March 21, 2005

Today in Automotive History 1950

Today in Automotive History

1950 Tucker Turns Tables

Preston Tucker filed suit against his former prosecutors. Tucker, made famous by the 1988 film Tucker starring Jeff Bridges in the title role, was one of the car industry's most spectacular postwar failures.

Having built a reputation as an engineer during WWII, when he served as general manager of his company Ypsilanti Machine & Tool Company, Tucker looked to capitalize on the high demand that the postwar conditions offered. No new car model had been released since 1942, so the end of the war would bring four years worth of car buyers back to the market.

Tucker intended to meet the new demand with a revolutionary automobile design. His 1945 plans called for an automobile that would be equipped with a rear-mounted engine as powerful as an aircraft engine, an hydraulic torque converter that would eliminate the necessity of a transmission, two revolving headlights at either side of the car's fender along with one stationary "cyclops" headlight in the middle, and a steering wheel placed in the center of the car and flanked by two passenger seats. In the end, only 51 Tuckers were produced, and none of them were equipped with the features Tucker had initially advertised.

Still, loyal fans of Tucker claim that Tucker was the victim of industrial sabotage carried out by the Big Three. Tucker was indicted by the Securities and Exchange Commission before he could begin to mass-produce his automobiles. He was eventually acquitted of all charges. Emboldened by his acquittal, Tucker filed suit against his prosecutors. Historians who argue against the conspiracy theory maintain that post-war manufacturing conditions left small manufacturers little room for success. They suggest that, if anything, Tucker's acquittal was merciful. Tucker failed to meet the requirements for capital and production capability that his project demanded. After raising almost $15 million from stockholders, Tucker defaulted on federal deadlines for the production of car prototypes.

When he finally did produce the cars, none of them were equipped with the technological breakthroughs he promised. Still, the Tucker was a remarkable car for its price tag. Whether as an innovator silenced by the complacent authorities or a charlatan better fit to build visions than cars, Preston Tucker made a personal impact in a post-war industry dominated by faceless goliaths.

Posted by Quality Weenie at March 21, 2005 08:28 AM

What is the price of a Tucker today?

Posted by: Robb at November 7, 2005 07:43 PM