Patrick Ernzen ©2014, courtesy of RM Auctions
Patrick Ernzen ©2014, courtesy of RM Auctions

Chassis 1036 (RM Auctions)

A factory report dated October 28, 1948, held in the Tucker archives at the Gilmore Car Museum, indicates that chassis number 1036 had been completed on October 20, with body number 33 and engine number 33585. It was one of a dozen cars painted Maroon (paint code 600). No transmission was listed, as it is believed that this was one of more than a dozen Tuckers that remained unfinished and were waiting for transmissions when the factory closed. This is confirmed by the final factory inventory, dated March 3, 1949, which shows the car being in factory building number four with no transmission and having a price/value of $2,000.

Along with the other cars, chassis number 1036 was eventually completed by faithful Tucker employees somewhat “off the record.” On October 18, 1950, this car, along with the other Tuckers built and all the other contents of the factory, went to auction at a sale conducted by Samuel L. Winternitz and Company, which took place on site at 7401 South Cicero Avenue. The car is believed to have been sold to the St. Louis area, where it was finally outfitted with a transmission and made roadworthy.

In 1997, the Tucker was acquired by Bob Pond. For a decade, it remained as the centerpiece of his legendary collection, spending many years on prominent display at the Palm Springs Air Museum.

To acquire one of the most legendary American cars is a rare opportunity. To acquire one with such well-known and utterly fascinating history is especially priceless. The saying remains as true today as in 1948: “Don’t Let a Tucker Pass You By.”

This 1948 Tucker 48, chassis 1036, Lot 140, sold for $1,567,500, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Monterey Auction on August 15, 2014.

Chassis 1003 (Gooding & Company)

While America’s “Big Three” manufacturers concentrated on producing lightly updated pre-war models to meet the incredible pent-up demand for new automobiles in the immediate aftermath of World War II, smaller independent manufacturers and brash startups launched bold, new designs. Successful industrialist Preston Tucker remains the most famous of all, with his drive to revolutionize the auto industry with his radical Tucker “Torpedo,” known as the “48.”

Not only is car 1003 the third example built and the first fitted with the rubber-sandwich suspension, it is one of the 12 Model 48s originally finished in maroon. It is also the first Tucker equipped with a revised front bumper providing improved frontal protection and the redesigned rear fenders providing easier rear-wheel removal.

This 1948 Tucker 48, chassis 1003, Lot 49, sold for $2,035,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach Auction on August 16, 2014.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:Tucker vs. Tucker
Years Produced:1948
Number Produced:51 (47 survive)
Original List Price:$2,450
Tune Up Cost:$2,500
Distributor Caps:$225
Chassis Number Location:Data plate on firewall
Engine Number Location:Front of bellhousing, stamped on top of block
Club Info:The Tucker Automobile Club of America
Alternatives:1932 Bucciali TAV 12, 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow, 1938 Phantom Corsair
Investment Grade:A

The 1988 Francis Ford Coppola film, “Tucker: The Man and His Dream,” made millions of viewers experts on the Tucker marque.

Unfortunately, the film played a bit loose with some of the facts, but then again, Preston Tucker was accused of doing the same thing. Tucker was an experienced auto industry veteran with stints at Studebaker and Dodge — facts that are often overlooked when discussing his plight.

The car he launched in 1948 was indeed revolutionary and appealed to the war-weary, auto-starved public as the “car of the future.”

The curved windshield, disc brakes and “Torsiolastic” rubber springs seen on the prototype never made it into production, but the central “Cyclops-eye” headlight, doors that were cut into the roof to ease entry, a step-down floor and interchangeable front and rear seats that evened wear were incorporated into the production models.

Safety features included massive bumpers, recessed knobs, windshield glass that popped out upon impact, a padded dash and a safety chamber that front passengers could dive into during a collision. Many of these features were later incorporated in other production vehicles.

A short, turbulent run

As moviegoers are aware, only 50 cars were produced — plus the original “Tin Goose” prototype. Even at a price of close to $4,000, the prospects for the Tucker were bright, but it was not to be.

Conspiracy theories abound as to the reasons for the Tucker’s demise. One claims that Detroit automakers feared the Tucker 48, so they used their influence to sic the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tucker. The truth is that Tucker played a little fast and loose in issuing $15 million in stock to finance production.

The government had forbidden Tucker from collecting advance deposits on cars. So, Tucker required potential buyers to purchase an accessory package to get on the delivery queue. The accessory packages, which cost a couple hundred dollars, included luggage or seat covers, but all included a Tucker radio, which explains why so many of their radios still exist.

Most people who bought accessory packages never got a car.

Tucker had barely started production when the SEC accused him and his company of fraud.

Tucker and six associates were charged with 31 counts of conspiracy and mail fraud. All were acquitted in January 1950.

While Tucker had the funds to resume production after his acquittal, the damage had been done and the public was no longer interested in the Tucker 48. What was left of the Tucker empire was auctioned off at 18 cents on the dollar.

Rare and rising in value

The value of Tuckers has been steadily increasing. A decade ago, the $500k paid for chassis 1036 was a new record. More recently, a bid of $1,475,000 for chassis 1003 was not enough to meet reserve when RM offered the car at their March 2013 Amelia Island sale.

These two Tuckers sold for strong — but not record — prices, as Barrett-Jackson sold chassis 1043 for $2,915,000 at their January 2012 Scottsdale auction.

The Tucker offered by Gooding, chassis 1003, sold for $467,000 more than chassis 1036 at RM. The two cars sold on the Monterey Peninsula on the same weekend.

So, what happened?

The Gooding car, chassis 1003, was the third Tucker built and was once owned by famous movie director George Lucas, who was the executive producer for the Tucker film. It was displayed at Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch until 2005, when it was sold and an extensive restoration was undertaken.

Chassis 1036, on the other hand, was one of about a dozen Tuckers that were unfinished and awaiting transmissions when the factory closed. It was completed at a later date and sold at the liquidation sale that disposed of the remaining factory assets.

Chassis 1036, along with a second Tucker, ended up in the hands of “Smilin’ Charlie,” a Denver underworld character who was known, naturally, for never smiling. He had no interest in the cars, but they were accepted as a down payment on the Silver Star Saloon, a brothel in the town of Flippin, CO.

In 1997, chassis 1036 was acquired by Palm Springs resident Bob Pond, who was a major supporter of the Palm Springs Air Museum as well as a prominent car collector. The car was displayed at the museum with only 1,914 miles recorded. It had been restored in 1989 and wears an incorrect-but-attractive metallic bronze thought to be a 1966 Ford color.

Condition was key

Each of these Tuckers has unique attributes: 1003 was a true factory car, has the George Lucas connection and was impeccably restored, while 1036 has very limited mileage along with the interesting Silver Star Saloon story.

However, chassis 1036 wears an older restoration that is not on a par with chassis 1003, and that probably accounts for the price gap.

Chassis 1036 could be restored, if so desired, for less than the difference in the price paid, so we will give a slight nod to 1036. Compared with the record $2.9m price paid for chassis 1043 at Barrett-Jackson’s 2013 Scottsdale auction, both Monterey cars were acquired for reasonable figures. ♦

(Introductory descriptions courtesy of Gooding & Company and RM Auctions.)

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