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OT: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Tuckers

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  • OT: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Tuckers

    I hope the coding on this works right.

    Having an excess of time on my hands awhile back (thanks to being unemployed), I decided to do some digging on Preston Tucker, to see if I could turn up anything I didn't already know. Much to my surprise, I found a number of things, none of which appear in the only biography of Tucker (The Indomitable Tin Goose by Charles T. Pearson) or in any of the literature by the Tucker Club that I've seen published. And while I found no smoking guns in regards to a conspiracy against, Tucker, I certainly found evidence that he was the victim of an opportunistic politician, eager to make a name for himself, who at the very least, was willing to ally himself with some unsavory characters to further his aims.

    I'm not going to comment much at all on the film by Francis Ford Coppola, other than to state that is a reasonably accurate portrayal of what happened to Tucker between the years 1945 and 1949. Yes, it does take some dramatic license, and yes it does have some composite characters, and yes it does have some moments in it which are pure speculation (Coppola points out most of these things in his commentary on the DVD), but even the totally fictitious speech Jeff Bridges gives at the close of the trial (the defense made no closing argument, feeling that the prosecution had failed to make it's case) is quite close to things Tucker actually said. So while the film may not be completely accurate in it's portrayal of events, it does however, capture the essence of Tucker, something which Hollywood often fails to do in other biopics.

    Before I go any farther, I want to take a stab at clearing up a common misconception about the cars. This is a Tucker Torpedo. Until recently it only existed in drawings and photographs of a quarter scale model (presumably the model has been lost/destroyed over the years). A few years ago, a member of the Tucker family decided to convert a Buick Rivera into what a Tucker Torpedo might have looked like had the car actually entered into production. I'll leave it up to the reader to decide if the car would have been a success.

    Many people have labeled Tucker an engineering genius, but I doubt that he would have agreed. Certainly, if there's an “engineering gene,â€‌ Tucker most definitely had it. When was a teenager, Tucker took it upon himself to fix the family car, which was having transmission problems. His mother (at the time, a single parent) found him in the garage, with the transmission torn apart and scattered all over the floor. Horrified, she yelled at him, saying that he'd never be able to get it back together, much less getting it working again. Tucker's response was to point out that he'd numbered each part and placed them in a chalk outline as he removed them. Tucker later attended night courses, studying engineering, and was one of the members of the Ford owned racing team. It was there, as well as his years spent as a salesman for Packard, Studebaker, and his time working in the offices of Cadillac that he gained his knowledge of automobiles. Tucker's true genius lay in taking a diverse number of automotive ideas and bringing them together in a single automobile, something few other people have been able to do, and none quite as successfully.

    In order to appreciate what made Tuckers so remarkable in their day (and indeed, even today), we need to know a little something about not only the kinds of cars being manufactured at the time, but also the conditions of the time in which they were being built. Cars of the era were different, not only in the way the looked and the materials they were made of, but also in how they were driven and maintained. Today, people think nothing of putting a 100,000 miles on a car, and only performing such minor maintenance as oil changes, belt changes, and possibly a tune up. Cars back then were a whole 'nother breed, and most cars were worn out by the time they reached 50,000 miles, let alone 100,000 or 200,000, as car routinely do today. Depending upon the make, model and year of the car, one could expect to perform all or some of these tasks during the time period in which Tucker's were to be built at roughly the same interval a modern car needs an oil change: Brake adjustment, valve adjustment, clutch adjustment, chassis lube, timing adjustment, and tune up. Mind you, in many cases you had to perform these tasks, if you wanted the car to last any time at all. Failure to adjust the brakes, for example, could result in you being splattered all over the road because you had no brakes.

    Additionally, cars had metal dashboards and not seat belts, which meant that if you were a front seat passenger in a wreck, you could expect to find yourself slammed into a steel wall, if you didn't get ripped to shreds by the windshield as you flew through it. Rear seat passengers fared little better. They didn't have a metal dash to contend with (though there was always the possibility they could get thrown from the rear to the front), but there were exposed door handles, window cranks, and in some cars, metal door panels and armrests.

    For the driver, however, a worse fate awaited them him or her in the event of an accident. Indeed, smacking into a metal dash, or going through the windshield was a blessing, compared to the fate many drivers experienced. Steering wheels of the era were built out of some combination wood, metal, and or phenolic plastic. These tended to shatter upon impact, while the driver's body would continue forward, impaling itself on the steering column. It gent's better.

    Since there were no headrests, even a “minorâ€‌ fender bender could result whiplash for the occupants (the front seats would some times collapse, adding to the injuries) of the vehicle. Roofs were often little more than thin pieces of sheet metal with no reenforcement, which would collapse in the event of a rollover, allowing some 4,000 lbs of automobile to come crashing down on top of the occupants. Without crumple zones, to absorb the impact of a collision, occupants had to endure the forces transmitted to the car by the impact of a 4,000 lb car.

    The six volt electrical system tended to fall victim to the cold quite easily and the illumination produced by the headlights, while adequate for cars which rarely exceeded 50 MPH, was too dim to give the amount of light needed to reveal obstacles far enough away for cars traveling in excess of 60 MPH to avoid them. This problem was worsened by brakes which were often undersized and prone to fading in panic stops.

  • #2
    Door latches were flimsy and in impacts tended to spring open. If the car was equipped with suicide doors, the occupants could find themselves pitched headlong into the streets. (Which is supposedly how the doors got their name.)

    Now, to be fair, not all models suffered from these problems and even today, car makers discover, much to their horror, that things like door latches and seats can fail in the event of a collision. Nor is it known, at this time how many of these problems would have affected Tuckers if they had gone into production. It is known, however, that Tucker was trying to address some of these problems.

    Hard as it is to believe these days, when news outlets seize on a handful of deaths and injuries and begin screaming that we're all going to die, this was considered to simply be a fact of life. Obviously, Tucker saw things a bit differently.

    Of course, for most people, just having a car was an accomplishment. Henry Ford may have put America on wheels with his Model T, but the Great Depression did it's best to take those cars away from people. As the Great Depression grew worse, car makers not only saw their sales slip, but many of them like Duesenberg, disappeared completely. Things hit bottom in 1938, and only started a slow climb back up in 1940.

    By December 6th, 1941, things had stabilized for the automobile industry. Sales were picking up, and with the increase in military contracts brought about by Roosevelt's aiding the Allies, as well as his efforts to build up American military power, even those companies, such as Studebaker, who were still struggling from the effects of the Depression, were optimistic that things would soon be better. Of course, December 7th would change all that.

    With the country at war, production of civilian automobiles ended in February 1942. Any cars build after that point, would be sold to the military. Most of the car makers, however, built few cars, other than military Jeeps, during the war. Producing instead, tanks, engines for aircraft and marine use and whatever else Uncle Sam deemed necessary for the war. At this point, if you wanted a new car, you had to wait until the war was over, and nobody knew when that would be.

    Government control of the auto industry extended beyond just dictating what they produced, however. Wages were frozen at prewar levels, even the amount of overtime pay was limited. Profits were capped as well, using a complex formula which tried to ensure that no one got too rich and the government didn't go broke before the war's end. Due to a quirk in the formula, companies which hadn't shown a profit before the war, barely earned enough during the war. This put them at a disadvantage when civilian production was later resumed. Car makers were also prohibited from working on designs for new models, so that meant when production finally resumed, the cars rolling off the assembly line would be little changed from 1942 models. (The sole exception to this was Studebaker, who had most of their design work done by an outside company, thus they could have the outside company work on the postwar models during the war, and be the first out of the gate with a completely new car.)

    Like many Americans, Tucker could tell that war was looming on the horizon as the 1940's approached. Drawing on his experience building Indy race cars with the legendary Harry A. Miller, Tucker decided to build a high speed combat car, which was armor plated and mounted two .50 cal machine guns in a turret. The company that would build this was called the Tucker Aviation Company. The Army, which at this point, was still scrambling around for a replacement for the horse (no joke, more about this later) didn't want it since they saw no need for a vehicle which could drive 117 MPH in combat (even today, the Army doesn't have any ground vehicles which can go that fast, AFAIK). Tucker had sunk a considerable amount of money into the combat car and desperately needed to recoup his investment in it. So he showed his car to the other branches of the military in hopes that one of them would agree to buy it. The Army Air Force saw no need for the car, but liked his turret design and agreed to buy that.

    Because war was almost a certainty at this point, and Tucker didn't have a large scale manufacturing operation, he was ordered to license his patents on the turret to other manufacturers. This wasn't all that unusual, given the circumstances of the war and the amount of material needed. Packard, for example, built Rolls Royce designed engines (along with their own), Ford and Willy's both built Jeeps, to name but a small number of instances. Tucker, however, felt that some of the companies weren't paying the amount of royalties due him and filed several lawsuits in an attempt to recoup the money he was owed.

    It's not known when Tucker came up with his idea of building the ultimate safety car, but we know that as Harry Miller lay dying in 1943, the two of them were discussing the engine to put in the car and Harry told Tucker, “Whatever you do, make it big!â€‌

    As the war raged on, Americans did everything they could to keep their cars running, while government restrictions were placed on the amount of driving one could do, when they could gas up their cars, and how fast they could drive them. In magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, articles began appearing telling Americans how they could modify their cars to save gas and what kind of things they could do to keep them running. (In some places, people responded to gas rationing by converting their cars to run on wood!)

    By the time government restrictions were removed on the manufacture of cars for civilian use on July 1st, 1945, half the cars in the US were ten years or older. Americans weren't merely hungry for new cars, they were starving for them.

    Of course, when production restarted, it wasn't simply matter of flipping a few switches to get the assembly lines going again. Even so, Ford was the first to start, resuming production on July 3rd. Hudson was next, but they didn't begin until the end of August. Nash restarted their lines in September, Packard and GM both started their lines in October. GM found it's lines shutdown in November due to a 113 day strike, and Chrysler started after GM, running at reduced capacity, in hopes of avoiding a strike.


    • #3
      Strikes quickly became the bane of every car maker, because if any of them managed to avoid a strike, their suppliers weren't so lucky. Of course, it's understandable why the unions chose to strike: Wages had been frozen at prewar levels and when the production lines restarted, their employers made no mention of pay increases which employees had naturally assumed were coming.

      For anyone trying to buy a new car at this point (as were many returning GIs), the situation was extremely frustrating. If you were lucky enough to find a dealership with cars for sale, you had to take what they offered, both in terms of price and options. Many times, new car dealers would have what little inventory they had, bought up by used car dealers, who would then mark up the prices on the cars to obscene levels, knowing that customers would have no choice but to pay it if they wanted a new car.

      When the war started to wind down, Tucker began trying to find investors for his car company. He knew that the best chance someone had for capturing a share of the market would be soon after the war ended. Americans would be wanting cars, and anyone who had a car on the market which was dramatically different than prewar models would have a tremendous advantage. Magazine articles were already hinting that the amazing technological developments which were helping America to win the war would show up in cars once the war was over. Tucker was positive that his car would be a success.

      Tucker first tried to get his car company started in Detroit, but quickly discovered that the only way this would be possible was for him to give up total control of the company, including any shot at the company ever making a profit. The people who wanted to back him, would only agree to do it if they got an insane percentage or control of the company in return. Abe Karatz suggested to Tucker that they try to land the Dodge aircraft plant in Chicago, since the War Assets Administration was apparently desperate to unload the plant. Chicago also had large number of steel mills and other industrial operations located within the city, which would mean that suppliers of components to the Tucker Corporation were close by. After traveling to Chicago and looking over everything, Tucker agreed.

      In some ways, going after the plant was a mistake on Tucker's part. Certainty, at 475 acres, it was more than large enough to build cars in. Plus it came with two foundries, one for magnesium and the other for aluminum (which would mean that Tucker could cast his engine blocks on site). It was also prime fodder for hyping in advertising, what with it being the world's largest plant and all. However, it was also rumored to be hotly desired by several manufacturers, including the Lustron Corporation, which would ultimately gain control of the plant after Tucker was tossed out. It was also more expensive than some of the other, smaller plants available. The fight to get and keep the plant, was just one of the struggles he would have to endure while trying to get his company going.

      With the acquisition of the plant, Tucker now needed a prototype and money to begin operations. At this point, it was decided that the best way to do so, was by selling dealerships. As soon as this happened, Tucker found himself to be the subject of an “informal investigationâ€‌ by the SEC, who claimed that dealership franchises constituted a “security.â€‌ It took months of wrangling by lawyers on both sides, before the SEC was satisfied that the company was legit. This did have the effect of hurting sales, and so Tucker began making arrangements to sell stock in the company, as a way to raise the additional cash needed. Another problem was when Wilson Wyatt, Truman's new housing director yanked the plant out from under Tucker and awarded it to the Lustron Corporation. As well can be imagined, this killed the sale of new dealerships, and brought things to a halt until it could be sorted out. Tucker was able to regain control of the plant, but had to share space with Lustron.

      As for the prototype, things were slightly better. The initial reaction to the ads and articles for the Tucker Torpedo, generated a great deal of positive response, but Tucker wasn't happy with the design of the car. To correct this, he hired Alex Tremulis, who had done design work for the military during the war and had been stationed at Wright-Patterson, which is where many of the captured “wonder weaponsâ€‌ of Germany were brought for study. It was also here that Tremulis designed a vehicle which decades later was to evolve into the space shuttle. Tremulis came up with the overall shape of the car, but credit for the front and rear belongs to the members of the J. Gordon Lippencott team Tucker brought into help.

      The original plan for the car called for it to be equipped with a fuel injected 589 cubic inch engine, coupled directly to the rear wheels via a pair of torque converters, one on each side of the engine. The engine would operate at very low RPMs because of this, and was to be equipped with a hydraulic valve actuating system. This would eliminate the need for a crankshaft and offer some of the advantages of a variable valve system, such as is found on modern high performance cars. Tucker estimated that by ditching the transmission and drive shaft, they could save some 600-800 lbs of weight, and the aluminum block would save an additional 400 lbs or so. Cost savings were to be had, because the car would need far fewer parts, than a conventional automobile.

      It all looked good on paper, but when it came time to building the engine, they had a number of problems. Fuel injection, which had been used on race cars for some time now, proved to be difficult to get working on the new engine. There was also the problem of getting the proper tolerances in the manufacture of the engine block. No one had yet been able to machine aluminum with those kind of tolerances, but if the engine was going to work, it had to be put together with greater precision than a fine Swiss watch. Even the hydraulic valve actuating system proved troublesome. They could get it working for a while, then air would get into the lines, and the engine would have it's timing thrown off. There was some debate within the company as to whether or not they'd actually get the engine running or not.

      As far as building the body, things weren't much better. Tucker had some of the finest metal workers in the business, but without a final design, they could only do so much. Today, it doesn't seem to be much of a challenge to pound out a car body. Certainly some of the “realityâ€‌ shows on the TV give the impression that a car can be built in a week, but the reality is far different. When you're starting from scratch, its much more difficult, add to that the fact that Tucker hadn't settled on the appearance of the car yet, and it makes almost impossible to get anything done.


      • #4
        In his book, Design and Destiny, Phil Egan describes working in the design department, and the body knockers constantly coming over to check the progress of the clay model, then heading back to their area to pound the changes into the steel body. (He described the noise as being incredible. This will be of importance, later on.) Of course, some time later Tucker would come by, look at the model, and request changes, so the body knockers would have to scrap everything they'd done and start all over. The “Tin Gooseâ€‌ as the prototype had begun to be called, was based on an Oldsmobile frame, since Alex felt that it was the strongest frame available. The Tin Goose would need the strength too, since with all the changes, the car was massively heavy.

        There were other problems as well. Tucker's idea to replace the transmission with two torque converters that would use hydraulic pumps to drive the wheels wasn't working right, either. This is understandable, since high pressure hydraulics had only come about during WWII as a means to control the flaps of high speed fighters. Still, they were able to get some semblance of it working, but because of the need to hurry the car up and get it ready for the unveiling, no method for reversing the car was installed (a relatively simple matter, but time comsuming), but this would haunt Tucker later on.

        Eventually, Egan and the others in the design department came up with the design for the car that satisfied Tucker, and the Tin Goose was rushed to completion. For those of you familiar with the film, the last minute race to get the car completed for the unveiling portrayed in the film matches all the accounts I've read almost exactly. The car wasn't quite what Tucker had promised. The fuel injection had to be replaced with twin carbs, the car couldn't back up, and the interior was incomplete, but the crowd still loved it. Everyone with the company hoped that there'd be time to fix the problems later, but for now, that didn't matter. What mattered was the car was a success.

        During all of this, Tucker was having to battle with the SEC over the stock sale. It had been hoped that the showing of the car would take place after the stock had gone on sale, but there were a number of details the SEC wanted ironed out before the stock could be sold. While some conflict with government agencies is to be expected, Tucker felt that he was being unfairly yanked around by the SEC. They'd approve a proposal submitted by the Tucker Corporation for the stock sale, only to turn around and demand changes a short time later. In the meantime, Tucker was being deprived of the cash he needed to continue operations and development of his car. Eventually, he would be given some breathing room, but it wouldn't be enough.

        Another problem Tucker ran into was a shortage of steel. This was not limited to Tucker. The entire automotive industry was having problems with their suppliers getting parts and materials to them. Tucker's solution to the problem was to bid on steel plants being auctioned off by the War Assets Administration. Tucker figured that if the company owned a steel mill, they wouldn't have to deal with the problems that the other car companies were facing. Tucker submitted the high bid on one plant, only to have the WAA cancel the auction, claiming problems with the bidding process. The rules were quickly changed in favor of the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation (which was already producing cars at this point) and the mill was awarded to KF before Tucker had a chance to revise his bid.

        It was also at about this time that Tucker found himself the subject of renewed attention by the SEC. Exactly why the SEC was so interested in Tucker is a bit of a mystery. True, the stock sale hadn't gone as well as planned, but the company had adequate capital on hand to cover expenses and Tucker had complied fully with SEC requests. Additionally, the company had it's rent on the plant on schedule to the WAA. For reasons unknown, one of the checks wasn't cashed immediately, but that's hardly Tucker's fault.

        The Republican senator from Detroit, Homer Ferguson led the charge against Tucker this time. Ferguson's a bit of an enigma. With Truman's election to the Vice Presidency, Ferguson assumed Truman's seat on the Chairman of the Investigations Subcommittee of the Committee on Expenditures in the Executive Departments. It was on this committee that Truman's dogged efforts at pursuing defense contractors and others attempting to defraud the war effort came to public notice and propelled Truman into the spotlight, which directly led to him getting the VP nomination in '44. Ferguson didn't have time to accomplish much before the war ended. Of course, it's Ferguson's postwar actions which are interesting, to say the least.

        Ferguson's first action was to hold hearings on exactly what the Roosevelt Administration knew about Japanese plans before December 7th. As part of these hearings, over protests of the military and the Truman Administration, Ferguson released classified documents showing that the Roosevelt Administration had cracked the Japanese codes. One of Ferguson's aides in his futile quest, would later join an organization dedicated to disproving the Holocaust.

        This, of course, proves nothing as far as anti-semetic views on Ferguson's part, and while politics makes for strange bedfellows, one has to wonder how many of his aide's views, if any, that Ferguson shared. This would also not be the last time that Ferguson was accussed of revealing information he shouldn't have. His apparent link of the SEC report on Tucker to the press would be his second of at least three, and his most successful. Outside of his efforts to bring down Tucker, Ferguson is best known for introducing the phrase “Under Godâ€‌ into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.

        Ferguson also, has some involvement in a small organization which styles itself as an alternative to the UN. Exactly what this organization does, and what Ferguson's involvement with it was, is unknown at this time.

        Tucker, in the meantime, was trying to get his car into production. He'd pledged to have a car on sale in 1948, and if he was going to do that, he needed an engine which would work. The company was considering several different engines at the time, but the one provided by Aircooled Motors proved to be superior and Tucker quickly bought not only their engines, but the company as well. Tucker's reasoning was that the sale of engines for use in helicopters and small planes would provide additional revenue for the company, much as Kelvinator did for Nash.


        • #5
          This also meant that they'd need a transmission for the car. Front wheel drive Cord's offered a transmission which needed only minor modifications to work and these would serve to power the first of the pilot models, while the company developed their own. In a breakneck pace of engineering, Tucker had three different transmissions ready by the time the last cars rolled off the assembly line. The first was simply a Cord transmission with the necessary gearing conversions to enable it to work in a Tucker. The second transmission was an improved version of the Cord's, with the known glitches in the Cord's corrected. The third transmission was almost completely original and an early automatic, called the “Tuckermatic.â€‌ One of the “glitchesâ€‌ that developed during this hurried process that none of the engineers bothered to correct was that a Tucker could do some 50 MPH in reverse!

          As the company raced to get the cars completed, it was quickly realized that the steering wheels wouldn't be ready in time. Alex Tremulis made a phone call to some friends who worked at Ford to see if they had any suggestions. Their response was to give Tucker 50 wheels that had cosmetic flaws, on the condition that they be destroyed when Tucker was done with them.

          With the first of the cars rolling off the pilot production line, it looked like the company was going to meet Tucker's deadline after all. Then the SEC subpoenaed all the company's records. Tucker's lawyers requested time in order to work out a system so that the SEC could have the documents they wanted, with minimal disruptions to the daily operations of the plant. The SEC basically told Tucker, “We want all of them, and we want them now.â€‌ Tucker complied and shutdown operations, citing the difficulty of keeping the plant open with federal agents crawling all over the place.

          I'm not sure what Tucker's reasoning behind closing the plant was. If it truly was impossible to keep the plant going, then why did he allow a skeleton crew of unpaid volunteers to continue assembling cars? Also, why did he, a few weeks later, call back some one third of the workforce, even though the SEC was still lurking about?

          It's possible that Tucker had an “I'll show them!â€‌ mentality when he ordered the plant closed, figuring that the prospect of some one thousand people being unemployed would convince the SEC to relax some of it's demands. Its also possible that it was too difficult to keep the plant going and he only reopened it in a desperate bid to at least get some cars in the hands of dealers before the was out. Whatever his reasons were, it didn't matter, since the SEC raid spelled the beginning of the end for the company. (I have to wonder if it wouldn't have been a more effective strategy to keep all but two or three of the cars and sell the rest to dealers. That way, a larger percentage of the population could see and touch the cars.)

          Tucker did try to make the best of the situation by inviting the automotive press out to test drive the cars and completing a promotional film which was sent to dealers to try and drum up support for the car. It didn't do any good, however, as the SEC report was leaked to the press, which promptly trumpeted it's findings as fact, without ever bothering to verify any of the information in it. Drew Pearson, who broke the story on his top rated radio show, had a personal connection to Tucker: His son-in-law had unsuccessfully tried to go into business with Tucker.

          The SEC filed charges against Tucker and the Feds immediately took possession of the company and placed it under receivership, even though the ledgers clearly showed the company was in the black. The Aircooled Motors division remained in business until it was absorbed by Pratt and Whitney a year or so ago/ As stated earlier (if you can remember that far back), the SEC based it's case solely on the Tin Goose, ignoring the fifty cars the company had produced. It took the jury just 16 hours to find Tucker not guilty on all counts. Tucker would spent the remaining few years of his life trying build another car company, without success. The federal government would continue to own and operate the remaining portions of the Tucker Corporation until the 1960s.

          Now, the question on your mind, no doubt is: Was there a conspiracy against Tucker? I haven't been able to unearth any evidence proving this, but Wilson Wyatt seemed to think that there was no need for a Tucker Corporation, and Drew Pearson had what many would consider reasons for an ax to grind with Tucker. There's also hints within the various documents I've seen on line at the sites for the Truman Presidential Library, the Eisenhower Library, and the National Archives that Tucker was disliked by people in power, for whatever reason. Admittedly, the amount of documentation on line is scanty, and I lack the means to research the matter in person, so it's tough to say for certain. Still, when factor in that Henry J. Kaiser, who was also trying to build cars at this time (and it should be noted that even the fans of Kaiser's cars admit that the engines were dogs) got away with activities of questionable legality, while Tucker was being investigated, and like Fiat, was given massive government loans to keep operating, things do seem a bit odd. Of course, Kaiser was seen as a bit of a war hero for his Liberty Ships and had plenty of connections in DC, so it might have simply been that he got a free pass, as it were. So at the very least, it seems likely that people with the means to do so wanted Tucker out of business, for whatever reason. Were they all working together or separately is something I can't answer.

          Of course, if a conspiracy did do Tucker in, it wouldn't be the first time this happened to a car company. After WWI, flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker tried to build a safety car (it had four wheel brakes, a first), only to be shutdown by a conspiracy of competing automakers, who waged an aggressive campaign against his car. As the government was gearing up for WWII, it launched a completion to come up with a replacement for the horse. The winner of the competition was the American Bantam Company, however, the Feds decided that the company wasn't capable of building the car, and awarded the contract to Willys and Ford, without bothering to pay Bantam a dime for their work. After Tucker was shutdown, Studebaker-Packard suffered a similar fate. Eisenhower's new Secretary of Defense was a former GM man, and his first act in office was to cancel all the defense contracts which had been awarded to Studebaker-Packard and give them to GM. This would help spell the end for Studebaker-Packard, and even though a Congressional investigation agreed with the president of S-P that wrongdoing had occurred, no one was held accountable (even being friends with Ike didn't help the president of S-P in this matter). Gary Davis met a similar fate to Tucker, but unlike Tucker, was found guilty.


          • #6
            There's still the question if the cars were any good or not. For starters, its doubtful than any car maker besides Tucker can say that 60 years after they were first built, the bulk of their cars are still around. From a performance standpoint, Tucker's are hard to beat when placed against from their era. In 1954, Bill Hamlin pitted his Tucker against a new Oldsmobile 88. The Olds had a V-8, the Tucker a flat six. At the time, Hamlin's Tucker had 110,000 on the clock, the Olds topped out at 78.8 MPH, while Hamlin's Tucker topped out at 82 MPH. Hamlin had a slight disadvantage, in that he had to start his car in second (Tucker's had a 4-speed, tranny, BTW), since the torque from the engine most likely would have shredded the Cord tranny if he'd started in first. The Tucker also stopped in two thirds the distance of the Olds. The helicopter engine, which powered the Tucker could run for 1,500 hours without a rebuild, and exceeded every military specification required of it. At least one Tucker had 200,000 miles on the clock without needing a major repair.

            Hamlin's unmodified Tucker was rated at 103 HP at 2,000 RPM, while a 1954 Cadillac was only 87 HP at 2,000 RPM in dyno testing. A Tucker's engine put out some 372 ft. lbs of torque and the car had 0-60 times of 10 seconds. Not bad for a 3,600 lb car.

            As far as safety features, well everyone knows about the center headlight, padded dash, seat belts, and pop out windshield, but those are only part of the Tucker's safety features. Unlike cars of the era, or most cars built today, the Tucker used a unibody which was welded to an automotive frame (in order to eliminate body rattles), thus giving the protection of a safety cage. Additionally, the frame of a Tucker was shaped like a ship's prow at the front and rear. The reason for this was that research by the folks at the Tucker Corp. revealed that most collisions tended to be glancing blows at an angle. The prow shape of the frame, it was hoped, would deflect the other vehicle away from the Tucker. There were also steel bulkheads at the front and rear of the passenger compartment, to further protect the passengers. The aerodynamics of the car were such that you didn't need to use the wipers above 50 MPH. The bumpers were mounted on springs to absorb shock in a crash, and because of the weight balance provided by the rear mounted engine the brakes would wear evenly and the car would lower itself evenly, instead of the front end pitching down, in panic stops. The rims were also designed so that if one of the tires went flat, the car wouldn't pull dramatically to that side. With the use of live bearings, the front end of the car was “lightâ€‌ enough, that the car didn't need power steering.

            Sadly, because so few Tuckers were produced, the data on how well they would protected the occupants in a crash is severely limited. We know, that when a car rolled on the test track at around 100 MPH, the driver escaped with only a bruised elbow, and the car was able to be driven away under it's own power. It's now common place for automakers to do crash testing on computers (and they've found that it gives better results than real world testing), and if an owner of a Tucker would be willing to consent to a thorough examination of their car (the original blueprints have been lost), it should be possible for someone with the necessary software (a university perhaps) to gather enough information to simulate a collision with a Tucker in a computer so we could exactly determine how safe a Tucker was. (That's assuming that Toyota, which owns a Tucker, hasn't already done so. If you have, guys, please share the data! Thanks.)

            Had Tucker continued, we have only the barest hints as to what would have been. We know that there would have been at least two possible designs for a two door version of the car. We know, also that Tucker had purchased the patents of Secondo Campini which related to automotive turbines, and possibly would have beat Chrysler in it's development of a turbine car. And thanks to Philip Egan we have some idea of what a modern Tucker would look like.

            Still, even up to the moment he died, Tucker was trying to start another car company. Several backers in Brazil were willing to support Tucker, but he kept holding out for an American backer. However, he did name a car in honor of Rio. It was to be called the “Cariocaâ€‌ and, IMHO, was a stunning work of art. Tucker was pretty closemouthed about the features of the car, but we know that it would have been built on a modular platform, and could have been easily converted into a pick up. It would have had a 100 HP rear mounted air cooled engine built by Aircooled Motors, with disc brakes, 12 volt electrical system, four wheel independent suspension, and except for the electrical components would have had one bolt and cap screw size.

            Okay, I'm really beat from working on this, and I really haven't even scratched the surface of everything Tucker. If I have the energy, I'll post reference links, and links to more photos and drawings. Still if anyone has any questions, feel free to ask. I'll be more than happy to answer them if I can.


            • #7
              Oh, I forgot to mention that there are a few known glitches with the car: The first is that the center headlight didn't work as well as predicted (this could have been corrected with a lens change), the pop out windshield could be removed with a moistened toilet plunger (making the cars easy pickings for thieves), and the transmission had lubrication problems at idle (stop and go traffic would play hell on the tranny). However, these are relatively minor issues and likely would have been easy to correct if the cars had gone into production. Also not bad consider a lot of the design work was basically done in somebody's garage.

              Offline References
              The Indomitable Tin Goose by Charles T. Pearson
              Design and Destiny Philip Egan (also personal correspondance)
              Speed Age, May 1957 issue Detroit's Most Revolutionary Engine article
              Cars March (?) 1951 My Car Was Too Good
              Tucker Technical Manual Russell Brownell & E. M. "Bob" Bunn
              Car Classics October 1972 Tucker -- Dream or Lame Duck?
              Car Life December 1955 I Never Gave Up
              The American Automobile: A Century Nick Georgano
              The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company James A. Ward
              Studebaker: The Life and Death of an American Corporation Donald T. Critchlow

              Online References



              • #8
                Something else I forgot to mention, that's rather important. There's occassional ads in Hemmings Motor News for a Tucker convertable for sale. AFAIK, no photos of the car have been published anywhere, and there's conflicting stories from folks who've seen the car if it even looks legit, muchless is legit. Phil Egan did do some sketches for a 1950 model convertable, but both he and Alex Tremulis have stated no such car was ever built! Given that the design department was within earshot of the body knockers who were building the Tin Goose, if a one off prototype of a convertable was going to be built, I'd think that it would have been done in the same area that the Tin Goose was constructed, and Egan and Tremulis would have heard the car being built, and gone over to investigate, but Egan makes no mention of loud noises in the plant after the Tin Goose was built.


                • #9
                  You're right. It IS more than I ever wanted to know
                  Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here


                  • #10
                    Fascinating Tuckerfan, excellent job.

                    You *really* need to submit this to Invention and Technology magazine...really !



                    • #11
                      Brian, interesting reading. But.....not nearly as entertaining as your live journal.

                      At this point I'd pay some small fee just to follow you and the other guys at the shop around for abit, gotta be funny... You are a talented writer. JRouche
                      My old yahoo group. Bridgeport Mill Group



                      • #12
                        <font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by JRouche:
                        Brian, interesting reading. But.....not nearly as entertaining as your live journal.

                        At this point I'd pay some small fee just to follow you and the other guys at the shop around for abit, gotta be funny... You are a talented writer. JRouche
                        Well, since they fired me, there's probably not going too many more stories, though one of these days I'll get around to detailing everything that happened while I was there. In the meantime, I'll point you to this site, with the comment that Pete did machine parts for those things.


                        • #13
                          Tuckerfan, very interesting. Remembering some of this sure makes me feel old. In one toolshop I worked in, the fellow that worked the jig grinder next to mine told me he bought a new car after the war and it came without a bumper and spare tire. Had to wait on them. I was a young man and he was older. He also told stories about being in Germany during the war and all the trucks and cars were steam powered. VW's were sold any way you wanted them, without glass, seats, doors, heater, whatever. He saw people using egg boxes for seats. As a young man, I couldn't imagine such things.


                          • #14
                            I am a car nut..

                            the Rivera almost made me spit up the excellent spinach and sour cream cracker onto the screen. UGLY.. A rivera is much more attractive. A waste of time to me by someone who shouldn't have. The only really similar thing to the torpedo picture was the pointed rear glass of some riveras.

                            The tucker of the movie, is that real or imaginary? Nice old studebaker looking car.



                            • #15
                              <font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by ibewgypsie:
                              I am a car nut..

                              the Rivera almost made me spit up the excellent spinach and sour cream cracker onto the screen. UGLY.. A rivera is much more attractive. A waste of time to me by someone who shouldn't have. The only really similar thing to the torpedo picture was the pointed rear glass of some riveras.

                              The tucker of the movie, is that real or imaginary? Nice old studebaker looking car.

                              Yeah, I have no idea why Tucker's relative picked the Torpedo to make, when he could have easily used the Buick to make the Talisman which was a much better looking car.

                              As far as the cars in the film go, twenty or so of them were actual Tuckers (including at least one of them on the assembly line), the rest were fiberglas shells, powered by either Corvair or VW engines (I forget which). The rollover car, however, was a converted Studebaker (it's really obvious in some shots on the DVD) since fiberglas doesn't crinkle like steel does. For a mere $35K you can buy a Tucker replica (and considering a real Tucker will set you back some $500K or so, it's a steal).

                              [This message has been edited by Tuckerfan (edited 06-17-2005).]