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Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Celebrates the Seventieth Anniversary of Tucker’s Car of Tomorrow

By Jennifer Strong: The 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Tucker 48 with a featured class of its own. Preston Tucker’s sleek postwar “car of tomorrow” fitted with three-headlights, was a crowd pleaser and one of the highlights of the event.

The Preston Tucker story has been told many times and is often romanticized with folklore and fiction. Although, Tucker was an early promoter of rear engine placement, unit body construction, and safety features including crash compartments, and breakaway glass. Tucker the Automaker combined all of these features in his own sleek fastback streamline design.

Even before the release of the Tucker feature film “The Man and His Dream,” skyrocketing sale prices in the auction arena ensured that the public believed this car was exceptional and worth owning and preserving. Due to the continued interest and fame associated with Tucker’s car seventy-years after the last one was built, forty-seven of the fifty-one that were constructed have survived.

For most car lovers seeing one Tucker is a memorable event, but a gathering of twelve displayed at one of the most prestigious car events in the world is unforgettable, and likely a once in a lifetime privilege. Five of my favorite Tuckers are highlighted below along with others on display at the Concours.

In addition to the Tucker feature class, this year’s Concours d’Elegance featured a surprising number of remarkable postwar American Cars. These and other highlights from the show will be in part two of my Pebble Beach report coming soon.

All photographs courtesy of contributor Jennifer Strong. Learn more about Preston Tucker’s unique “dream car” that made it into production at the Tucker Automobile Club of America.

1948 Tucker 48 number 1009 owned by George Lucas, Nicasio, California

This car was a display model at Southwest Tucker of Los Angeles, placed in the dealership showroom window to generate public interest for the future production models that unfortunately never happened. Wilbur Haskell saw it on display at the showroom and immediately paid the dealer in full for the “first Tucker that came in”. When no Tuckers ever arrived for purchase, Haskell demanded his money back or the keys to the display car. He got the keys and owned this car until 1959. Now owned by “Tucker” movie producer George Lucas who purchased it in 1988, this car has been restored back to a Gray/Silver, and has a Cord transmission.  It displays beautifully and if I had to pick, this was my favorite of the day.

1948 Tucker 48 number 1016 owned by The Henry Ford, Dearborn, Michigan

Growing up in Michigan, I feel like I’ve known this car most of my life. The “three headlight car” was a favorite from school field trips to the Henry Ford Museum, but back then I did not know this car’s full history. After being found not guilty of stock fraud, Preston Tucker filed a civil lawsuit against the parent company of the Detroit News and the News Corporation bought this car to dismantle and find out what made it so special. The car was donated to the Henry Ford Museum in 1958 after Tucker’s death and subsequent lawsuit dismissal, and is likely the most original surviving Tucker.

1948 Tucker 48 number 1026 is owned by the AACA Museum, Hershey, Pennsylvania

This is one of two Tuckers to have a “Tuckermatic” automatic transmission installed when new, and the only surviving example. Because of the extra space needed for this transmission, the gas tank was moved to the front of car 1026 including all of the Tuckers built after it with the more common manual transmission.

1948 Tucker 48 number 1014 is owned by Francis Coppola, San Francisco, California

This car was purchased for use in the movie “Tucker: A Man and His Dream” and is owned by the film’s director Francis Ford Coppola. It is Waltz Blue, a color inspired by one of Mrs. Tucker’s dresses, and has the Y-1 transmission. This car is regularly on display on the second floor of Coppola’s Inglenook Winery in Rutherford, California and Tucker #1037 (also owned by Coppola) resides at the Coppola Winery in Geyserville. I appreciate that both cars have not been over-restored and are shared by the film maker with the public and driven regularly.

1948 Tucker 48 number 1044 is owned by Howard & Rosalind Kroplick, East Hills, New York

This car was recently restored by Rob Ida of Ida Automotive with the help of Preston Tucker’s great-grandsons Sean and Mike Tucker, and completed just days before departing for Pebble Beach. It looks beautiful returned to the original Andante Green color with a green wool broadcloth interior. To stay as period correct as possible this car was shown with black wall tires for event, which seem to accent the forward motion design of the Tucker body style.

1947 Tucker “Tin Goose” prototype number 1000 from the William E. Swigart Jr Automotive Museum Huntington, Pennsylvania 

  • 1948 Tucker 48 number 1003 from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, California

  • 1948 Tucker 48 number 1015 owned by Mary & Ted Stahl, Chesterfield, Michigan

  • 1948 Tucker 48 number 1017 owned by Keith & Eileen Carpenter, Parker, Colorado

  • 1948 Tucker 48 number 1030 owned by the Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, California

  • 1948 Tucker 48 number 1049 owned by Charles Goodman, San Rafael, California

  • Test Chassis number 2 from the AACA Museum, Hershey, Pennsylvania

22 responses to “Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Celebrates the Seventieth Anniversary of Tucker’s Car of Tomorrow

  1. THAT is one sizeable line-up of worth on one lawn!! Nearly no two the same color, these Tuckers are magnificent!
    (I never knew the story behind George Lucas’ car; very interesting!)

  2. I’m not a big fan of the Tucker cars. However, this story and photo’s by Jennifer Strong should be enough to generate interest in the Tucker cars from anyone lucky enough to see the photo’s and hear the story behind this event. Thanks for a great post!

    Lew Morrill

  3. Thanks so much from this huge Tucker fan. I’ve seen 7 of the 48 remaining. I’ve often wondered why some cars had the fuel tank in the rear and others in the front. This article explains why. And, here I thought it something more mundane, like the tank being near the engine resulted in vapor lock.

  4. No doubt about it, the Tucker was and is a handsome car, so well styled in fact that one wonders what the next year’s model might have looked like. Fortunately, that never happened because if it had, and Tucker had gone into production, it wuld have been one of the great tragedies in automotive history. Tucker made a big thing out of its safety features, e.g., monocoque construction, padded interior, even the swivelling middle headlight, but in fact, it would have been a rolling death trap.

    It all had to do with that rear-mounted engine. Made by Lycoming as I recall, it was a big-displacement, slow-turning, high-torque, water-cooled flat six that was originally designed as an aircraft engine. With all that weight placed at the rear of the car, it had a high polar moment of inertia and if that rear end came loose in a turn, there would have been no way to stop a deadly spin.

    Porsche and Volkswagen later successfully pioneered rear-engine cars – indeed, the VW Beetle became the largest-selling car in history (disclosure: I’ve owned four) – with a purpose-built, lightweight, air-cooled four. But still, as a Porsche 356 racing driver once put it, “If that rear end comes loose, you might as well sit back, relax, light a smoke and let ‘er spin, ’cause you ain’t gonna get it back.”

    It all came to an end with the Corvair and Ralph Nader’s 1965 book, “Unsafe at any Speed” – which was an overstatement. As long as you kept the tire pressures right and stayed under the speed limit on dry roads, the Corvair was pretty safe. But the Tucker, with that big, heavy engine hanging over the rear wheels, was a tragedy waiting to happen. It’s just as well the car died an early death, because heaven only knows how many deaths it would have caused had it gone into mass production.

    • Interesting, I’ve read many articles about the Tucker, how advanced it was, but I can’t remember any about what actually driving one is like.

  5. There was a silver Tucker with a mobile Smithsonian exhibit about 27 years ago, saw it in Birmingham, AL. The Tupelo Auto Museum in Tupelo, MS also has one.

  6. Very nice story.
    But, Tuckers are becoming “overhyped” .
    Yes, they were ambitious, but automotive history is littered with the remains of grand ideas that were half-baked or not developed at introduction.
    I wonder if the car could have ever been a mass market car, or if the prices would of had to be in luxury-car territory?

    Even if it was in the Cadillac range, that would have been great, America deserves to have a great luxury car, something Cadillac hasn’t been for the last 70 years. Some competition would have forced GM to up their game instead of lowering the once great marque by badge engineering.

    It’s nice that they are valued so highly today which the story points out ensures their survival. The problem is now they’re priced out of reaching most serious auto enthusiasts.

  7. Thanks for sharing these photos! It’s great seeing these colorful examples in such a nice setting-I especially like the blue #49!

  8. The black Tucker owned by the Peterson Museum was available to me in 1970 “for the price of a new Cadillac Coupe DeVille”. The then owner, Tom Goff, who lived in Shelby Twp, near Detroit, had it parked near the mailbox of his farm road when I saw it. I made friends with him and his wife and found out he was a buyer of luxury./special interest cars after WW2. At the time it had 12,000 miles on it and had a cracked engine block. There was a large paper wasp nest in the rear of the headliner and the body and upholstery were near perfect. Even in the innocent environs of rural life in 1970, I was sort of shocked that no one has stolen the Tucker hub caps being since the car was so close to the dirt road. I was 19 years old and when I told my dad excitedly that we could get the car if “we bought the owner a new Cadillac” I am afraid my dad looked at me like I was a visiter from outer space… Years laterI contacted the Tucker Club about the car and the club historian, if memory serves me right, told me about Tom Goff and how he lost the car in a legal problem with the small car museum it went to after it left his farm. My dad is now 92 and I manage to mention to him about every year or so about how he let the Tucker get away!

    • I saw the same car sell at an auction (actually it was an auction held at the Petersen about fifteen years ago when the Petersen Museum bought the car for their collection). I think they paid $150,000.00 for it. I believe it was painted the same color then as it appears in the above photograph and I remember that one of the door handles drooped a bit so that the front and rear handles didn’t line up properly (as they appear in the above photo). I think these cars are over-hyped and probably dangerous with that heavy motor perched in the rear of the car; the ones with the gas tank up front are really 4-wheel kamikazi cruisers.

  9. Jennifer, great job! Thanks for including Tucker 1044 in your top 5. Kudos to Rob Ida and the Tucker family for making this a special Tucker!

  10. My grandson Tucker Watson goes to Penn State college of technology and was able to go to Pebble Beach with the Tucker proto car, his school got it ready and he drove it onto the show field what a thrill for him, you can see him in the white sports jacket in the background of the Tucker chassis

  11. Does anyone know the whereabouts of a creamy yellow Tucker restored in SF many years ago? It was restored by a friend, Bev Ferreira (passed away several years ago) and was purchased by him at the Sutro Baths auction. It was shown in the Ripley’s museum and Bev restored it over several years in his small shop by himself. After he died I don’t know where it went but he was very involved in helping Francis Coppola with the film.

    • @Jerry Brick-
      Bev’s car was sold at the Clar’s Auction House (Oakland, Ca) after he passed. I believe it’s now in Los Angeles but maybe someone else knows for sure.

      Side story- On the last day of his estate sale which I attended, I was offered boxes of old slides which nobody had looked over nor purchased. Bev took photos and besides endless shots from car shows and pictures from his trips up the Delta in his Chris Craft was a fairly complete photo documentation of his Tucker’s restoration. He did most of the work in a small garage somewhere in the Marina, not his bigger shop on Green St.
      When purchased, the car had been black, not cream yellow. For a long time I think it was one of the best running/ driving Tuckers out there as most of the examples simply hadn’t been properly gone through.

      A complete character- Bev was one of the guys who helped make San Francisco a fascinating city to live in. As a younger old car mechanic, he was one of the older mechanics generous with their time. Always willing to offer advise, expertise or insight, Bev represented the best of the long-term owner/ mechanic/ car enthusiast- something which I think is disappearing.

      One fond memory was from the tail end of a Hot August Nights weekend in Reno. As I was leaving town, I saw Bev stopped in front of a large liquor store with the front hood up, loading a cart of purchased goods into the nose of the Tucker -just before driving home.

      • I used to see Bev all the time in the little shop while he was restoring the Tucker, I’d eat my lunch and chat with him while he worked. We were friends of he and his first wife Lil.

        Side story, my ’41 Cad was in the Tucker movie for about 3 seconds, after spending all day in Oakland for filming (paid us $100). Also, my Cad originally came from the mansion that Coppola bought and lived in while filming.

  12. In the 1970s and 80s I did a lot of early FoMoCo parts scrounging in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. One of my favorite haunts was Sam’s Auto Wrecking on the south side of Cheyenne. In one of the outbuildings I found a new old stock Tucker horn button! The owners had no idea how it got there and we never found anything else related to Tucker.

    I sold it in Hemmings for a few bucks ($25, I think). I regret that every time I see or read about a Tucker!

  13. In response to the claims pointing to the “Tucker’s heavy engine” being dangerous, the 334 c.i., 166 h.p. engine was originally intended for the Bell model 47 helicopter which is a lightweight machine. Tucker’s engineers made changes to the vertical engine to make it compatible with a horizontal automobile installation and converted it to liquid-cooling.

  14. Last week we stopped in at the Coppola Winery in Geyserville. I hadn’t been there since it was Chateau Souverain.
    The Tucker is there in all its glory spinning slowly on its turntable inches from observers.
    What a nice way to honor an auto.

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