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Tucker 48: The Story of Preston Tucker and the Tucker Torpedo

Today’s feature contains a pair of videos of short films produced for the Public Relations Department of the Tucker Corporation. Part I of Tucker “The Man and the Car” tells of his early life experiences and his connections with automobiles.

The knowledge Tucker learned earlier led up to him designing the 1936 Tucker military “Combat Car,” which was capable of speeds as high as 100 mph and is covered in the film. This machine was equipped with both a “Tucker Turret” and also a machine gun of his own design. The last half of the film covers the introduction of the new “Tucker 48”, and some of the details of how the Tucker car was designed, styled and constructed.

  • Tucker test car that rolled over three times at 95 mph and was able to be driven away after a tire change. It is reported in the film that the driver only suffered one scratch and the “48’s” structure remained intact. 

Part II begins with his connection with racing car designer and builder Harry Miller, and the “Preston Tucker Rear Engine Special” race car. Testing of the “Tucker 48” follows on the Indianapolis 500 Race Track plus scenes of the car out on country roads that lead up to coverage of the futurist automobile’s safety and the results of a rollover crash. The remainder of the film tells of Tucker’s accomplishments and views of his cars out on the road and race track in action.

Parts I and II of Tucker “The man and the car” are both well worth the time to observe unique period footage of Preston Tucker, and the design and construction of the “Tucker 48.” In addition there are scenes of the car being put through its paces during testing out on the road and at the famous Indianapolis 500 race track.

15 responses to “Tucker 48: The Story of Preston Tucker and the Tucker Torpedo

  1. Meh, sorry, a lot of hype about this car, I never quite understood why. Neat videos, love the music. It was as if American’s, freshly out of a world war, were bombarded by all these new features in one car, and I feel, was too much. All most folks wanted, and could afford, was a new, basic Ford. I see the engine showed, was the liquid cooled version, and the air cooled 6 never made it to production, a huge loss for Tucker( these videos and a detailed thread on the engines were outlined in OM on Oct. 10, 2011) I think the “Combat Car” was on the right track, not sure why it had to go 100mph( “step on it, private”,,, “yes sir, General”) as newer military Hummers do about 70mph. In short, it shows what the “little guy”, even though, Tucker was by no means “little”, can do against overwhelming odds ( in this case, the Big 3) but like most designers, they don’t live in the same world as us, ( except maybe Brooks Stevens, and many of his ideas were scrapped as well) and history has shown, many tried to give us a new car after the war, but in the end, you just couldn’t get people to buy whatever dad bought, and that was GM, Ford, and Chrysler. ( and maybe a Studebaker)

      • Hi David, no need, really, as this “innernet” thing takes us right to it. While researching items, several times OM comes up.
        Quick edit on above comment, it was hard to sell a new type of car BECAUSE people usually bought what dad drove. I suppose one could ask, “where are all the “Preston Tuckers, Powell Crosleys, and Brooks Stevens” today? ( I’ll admit, I’ve been listening to Lee Iacocca) I think they are around, except our focus has changed. Back then, cars were the most advanced product, and the field was wide open for ideas. I think they’ve done just about everything we can do to a car ( except propulsion, for some odd reason) and now those folks are inventing new cell phones,,,and such.

  2. One of Tucker’s promotion efforts was to raise money by selling seat covers to the public and a right to be placed on the Tucker new car production list. In c. 1946 my father signed up for a $500 set of set covers and waited. He like so many others was enthused with the Tucker car. Sadly, he never saw the seat covers or the car and as a boy I learned a lesson in business.

  3. David, Just a fantastic film and information great post! Many years ago in the old Green field at Hershey a guy from western PA. would show up next to me every year in the middle of the night. One year we heard all this noise of unloading out of the back of his car. The next morning I awoke to a Tucker engine sitting on a tire for sale! Not sure where it went to but it went in a hurry! Thanks again David.

    • I remember seeing that engine at Hershey sometime in the early 70’s, I have a picture of it somewhere in the archives.

  4. In the mid 1960’s I saw two Tucker automobiles on an open flatbed trailer at a truck-stop in Silver City, New Mexico. As soon ass I saw the 3rd headlight I knew what they were. One was blue and one had a 1956 Arkansas license plate. That’s all I remember. I still own a 1949 Piper assembled Stinson Aircraft (NC4136C) model 108-3 with a Franklin engine (6A4-165-B3) manufactured in Syracuse New York by Aircooled Motors Inc. (A remaining convolution of the Franklin Motor Car Company). It is my understanding that Preston Tucker bought Aircooled Motors in 1948 for 1.5 million dollars and cancelled all the aviation contracts assuming they would need the facilities to manufacture some 50,000 automobile engines a year. This ultimately led to the demise of the Franklin aircraft engine which was certainly a competitive product to Continental and Lycoming. I’ve flown several hundred hours behind my Franklin engine and consider it to be reliable and smooth running although certainly different (quirky by today’s standards). Hard to find parts for also

  5. I found out about Tuckers thanks to that daily comic strip of just old cars that was later compiled into a paperback.
    What was that strips’ name?”Todd something-or-others Old car series.”I imagine it was a daily,one box comic strip.Ran back in the 60s and 70s.

    • You are thinking of “Auto Album” by Tad Burness. He hand drew each one. The compilation books are great. I have “Pickup and Van Spotter’s Guide.” Great reference guides before the internet. They contain both drawings by Tad and images clipped from sales bochures and ads.

  6. IF you were fortunate enough to have experienced being a passenger in a Tucker — just a passenger — then you would understand how special they really were, are, and will be, in the scheme of past, present, or future of automotive designs !!! they are that significant ! I have never been so impressed with anything on four wheels as that impressive vehicle !!! You name it— I have probably driven it, “passenged” in it, fixed it , or “lusted after it” and I stand by my conclusion of this Un-sung Hero Sedan — as being nothing short of amazing ! No wonder “The Big Four” saw it as such a severe threat! It really was. I have an early 30’s American 1-1/2 Ton truck and an American early 50’s sedan. Proud to own them! These are “avocation” vehicles that have withstood the tests of time. I have traded in my last American car for a reliable car that I know, — will not embarrass me to own it . Henry Ford and Charles Kettering, etcetera, are rolling over in their graves.

  7. As we all should know by now, PRODUCING an excellent car in high volume quantities and with high quality is far from easy. Mr. Tucker failed in this regard. The car was innovative as a whole and had some nice ideas and features, but probably would never stand up reliably with time. Where are all the remaining Tuckers (less than 45 I understand at present out of the precious 51). The majority are museum DO NOT TOUCH icons. Did ANY of them travel 100,000 miles in their lifetime? How well did they hold up? I have heard at least one believable story of a couple who actually toured their “48“ with some abandon. But I never read or saw any documentation in any of the classic auto publications about such a rare Tucker. So I say, Let bygones be bygones. Not much there to praise. I think the real luxury cars of 1948 still remain as Lincoln, Cadillac, Imperial and Packard.

    One thing I learned (I think I heard it correctly on the poor sound track). The “48 “ had a wheel base of 130 inches! Is that actually true? So, if true, it should have had a nice smooth ride. I wonder though how the rear seat passengers got along with that steady rumble and humming of the rear engine just inches behind their heads???? I heard a comment only once and it was not very kind.

    Have you studied the silly looking Levers with all having the identical shape (and feel) on the left side of the instrument panel? Now how is that a good design for a driver to adjust (presumably the ventilation, window defrosting and heating). You would have to take your eyes off the road to be sure you moved the desired lever since they are not what we now know should be “ergonomically“ designed with distinct shape or type of knob or size and placement. No one likes even a TV remote control that is simply a grid of same sized non-illuminated buttons.

    By the way, I heard the term “Air Conditioning“ in one of the films. Was there ever any actual refrigerated A/C installed in working fashion on any of the cars? What were their plans about true A/C offering (type and option price, factory installed or dealer installed, different engine cooling to handle the load, effect on fuel economy,etc.?).

    I think both films were filled with more or less meaningless boasting and a few nice highway scenes. The factory shots were mostly bogus as well as the cars demonstrated (just leisurely driven around for the camera) at Indy track (none at full speed or timed for real track performance). So, were these really high performance cars or not? No actual road handling demos shown. Even Ford Model T cars and later 1932 V8s were proudly shown in their early films handling terrible roads easily even loose dirt at speed in sharp turns. Where were Tucker`s road handling demos? Not even a cocktail glass sitting on the rear seat while cruising down the road. I don`t believe it was a design ahead of its time. I think it was a failure. I`m sure glad an attempt was made. Too bad his ego overwhelmed the project. New car companies soon realize the true meaning of “cash flow“ and “burn through“ today. That was something Preston Tucker realized quite early on.

    I laughed out loud when I saw the proud driver load his two suit cases into the front luggage compartment and when he closed the hood (lid?) firmly the first time, it did not latch. He went back and slammed it shut and it did latch. Not too innovative there! Shocking that the film editor left that precious moment in the film. Homer would have said “Doh!“

    • It is quite obvious you are anti-Tucker from the get go. I am not pro Tucker but felt I needed to reply to your condemnation of the car.

      “Did ANY of them travel 100,000 miles in their lifetime? How well did they hold up? I have heard at least one believable story of a couple who actually toured their “48“ with some abandon. But I never read or saw any documentation in any of the classic auto publications about such a rare Tucker”.

      So just because you have not read anything about this does not make it not a good car? The average car of the time was worn out at 50,000 miles.

      “I wonder though how the rear seat passengers got along with that steady rumble and humming of the rear engine just inches behind their heads????”

      The VW, Porche, and Corvair all did well in the market place with the same arrangement.

      “Have you studied the silly looking Levers…….”

      Many cars have leavers and knobs that are in a row and millions of drivers over time became comfortable w/their use quickly.

      “Was there ever any actual refrigerated A/C installed in working fashion on any of the cars?”

      They only made a small # of the cars and obviously never had the time to get to it be for the shut down.

      “I think both films were filled with more or less meaningless boasting and a few nice highway scenes.”

      Yes, and automakers still do the same thing today.

      “I laughed out loud when I saw the proud driver load his two suit cases into the front luggage compartment and when he closed the hood (lid?) firmly the first time, it did not latch. He went back and slammed it shut and it did latch. Not too innovative there! Shocking that the film editor left that precious moment in the film. Homer would have said “Doh!“ ”

      Probably the first time the actor had closed one of these lids. I know of many US built cars since this type of hood and latch became common that act the same way until one learns how much effort is needed set the latch.

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