the end of World War II, Tucker set about acquiring a lease on one of the largest buildings under a single roof, the 93-acre Dodge Cicero Avenue plant on the South Side of Chicago. Used to build B-29 aircraft motors for the war effort, it became surplus when hostilities ceased. Tucker’s dream was to build an entirely new car there, one that would encompass not only radical styling but also the latest in technology and safety, at an affordable price. The advertising tag line, “The first completely new car in fifty years,” was telling in many ways.
The distinctive looking, rear-engined fastback was developed by Tucker, along with automotive stylist and designer Alex Tremulis of Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg fame. The prototype, affectionately nicknamed “The Tin Goose” by workers, was built in just 100 days. Because of a wartime lack of modeling clay, it was made of steel, largely by hand.
The Tucker was to be powered by a massive 589-ci, horizontally opposed, six-cylinder aluminum motor with fuel injection. Rather than employ a gearbox, torque converters were connected to the drive wheels opposite the motor. An all-independent suspension had a disc brake at every wheel, and a 24-volt electrical system was used. Safety features included a center-mounted headlight that turned with the steering wheel, a pop-out windshield, a padded dash, and a safety zone in front of the passenger seat where occupants could dive in the event of an impending collision.
The biggest problem came from the big boxer six, which was inadequate to propel the heavy, torque-converter-equipped car, as it made less than 100 horsepower. The motor was replaced with a 335-ci helicopter unit, produced by Air Cooled Motors of Syracuse, NY. Tucker bought Air Cooled to secure as many motors as he projected he’d need for production. The torque converters were scrapped, and the first Tucker cars used an electronic pre-select transmission that last saw use on pre-war 810 and 812 series Cords. (“Last saw use” is not used here as a euphemism, as Tucker and his men found themselves buying used Cords throughout the country and scrapping them for their transmissions.)
The helicopter motor proved to be a wise choice, as after conversion to water-cooling, it proved to be sturdy and powerful, making 166 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. Tuckers could be driven at speeds over 120 mph. But an article in a contemporary edition of The Chicago Tribune mentioned that the prototype had no reverse gear. This was true of the test car, but not for the production models, yet the rumor persisted. Old-timers will still occasionally ask owners how they find driving a car that can’t back up.
As you might expect of any small manufacturer, many parts for the Tucker were lifted directly from other production models. Items such as door handles and window cranks were Detroit-sourced, likely a few pieces at a time. The steering wheel was a modified Lincoln Zephyr unit. I recently saw a parts interchange list with some more contemporary exchanges, including someone who has replaced the rear window of their car with Ford Pinto back glass.
Los Angeles-based Kinmont was to provide disc brakes for the production cars, but in reality that did not happen. Seat belts were abandoned because of fears the public would perceive them as something necessary in this car only, leading people to believe the Tucker was unsafe. But many features, like the pop-out windshield, the center headlight, and the padded dash and safety zone stayed in the production car.
Ultimately, the Tucker story ends with the company falling into receivership after an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, one that failed to convict
Preston Tucker of anything. Even so, the bad publicity was enough to end his dreams of revolutionizing the auto industry.
The Tucker 48 pictured here was sold new at the Tucker bankruptcy auction to a Fred Paris of the Paris Food Brokerage. At the time of its sale, it was without a transmission. Paris had a Cord unit installed, and drove it for a reported 18,000 miles before selling it to a used car dealer. It passed through the hands of several other owners until restoration was begun in 2002.
Tuckers are not easy or inexpensive to restore. Although some parts do exist, many that would be necessary to complete a comprehensive restoration would certainly need to be built by hand. Recent Tucker sales have tended to be in the $250,000-$350,000 range, with lower prices for incomplete or modified cars.
Pricey at $495,000, even for a freshly restored example, car #1043 most likely rang the bell on Tucker prices for quite some time. During the hypermarket of 15 years ago they routinely went for this kind of money, so perhaps the new owner has the historical perspective, and the bucks, to hang on for the ride.
Somewhere, in a place far away, Preston Tucker is laughing. I’d like him to know that he has a cold one waiting at my house.
-Dave Kinney
(Historical and descriptive information courtesy of the auction company.)u

Comments are closed.