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Thread: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    1948 Tucker Torpedo

    The word on Preston Tucker is that he was either a hopelessly naive dreamer or a con man -- or a combination of both. His dream of playing ball with GM, Ford and Chrysler never panned out, in any case -- and his "car of the future" was only built for one year, 1948. Creditors quickly closed in and that was it for Preston Tucker. He died a broken man less than eight years later, on December 26, 1956 -- at the age of 53.

    Still, the 50 or so '48 Tuckers actually built were truly something special -- and in several key respects, a harbinger of things to come, especially as regards safety equipment.

    Many of the then-new features installed on each Tucker Torpedo -- including safety glass, seat belts and a padded dashboard -- were many years ahead of their time. It wasn't until the 1960s that the Big Three began outfitting their cars with seat belts, for example. (It had been the received wisdom of the ages that seat belts in cars implied the cars were not safe.)

    The Tucker also had large protective bumpers and its interior knobs and controls were rounded off to limit the potential injury to occupants in a crash. There was even a reinforced "Safety Chamber" in the front footwell area, where driver and front seat passenger could dive "in case of impending collision." That feature, of course, was never adopted by other automakers. But the Tucker's pop-out safety glass was a true life-saver. And its clever modular/removable seats, which could be moved from front to rear to even out wear -- anticipated the idea of fold-away/fold-down/stowable seats that are commonplace in minivans and other vehicles today.

    The Tucker's unusual drivetrain anticipated the Chevy Corvair by more than a decade in having a lightweight aluminum engine mounted over the rear wheels for improved traction and handling. But unlike the economy-oriented (and equally luckless) Corvair, the Tucker, with six cylinders and 166-hp to work with, was actually pretty fast -- capable of 120-mph top speeds and 0-60 runs in the 10-second range. For the late 1940s, this was astonishing performance. Its 20 mpg highway fuel economy capability was equally impressive for the day -- and not too far off the mark for a modern full-size sedan.

    While the horizontally-opposed/rear-engined layout was similar to the Corvair's in general terms, the Tucker's enormous converted helicopter engine was huge, displacing 335 cubic inches -- or comparable to a small block Chevy V-8. It was also converted to water-cooling from the original air-cooled design. The Corvair, meanwhile, had an engine half that size -- 144 and then later 164 cubic inches -- and it was designed from the get-go as an automotive powerplant. However, the Tucker's big six still only weighed about 320 pounds fully dressed -- light enough that two reasonably strong men could remove it by hand for servicing. The engine also featured an industry-first sealed cooling system. Other cars of the era -- and for many years to come -- would drip coolant onto the road from heat expansion, necessitating regular checks and top-offs (as well as leaving toxic little puddles in the driveway).

    Another very forward-thinking feature of the '48 Tucker was the car's signature center-mounted "cyclops" headlight that turned with the steering wheel -- an idea that is just now being emulated (albeit with modern electronics) some 50 years after the Torpedo's debut.

    The Tucker's chassis was equally prescient. In addition to fully-boxed perimeter-style subframes front and rear, the Torpedo also featured a four-wheel independent suspension system at a time when virtually every car on the road used a solid rear axle and leaf springs. All-independent suspensions would not become common on anything other than high-performance sports cars for another 40-something years. Unfortunately, the disc brakes envisioned by Preston Tucker never made it to production. But here again, the car was taking generational leaps in terms of design. As recently as the late 1970s, disc brakes were still fairly rare -- 30 years after Preston Tucker proposed them for his car.

    The Torpedo's highly aerodynamic (.30 drag coefficient) and instantly recognizable low-slung/fastback exterior shape was penned by stylist Alex Tremulis. The car was low (just 60 inches off the ground), wide and very long (219 inches), with integrated pontoon-style fenders and doors that were cut into the roofline to provide more room for entry and exit.

    No one can say the car didn't make it because it was ugly -- or because it wasn't well-designed. It was -- and still is -- a stunning piece of work that can be compared favorably with the Studebaker Avanti or even the Cord 810 in terms of both its clean sheet aesthetics and the original thinking behind its design.

    Ultimately, what did in the Tucker was the same thing that's put the kibosh on just about every attempt by a newcomer since the pre-war era to launch a new car or new car company -- sketchy finances. Preston Tucker over-promised -- and got over-extended, prematurely issuing $15 million in stock that led to a highly publicized investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and from there to a hugely damaging trial on 31 counts of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. Tucker and seven of his associates were eventually acquitted, but the negative publicity of the trial soured the public and doomed the Tucker. The company and all its assets were later sold at auction for less than 20 cents on the dollar.

    GM and Ford have economies of scale on their side. They can buy steel and tires and other things in huge quantities -- and for much lower prices -- than a small upstart like Preston Tucker. They can afford to crash test a hundred brand new cars just to test a new design. Preston Tucker was barely able to build two-thirds that many finished cars -- period.

    You can build a better mousetrap -- but you can't do it successfully without being cost-competitive. That was the part they never explained in the movie about Preston Tucker starring Jeff Bridges in the title role -- which blamed an evil cabal of Detroit's Big Three colluding with corrupt Michigan politicos for the Tucker's demise. GM and Ford may not have been happy about Tucker -- the man or his car. But it wasn't necessary to resort to mafioso tactics to send both to sleep with the fishes. Alessandro DeTomaso (or John DeLorean) could tell you the same thing.

    Back in 1948, Preston Tucker expected to sell his car for about $4,000 -- comparable to the Cadillacs of the era. Today, it'll cost you well into the six figures to acquire one -- if, that is, you can find an owner willing to part with a piece of automotive history and four-wheeled reminder of what almost was but didn't quite make it.

    END

  2. #2
    MikeHalloran
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    Re: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

    Nice writeup.

    One small correction: All Corvairs had six cylinders.


  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

    Quote Originally Posted by MikeHalloran
    Nice writeup.

    One small correction: All Corvairs had six cylinders.

    Doh!

    A typo, I assure you! I owned a '64 - and yep, all 'Vairs did have six cylinder boxer engines.. thanks for the catch!

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    Re: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

    >>GM and Ford have economies of scale on their side. They can buy steel and tires and other things in huge quantities -- and for much lower prices -- than a small upstart like Preston Tucker. They can afford to crash test a hundred brand new cars just to test a new design. Preston Tucker was barely able to build two-thirds that many finished cars -- period. <<

    I was a teen ager back then and to me, that car had it all compared to the offerings available from the conventional car companies. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see how advanced the Tucker was.
    For the whole story, check this out:
    http://www.hfmgv.org/exhibits/showroom/1948/tucker.html

  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Rose
    >>GM and Ford have economies of scale on their side. They can buy steel and tires and other things in huge quantities -- and for much lower prices -- than a small upstart like Preston Tucker. They can afford to crash test a hundred brand new cars just to test a new design. Preston Tucker was barely able to build two-thirds that many finished cars -- period. <<

    I was a teen ager back then and to me, that car had it all compared to the offerings available from the conventional car companies. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see how advanced the Tucker was.
    For the whole story, check this out:
    http://www.hfmgv.org/exhibits/showroom/1948/tucker.html
    Good stuff - thanks!

    You're fortunate to have "been there" for stuff like this; I sometimes think I missed the best years this country had to offer - and only got the handful toward theend - just enough to know how shitty things have become and are becoming!

  6. #6
    mrblanche
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    Re: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

    The question is, have you ever seen a real Tucker, in person?

    I have, in the Bill Smith Museum in Lincoln, NE.

  7. #7
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

    "The question is, have you ever seen a real Tucker, in person?"

    Yes, years ago. It was much bigger than I expected from the pictures. I did not get to sit in it, though - much less take it out for a drive!

  8. #8
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    Re: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

    >>You're fortunate to have "been there" for stuff like this; I sometimes think I missed the best years this country had to offer - and only got the handful toward theend - just enough to know how shitty things have become and are becoming! <<

    I really think that Tucker was screwed over because he was light years ahead in technology and would have caused a major revolt against the big 3 amongst the buying public.
    The world is flat group just couldn't stand a big hit like that right after WW II

  9. #9
    mrblanche
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    Re: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

    Maybe. But the Tucker was a really oddball car. Did it have some good ideas? Undoubtedly. Did they deserve to see the light of day? Those that did, have.

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    Re: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

    >>But the Tucker was a really oddball car. Did it have some good ideas? Undoubtedly. Did they deserve to see the light of day? Those that did, have.<<

    And which ideas have never been used?

  11. #11
    mrblanche
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    Re: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

    Well, I would say a rear-mounted air-cooled engine... but Corvair did that, didn't it?

    A center-mounted steering connected headlight? Didn't some French car do that?

    By the by, the Tucker is technically named the "Tucker 48." "Tucker Torpedo" was only the working name, and no cars were produced with that name.

    Here's the car I saw:

    http://www.tuckerclub.org/html/displ...r_number=1024&




  12. #12
    Senior Member Mase's Avatar
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    Re: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

    Here's another one..............



    A man's greatest mistake is to think he is working for somebody else.

  13. #13
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

    Quote Originally Posted by mrblanche
    Well, I would say a rear-mounted air-cooled engine... but Corvair did that, didn't it?

    A center-mounted steering connected headlight? Didn't some French car do that?

    By the by, the Tucker is technically named the "Tucker 48." "Tucker Torpedo" was only the working name, and no cars were produced with that name.

    Here's the car I saw:

    http://www.tuckerclub.org/html/displ...r_number=1024&



    The center-mounted light didn't move.

    It was in the planning stages, but it's one of many things that the bean counters nixed.

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