1948 Tucker Torpedo
This car, chassis represents a brief moment in time after the end of World War II when independent automakers tried their best to introduce innovation to the American market (an L.A.-based example is the Davis Divan, also from 1948, which is currently sitting in the Innovation section on the third floor of this museum). Prior to 1948, the Detroit-based domestic automakers in America were preoccupied with building the machinery of war – tanks and bombers. After the war ended, many of the factories had to be re-tooled to produce automobiles again. Preston Tucker saw his opportunity to enter the market. The Tucker was poised to be one of the first all-new cars of the post-war era, with novel features such as a center driving lamp known internally as the “Cyclops eye,” which illuminated when the steering wheel was turned more than 10 degrees. The Tucker was powered by an air-cooled 6-cylinder ALV-335 unit initially developed for the Bell Helicopter Company and later adapted to be water-cooled by Tucker’s engineers. The Tucker was one of the first production cars fitted with seatbelts and a pop-out windshield. It also featured a “safety cell” – a padded area aft of the front passenger seat, intended to be a safe place to be during a crash. The earliest concept, designed by George Lawson, was advertised as the “Torpedo,” though the production Tucker was named “’48” after the year of its debut, 1948. Only 37 Tucker automobiles were made before Preston Tucker was indicted for fraud, and the company was in receivership by March, 1949. The remaining 14 Tuckers were assembled by volunteers: ex-employees and aficionados. This car is number 30 out of 51, and was recently confirmed to be Preston Tucker’s personal car by Tucker’s grandson and great grandson. This car’s chassis number is 1030.
Designed by Alex Tremulis, the Tucker incorporated features that were considered advanced during the immediate postwar period such as seat belts, a central headlight that turned with the front wheels, and a rear-mounted flat-six engine. Tucker produced a prototype in 1947 and 50 pilot production cars one year later in his Chicago, Illinois factory, but his inability to supply dealers with vehicles as scheduled contributed to his indictment on 31 counts of fraud. Although Tucker was acquitted, a lack of public confidence prevented him from resuming production. Francis Coppola told the story of Preston Tucker’s struggle to bring an all-new car to market in the film Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), one of the few major motion pictures made to deal with automotive history.