1948 Tucker 48 Torpedo Sedan

This price can be explained by the “ABC” factor-Aging Billionaire Collector. Such buyers can’t wait another 20 years, so they pay whatever it costs

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Preston Tucker’s promise of “the first completely new car in 50 years” struck a chord in the hearts of the public in 1948 and again with the release of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1988 movie.

Although his company produced just 51 cars, Tucker’s legacy is much larger. Tucker was close to the innovative Harry Miller, so while the Big Three were face-lifting prewar models in 1946, Preston Tucker produced an entirely new car.

Tucker acquired the enormous Dodge aircraft engine plant in Chicago, built two full-size clay mockups and selected the best features from each one. A metal prototype, affectionately dubbed the Tin Goose, was unveiled on June 19, 1947.

Tucker’s own 589-ci flat-6 engine proved noisy, underpowered, and required multiple batteries to start, so his engineers adapted the 335-ci Franklin helicopter engine. Their water-cooled version produced 166 hp and delivered 372 ft-lb of torque, while weighing a mere 322 pounds.

Tucker had the lightest engine on the market, producing one horsepower for every two pounds of weight, yet despite value engineering, the aircraft-quality unit was expensive. The average price of the 91 engines delivered through August 1948 was $1,481, while the projected base retail price for the whole car was only $2,450.

By spring, Tucker 48s began rolling off the assembly line. An automatic transmission was not ready, so transmissions were taken from used Cords and rebuilt. Gears were preselected with a miniature gated lever mounted on the steering column and then engaged by depressing the clutch pedal. The planned disc brakes became Bendix drums, but nonetheless, reviews from automobile magazines praised the car.

Then the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Tucker of mail fraud, and the company’s stock fell overnight. Preston Tucker operated with a skeleton crew until March 1949, when the corporation’s assets were seized. Although he was ultimately acquitted, the damage was irreversible.

According to historical records, s/n 1038 was completed on October 25, 1948, finished in Moss Green. The car was in inventory without a transmission when the company entered receivership. At some point, a correctly modified Cord transmission was installed.

By 1971, s/n 1038 was in the hands of Bill Goodwin of Indiana, who had the car restored by Tucker expert Bill Hamlin in Canada. In January 1974, William E. Beard, of Albany, Georgia, purchased it at auction. In February 1989, the car was sold to an owner, who began a second restoration in early 1997. He exhibited it at a Southern California concours in 2005 and the 3,017-mile car collected a Best of Show award.

The engine was dynamometer-tested at 154.9 hp. At the same time, the Cord electric preselector transmission was restored, including its vacuum/electric shift mechanism. The car was sold by RM at its Monterey auction in 2006 for a then-record price of $577,500. It was featured at the Tucker Club of America Convention in June 2008, and there is a YouTube video of the car being driven.
Number 1038 included both the factory AM radio and a set of new-old-stock luggage. Cosmetically, the car is nearly new, with excellent paintwork and panel fit and superior brightwork. The underbody is clean and detailed. The correct tan interior is near new.

One of only 51 built and the realization of one man’s dream to revolutionize the automotive industry, there is perhaps no better example of the marque.

John Apen

John Apen - SCM Contributor

John holds degrees in engineering and operations research from the University of California-Berkeley, New York University, and Johns Hopkins. He vintage raced a Ferrari TdF for 13 years and has been restoring old cars for nearly 50 years. He owned the Atlanta Ferrari-Maserati dealership, FAF, for 17 years. He’s always had an affinity for obscure American cars, and in high school, he drove a 1936 Packard convertible coupe, followed by a 1949 Olds Holiday hardtop that got him through college. Today his garage includes 11 cars, including a Top Flight 1960 Corvette he’s owned since day one, a 1957 T-Bird, and several vintage Ferraris. His automotive library contains over 5,000 magazines and books and 1,800 auction catalogs. He has contributed to SCM since 1996.

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