The Tucker ’48 was an innovative vehicle that was conceptualized and built by renowned American entrepreneur Preston Thomas Tucker and his company in 1948. This model is considered one of the rarest cars in the world, as there were only 51 production units and prototypes that were made for. Even though it is currently praised for its innovation and rarity in the vintage car market, the Tucker ’48 was released in a time of turmoil and instability for Preston Tucker’s company. Because of the problems that Preston Tucker was facing in that period, the Tucker ’48 became his company’s last produced vehicle. What happened when the vehicle was released? Let us find out as we get a look at the interesting history of the Tucker ’48.
Origins of the ’48
The Tucker ’48 was conceived after World War II when major car companies are unable to release new models, which could have possibly been brought by the lack of materials. Because the popular car companies are not making new models, the smaller companies were given an opportunity to shine during the late 1940s. One of the owners of those companies was Preston Tucker, who wanted to produce an innovative model that has a water-cooled aluminum block, steady disc brakes, a flat-6 rear engine, and a four-wheel independent suspension system.
Tucker began conceptualizing the model in 1944. To help him design his dream vehicle, he hired prolific car designer George S. Lawson to provide sketches. Lawson designed the vehicle for more than a year, and the design debuted in a brochure printed in March 1947. However, before the Tucker ’48 was even introduced, Lawson already resigned from the company in December 1946, leaving Preston Tucker to hire a new designer to finalize the vehicle’s design. Tucker then hired Alex Tremulis of Tammen& Denison to apply the finishing touches to the ’48 before it debuted on the brochure. After Tremulis’ 3-month contract expired, Tucker then hired five designers, namely, Budd Steinhilber, Read Viemeister, Hal Bergstrom, Philip Egan, and Tucker Madawick, to apply another update to the car’s design.
The Tucker ’48, after being designed by seven people, had a sleek overall appearance, with its front being arrow shape, while its rear portion is a bit boxier. Because of its submarine-like appearance, the Tucker ’48 was nicknamed as the “Tucker Torpedo.”
The Tucker ’48 officially premiered at Tucker’s Chicago factor on June 19, 1947, and Tucker invited more than 3,000 people to attend the demonstration of his new vehicle. However, before the Tucker ’48 was unveiled, the prototype already experienced a few problems. Firstly, one day before the demo, two of the prototypes broke because their suspension arms snapped, mainly due to the chassis and the exterior’s weight, which is deemed too heavy. Although the prototypes were heavy, Tucker made sure that the later prototypes and the production units would be lighter. The second problem arose when the car was turned on, as its 589 engine was too loud and may cause concern for the audience. As a remedy, Tucker tasked the band he hired in the demo to play as loud as they can and not to stop playing while the ’48 is running. The third problem was that the high-voltage starter of the prototype could not be kept running without the use of outside power, so Tucker told the engineers on his company to continue running the engine so that the effort to start the vehicle wouldn’t be noticed. The fourth and last problem occurred while the car was being driven towards the platform where it would be viewed better by the audience, as the liquid coolant boiled over, and a bit of steam came out of the car. Luckily for Tucker, the steam remained unnoticed.
What was noticed, however, was how the car ran when it was being driven around the factory. Newspaper columnists Drew Pearson wrote in an article that the Tucker ’48 might look like a fraud, as it was not able to run smoothly and could only go forward when it was presented. Even though it was only the demonstrated prototype that was experiencing the problems, as the other prototypes were running better, Preston Tucker’s reputation was already tarnished due to Pearson’s article and the perception of the audience during the presentation.
There were a total of 51 units made for the Tucker ’48 between 1947 and 1948, with the first being the prototype, while the other 50 were the production models. While Tucker’s business is going on a steady pace, the company would soon experience a downfall when the Securities and Exchange Commission or SEC investigated Preston Tucker for fraud in 1949.
One of the cases filed against Tucker was the one where he said in pamphlets and brochures that the Tucker ’48 was a result of “15 years of testing” despite not having a working prototype 15 years before the vehicle’s introduction in 1947. However, Tucker was acquitted of all fraudulent crimes in 1949, but his company was unable to recover from the bad publicity mainly caused by the media and the SEC investigation. Because of financial problems, Preston Tucker was forced to file for bankruptcy on March 3, 1949.
Today, most of Tucker ’48 production units survived, and each of those surviving vehicles commands a high resell value in the vintage car market. The most expensive Tucker ’48, with chassis number “1043”, sold for $2.915 million at a private auction in 2012, followed by chassis number “1046” that was sold in 2017 for $2.1 million.