The Tucker 48 Saga
The story of how Preston Tucker built his Tucker 48 reads like a best selling novel; and a film was in fact made about his life in 1948: 'Tucker: The Man and His Dream'.
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He had been completely car mad all his life. He learned to drive when aged 11, was buying and selling cars at 16 and joined the police force at 19 because he wanted to drive the fast and powerful police cars! He was eventually banned from driving them after cutting a hole in a dashboard to allow engine heat to warm the interior.
After further work as a car salesman he designed car, aircraft and weapon systems during the war, then after the end of hostilities he decided the time was right for becoming a major car manufacturer.
After the war, safety appeared to be a minor consideration for car manufacturers and Tucker decided not only to produce the safest car possible but to also widely publicise an allegation that the big three manufacturers, Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, put profits before the lives of drivers and passengers. This publicity was also intended to announce the coming of his own safety first saloon, the Tucker 48. His advertisements certainly create a demand for his car, but it also made him a lot of enemies amongst other car manufacturers!
One of the major causes of death or injury to car occupants had been laceration from glass windscreens; he created shatterproof glass screens that popped out on impact. Another was injuries when bodies were thrown against the dashboard; he proposed padding to prevent this and seat belts to keep car occupants from being thrown about the interior. The frames of his cars were to be strengthened so that even if they turned over the people inside the car could survive. Instrumentation was to be laid out in an easy to reach manner, so that the driver wouldn't be distracted so much. All this was going to cost a great deal of money for design and production work and so he embarked on an ambitious fundraising programme, selling stock in his company and dealerships; all this before he had even built his first car. Perhaps most controversially, at a time when there were long waiting lists for new cars, he allowed buyers to have priority provided that they bought extras, such as radios and special interior trim, before the cars were built.
All this attracted the attention of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. A company called the The Kaiser-Frazer Corporation had recently raised millions of dollars in government grants to build a car but they had blown the lot without a single car being produced. Although no one was prosecuted over this the SEC started to take an unhealthy interest in Tucker's fund raising activities.
The prototype eventually debuted in June 1947 and around 3000 people turned up for the unveiling, which proved to be a fiasco. Before the car could be shown it's suspension collapsed and had to be chocked up on blocks; the 24 volt starter system didn't have enough power to start the engine and so it needed external boosting; the engine ran so loudly that Tucker had to get the band to raise their volume high enough to drown it out; reverse gear didn't work; and the engine coolant system started to boil over!
The resultant publicity didn't do the company any good at all; but worse was to come. Before they had even completed a single car dealers were asking serious questions about where the money they had paid for their dealerships had gone, the company's Board of Directors were in open mutiny over development costs and finally the SEC brought charges of fraud against the company. These were eventually thrown out by the jury but the damage had been done and the company was closed down.
Ultimately around 50 Tucker 48 saloons were completed, and most of these still survive to this day. On the rare occasions when they come up for sale, one in good condition can command a price in the low millions of US dollars. Even old Tucker stock certificates are in great demand amongst collectors, often selling for far more than face value! The Tucker 48 may have been a failure the first time round, but it is certainly a success now.