A rear-mounted flat-six engine with power going to the back wheels only—most people would say this describes the layout of a popular German sports car, but then most of them would be forgetting the Tucker. The Tucker 48 was the short-lived dream of Preston Tucker, a 1940s visionary who aimed to make “the car of the future, today.” In all, only 51 Tucker Model 48 Sedans were built, and a dozen of these cars will appear in a first-time feature class at the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
In the wake of World War II, the United States auto industry was surviving on cars designed several years before the war. Preston Tucker viewed this as a problem and a challenge; he felt those cars were outdated, unsafe and inefficient. With his Tucker 48, he aimed to catapult the American automobile into the modern era.
In addition to placing a rear engine in a domestic full-sized sedan, Tucker pioneered streamlined postwar fastback styling, unit body construction, the omni-directional center headlight, seat belts, safety crash padding, and more. George Lawson designed the Tucker Torpedo prototype and Alex Tremulis, who co-designed the Chrysler Thunderbolt, penned the production car.
Although short-lived, the radical rear-engine Tucker made national headlines. Its intriguing story, recounted in Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Tucker: The Man and His Dream, cast Preston Tucker as a lone inventor battling the huge Detroit automakers and entrenched interests, and preyed upon by nefarious broadcaster Drew Pearson, crooked US attorney Otto Kerner Jr., and the crusading “senator from Detroit” Homer Ferguson.
Rumors swirled that Tucker was a crook and that his car was a Ponzi scheme. Just as he was tooling up for production, Tucker was investigated by a Grand Jury for possible stock manipulation and other criminal activity. After an SEC investigation and a sensational trial, Preston Tucker was acquitted of all charges, but he had lost all his funding and the company went into receivership. Many people think they know the Tucker story, but many have it wrong.
There’s never before been a Tucker 48 on the fairway that serves as the competition field at Pebble Beach, but on Concours Sunday, Tuckers will take to that turf in droves. An original Tucker test chassis, displayed courtesy of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Museum, provides a rare look at the underpinnings of the Tucker and its innovative technology. The same museum is bringing the only remaining “Tuckermatic,” a Tucker equipped with an automatic transmission. The William E. Swigart Jr. Automobile Museum is bringing the “Tin Goose,” a name affectionately used in reference to the 1947 prototype, and The Henry Ford is bringing a Tucker that was completely disassembled by the Detroit News during a heated libel suit following the SEC Grand Jury case. An additional nine Tucker 48 sedans will also be on hand.
Some 70 years after the company’s founding and 30 years after the launch of Coppola’s still-popular film, it’s time to honor a bold effort by a flamboyant but sincere promoter who tried his best to shake up the Big Three—and nearly succeeded.