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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Photos courtesy of the National Automotive Heritage Collection
Posted: 04.25.2016

file 20160425143743 Preston Tucker

When you hear the name Preston Tucker, it usually brings up memories from the historic golden age of automotive design and innovative genius.

Tucker has a brilliant mind when it came down to automobile designs and engineering. Many enthusiasts along with automotive historians still talk about the late Preston Tucker's creativity and his entrepreneurship. Tucker’s genius and innovation was even captured in a 1988 movie titled, “Tucker: The Man and his Dream.”

The Tucker automobile was completely new and different from other models manufactured during the 1940s because safety was a big factor. The Tucker advertising stated, “The first completely new car in fifty years” and “The world’s safest car.”

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So, let’s go back to the beginning and highlight the man, Preston Tucker. The late Preston Thomas Tucker was born in 1903, in Capac, Michigan; he was the son of a railroad engineer, who was unfortunately killed when Tucker was 4. At the age of 13, he started working for General Motors as an office boy for the Cadillac Division in Detroit.

Later his journey would take him into the great racing circles as well as working with the late racing car designer Harry A. Miller. During the war-time efforts, Tucker had returned to the family machine shop which was called “Ypsilanti Machine & Tool Co.,” in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It was there Tucker had designed and introduced a power fuel prototype “Combat” automobile.

After the war had ended, Tucker later would focus his creative ideas and career on an automotive design called the “Tucker Torpedo.” This model offered a very streamlined and new design concept for the consumer market. The design offered an individual suspension for each separate wheel, hydraulic disk brakes (originally developed for carrier-borne planes) along with a 150- horsepower, six- cylinder rear engine. It was the talk of the auto industry and it came from the drawing board of Mr. Preston Tucker.

The concept model was announced to the automotive press in December 1945. Many automotive historians have said it was the late illustrator Mr. George Lawson who had designed the car. Later, the design would also appear in “Science Illustrated” magazine as well.

As Tucker’s great automotive career and influence would continue during the 1940s, he had a wonderful dream that one day he would help to create and manufacture a rear engine automobile with great emphasis on safety. It would be a new automobile with high performance and high mileage that would someday make his dream come true.

When Tucker was planning his next move, he hired the great and talented designer Alex Sarantos Tremulis. Tremulis also had vast knowledge and experience with the automotive designing process.

file 20160425143811 Preston TuckerAlex Sarantos Tremulis

Tremulis had joined the Tucker organization in 1947 as chief designer. This hiring marks another great chapter in the automotive history books. Tremulis had restyled the popular Tucker Torpedo into a great looking automobile that offered a stylish and unique design along with the comfort and safety that many consumers thoroughly had enjoyed.

The new Tucker model offered many new safety features including the Cyclops Eye which was located between the head lights. The new design elements pioneered by Tremulis along with a redesigned body contour made for a truly unique car that stood out amongst competition

It was the car for the future and many people were totally amazed at its freshly redesigned look. However, to build such a great looking automobile, Tucker needed a great facility. The Tucker manufacturing plant was located in Chicago, Ill., and some automotive enthusiasts have said it was one of the largest factories in the world.

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The spacious Tucker plant in Chicago was originally built during World War II to produce and manufacture B-29 bomber engines. On March 9, 1948, the first completed Tucker automobile was ready for review for a stockholders meeting. On March 11, 1948, the second model was built and completed with a 353 engine. On March 21, 1948 a decision was made to purchase Air-cooled Motors for $ 1.8 million.

As Mr. Tucker's journey would continue, he unfortunately ran into a series of setbacks and legal problems. Tucker was accused of serious allegations of a negative bidding process that led to the investigation of the company and corporate papers since April, 1947. In February 1949, a Federal Judge Otto Kerner announced a grand jury investigation into the business practices of the Tucker Corporation.

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 On March 3, 1949, Tucker had lost control to trustees A. J Coinon and J. H. Chartz. In October, 1949, a trial had begun with Tucker facing charges of mail fraud along with conspiracy. In January, 1950, Mr. Tucker and all of his associates were acquitted of all charges. Unfortunately, Tucker's suits for damages had totaled $19 million which had created a very disappointing feeling and despair in Tucker's life. Tucker had said “My car was too good.”

After his automobile company had declined, he had returned as manager of the machine and tool firm. On Dec. 26, 1956, Preston Tucker died of cancer at the age of 53. Today, his great legacy and the Tucker automobile design will always be a part of our American culture and automotive history.

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