Launching a torpedo across the bow of Detroit’s automakers
Preston Tucker was a gifted entrepreneur and technological visionary who challenged the automotive establishment. Born in 1903 in Capac, Michigan, Tucker was always obsessed with automobiles. By the age of 16, he was already making money buying and flipping cars and had left school to work at Cadillac as a clerk. Tucker would later join the Lincoln Park, Michigan police department because he wanted to drive police vehicles, but was later banned from driving them after using a blowtorch to cut a hole in the dashboard of one to allow heat from the engine to warm the cabin.
Tucker later worked on a Ford Motor Company assembly line while running a gas station, where he began selling Studebaker automobiles as a side-business. He was soon hired as a full-time automobile salesman and sold numerous makes, including Stutz, Chrysler, Pierce-Arrow, and Dodge. During the 1930’s, Tucker developed an interest in motorsports and moved close to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to begin developing race cars with Harry Miller. This partnership later resulted in an armored vehicle called the “Tucker Tiger”, which was equipped with a rotating turret of Tucker’s design. Sensing the American public’s desire for new cars following WWII, Tucker began designing a vehicle that represented a massive leap forward in automotive design and engineering. In 1946, he announced the details of his car, which he called the Tucker Torpedo (later renamed the 48). The Tucker automobile was designed with an unusual rear-mounted engine and numerous safety and performance features, including a padded dash, pop-out windshield, disc brakes, and a “cyclops eye” center headlight that turned with the wheels.
Tucker hired Alex Tremulis to style the body of the 48, and the first prototype was unveiled to the public in 1947. Unfortunately, only 51 cars were built before Tucker became mired in a legal battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Tucker and his company were eventually found not guilty, but the company had lost is factory and had accumulated a crippling amount of debt. Despite his company’s failure, Tucker will always be remembered as one of the great revolutionaries of the automobile industry.