Preston Tucker was a true American dreamer -- and he created one of the most memorable failures the automotive industry has ever seen: the radically unconventional 1948 Torpedo, later renamed the Tucker 48.
Only 51 Tuckers were made before the company folded on March 3, 1949, due to negative publicity initiated by the news media, a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and a heavily publicized stock-fraud trial. The whole sordid ordeal was immortalized on film by legendary director/producer Francis Ford Coppola, in 1988 (recent Oscar winner Jeff Bridges delivers a great performance as Tucker).
While established manufacturers were offering warmed-over prewar designs at the time, Tucker promised a car-starved nation aerodynamic efficiency, 100-mph cruising speed and safety features including a padded dash, “pop-out” windshield and disc brakes -- and he delivered them all. Not to mention a fully independent suspension with “Torsilastic” rubber and torsion bar springs, and a 5.5-liter rear-mounted aluminum helicopter engine converted from air- to water-cooling.
The man was surely ahead of his time, but despite such vision and advancements, the company fell prey to a noxious public atmosphere brought about through a witch hunt by the SEC (fueled by the media) that punished Tucker for unorthodox -- though hardly illegal -- business methods. Not to mention the crime of taking head-on the far more established competition, which enjoyed far deeper pockets. Funds dried up, dealers and investors lost confidence, and the lawsuits, once they began, ended the company.
We found this classic Tucker 48 on display at Coppola's Rubicon Estate, the filmmaker's winery in Napa Valley, Calif. Take a step into the past and a look at what might have been.