The Rise and Fall of Tucker – The Emergency Lane

The Rise and Fall of Tucker – The Emergency Lane

American Preston Tucker was an entrepreneur at heart. After the war, he launched the Tucker 48 in 1948, a sedan that was supposed to bring quite a list of innovations to the public road. Unfortunately, things turned out a little differently…

Born on September 21, 1903, Tucker was fascinated by cars from an early age. He learned to drive at age 11 and started buying, refurbishing and reselling cars when he was 16. He went to Detroit technical high school for a blue Monday, but dropped out early and went to work for Cadillac as an office clerk. After that he had several jobs with car manufacturers, including on the assembly line at Ford. There he sold Studebakers as an extra income in his own time. He later used his talent as a salesman for Chrysler and Dodge, among others. Tucker even worked back and forth with the police for a while.

Tucker came into contact with racing in the 1930s. Every year he went to Indianapolis to go to the Indy 500 and at one point he even moved there. At that event he came into contact with a Harry Miller. Miller built engines for the Indy 500 but went bankrupt in 1933. Miller’s knowledge, however, came in handy for Tucker. Together the men founded the company ‘Miller and Tucker Inc.’ in 1935. which manufactured racing cars for Ford, among others. The first attempts were not really successful: the steering box of the cars overheated. Later, the design was refined by private teams. Until 1948 the race car of Miller and Tucker was still used.


As World War II approached, Tucker saw opportunities to build an armored car. He still worked with Miller and developed the Tucker Tiger. Tucker mainly focused on the Dutch army. In the Netherlands, people were looking for a military vehicle that could get through the muddy terrain. The Tucker Tiger had a Packard V12 on board and reportedly could hit a top speed of 160 km/h. On top of the army vehicle was a revolving gun turret, the ‘Tucker Turret’. There was no definitive order from the Dutch army, because the Germans invaded before Tucker had finalized the deal.

Tucker Tiger

The Tucker Tiger.

Preston Tucker, however, did not give up easily. After the armored car, he focused on building aircraft with the Tucker Aviation Corporation. However, that too ended in failure, as the company was faced with financial problems. Tucker Aviation was eventually acquired by boat builder Andrew Higgins, with whom Tucker worked for a while afterwards. That collaboration soon came to a dead end. In 1943, Tucker moved to Michigan and founded his own car brand, the Tucker Corporation.

Tucker Torpedo

Even before the end of the war, Tucker was working on the plans for his car. He hired designer George Lawson to make the first sketches. Later those sketches were perfected by one Alex Tremulis. Those sketches would eventually be used for the production model. Because of its streamlined shape, the car was soon called ‘Torpedo’, but because of its association with World War II, Tucker dropped the name. It would eventually become Tucker 48, a reference to the year the car was finished. Like Tatras and Volkswagens of that time, the Tucker 48 had the engine in the back. Originally, Tucker had the plan to spoon a 9.65-liter six-cylinder boxer engine into the 48, but that turned out to be too complex.


The Tucker 48 eventually got a 5.5 six-cylinder boxer with 168 hp from the company Air Cooled Motors. That power source was originally intended for a helicopter, but Tucker saw potential in it. His engineers converted the engine from air to water cooling and modified the engine for use in a car. Furthermore, the Tucker 48 was quite progressive for its time. First of all, the three headlights at the front stand out. The center headlight pivots with the handlebars and acts as cornering light. In addition, the 48 had crash protection all around and an integrated roll bar in the roof. The windscreen was also made of glass that did not shatter in the event of a collision. It is also noticeable that the doors continue slightly into the roof to make it easier to get in and out.

A large air vent dominates the rear of the 48. Six exhausts pierce from below. The rear lights, quite small in comparison with the rest of the car, are mounted on top of the fenders. The dashboard of the 48 was designed so that all important buttons were positioned within easy reach of the steering wheel. That made the interior of the 48 a fairly minimalistic whole. For example, a glove compartment was missing, instead Tucker wanted to keep the space for the passenger so as not to pose a safety risk in the event of a crash. A headbutt with the dashboard does not seem a pleasant prospect to us.

The downfall

Tucker also had a solution for maintenance. The engine and transmission were on a separate subframe, so they could easily be disconnected from the car. Tucker had many more innovations in the pipeline for the 48. Including magnesium wheels, disc brakes, direct fuel injection, tubeless tires and direct drive via a torque converter did not make it to the production stage. In any case, the Tucker 48 did not make it to the production stage. They built around 50 cars, but in fact they were all prototypes that all differed from each other. Tucker had in fact brought the stock watchdog SEC on his neck. He had raised $17 million in a stock offering and made about $2 million from accessories sales before the Tucker 48 even went into production.

Those financial tricks eventually led to a lawsuit for alleged fraud. The SEC sued several Tucker Corporation executives, but never found any evidence. The charges were eventually dropped, but it was too late for Tucker. The negative publicity led to customers and dealers withdrawing their orders, quickly running out of money for the company. Ultimately, that was the death knell for the new car manufacturer. Tucker himself suspected that the major car manufacturers had planned it this way. In a open letter he accused the auto industry of a conspiracy against him.

Preston Tucker died in 1956, at the age of 53. His story has been made into the movie ‘Tucker: The Man and his Dream‘. Not only that seals its legendary status: for a Tucker 48 you lose a seven-figure sum these days.

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