Preston Thomas Tucker (September 21, 1903 – December 26, 1956) was most remembered for his 1948 Tucker Torpedo, an innovative automobile which was unsuccessful, but which introduced many features that have since become widely used in modern cars. His legacy was documented in the 1988 movie, Tucker: The Man and His Dream
. Starring Jeff Bridges, the film was produced by George Lucas and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
Tucker was born in Capac, Michigan, and later joined the Lincoln Park police department to get access to the high-performance automobiles they used. His mother convinced him to seek employment on the Ford
assembly line in Dearborn, but Tucker quickly returned to his more exciting job as a police officer. He was demoted for installing a heater in the dashboard of his car, and quit for good. Tucker's next career was as a car salesman. He was successful in selling cars at a Michigan dealership and soon became the manager of a luxury car dealership in Memphis, Tennessee.
With this new financial success, Tucker began an annual journey to the Indianapolis 500. His enthusiasm for automobiles again getting the better of him, Tucker convinced Harry Miller, maker of more Indy 500-winning engines than any other in those years, to join him in building race cars, and Miller and Tucker, Inc was formed in 1935. The company's first job was building 10 souped-up Ford V-8 racers for Henry Ford. The time to develop and test the cars was insufficient, however, and the steering boxes on all entrants overheated and locked up, causing them to drop out of the race. The design was later perfected by privateers, with examples running at Indy through 1948. Miller and Tucker, Inc moved to Indianapolis and continued race car development and construction until Miller's death in 1943.
Tucker moved back to Michigan intending to start his own auto company. He soon began designing a narrow-wheelbase armored combat car for the U.S. government. The car could reach over 115 mph, far in excess of the design specifications. It was rejected, however the highly-mobile, power-operated gun turret the combat vehicle featured earned the interest of the U.S. Navy. The Tucker Turret
was soon in production (initially at Tucker's Ypsilanti, MI shop); it was used in PT boats, landing craft, and B-17 and B-29 bombers. During World War II, Tucker became associated with Andrew Jackson Higgins, builder of Liberty ships, PT boats and landing craft. Higgins acquired Tucker Aviation Corporation (formed in 1940) in March of 1942, and Tucker served as a vice-president of Higgins Industries, specifically in charge of the Higgins-Tucker Aviation division. This entity was to produce gun turrets, armament and engines for Higgin's torpedo boats. Tucker severed his association with Higgins in 1943.Studebaker
was the first automobile company with an all-new post-war model. But Tucker with his newly founded Tucker Corporation took a different tack, designing a safety car with innovative features (some taken from aircraft) and futuristic, aerodynamic styling. His specifications called for a rear engine, disc brakes, fuel injection, the location of all instruments within the diameter of the steering wheel, and a padded dashboard. However, what looked visionary on paper was less good in practice. Two examples: the mechanical fuel injection on the helicopter engines that Tucker used required frequent maintenance by skilled mechanics and the disc brakes were hard to engage due to high pedal pressure.
Famed stylist Alex Tremulis, previously of Auburn/Cord/Duesenberg, was hired on December 24, 1946 and given just six days to finalize the design. On December 31, 1946, Tucker approved the design, which would come to be popularly known as the "Tucker Torpedo". He had also hired another firm to create an alternate body, but only the horizontal taillight bar from that model appeared on the final car.
All told 50 Tucker '48s were built. The United States government indicted Tucker for selling parts and accessories for the Torpedo before the model was even produces. At trial the government contended that Tucker never intended to produce a car. A former Tucker employee, engineer Frank Millender Kincaid, agreed with this allegation. He later said that the company never bought production machinery, leading to his suspicion that Tucker never intended to build the car, or at least was so over his head in the project that Tucker could not handle the massive undertaking and simply gave up. This, despite the fact that Tucker had the largest factory building under one roof (the former Chicago Dodge plant that had been used for manufacture of aircraft engines during the war and leased to Tucker by the US government). The suspicion that the Tucker enterprise was a sham and headed for inevitable disaster led Mr. Kincaid, by his own statement, to quit the company. Tucker had 50 cars that he called "prototypes", each one hand built. Unlike production vehicles, these cars featured numerous running engineering changes, resulting in many detail differences. After the Christmas recess, the trial turned in Tucker's favor. It went to the jury on January 22, 1950, and Tucker and the other executives were acquitted on all charges just seventeen hours later. However, Tucker Corporation, now without a factory, was no more.Certificate:
Class A Common Stock, issued in the 1940’sPrinter: Security Bank Note Company Dimensions:
8” (h) x 12” (w)State: MI-Michigan Subject Matter: Auto Makers Vignette Topic(s):
Vertical fold lines, punch hole cancels in the signature areas and body, and some toning from age.