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Tucker 48: The Car of Tomorrow

Jeffrey Syken

It would become one of the most iconic cars of the 20th Century and its creator a folk hero (of sorts). Even Hollywood got in on the act with no less than the director of The Godfather trilogy – Francis Ford Coppola (a Detroit native), placing the biography of one of his childhood heroes up on the big screen as a remembrance of a man who, against all odds, pursued a noble dream (kinda like himself). In fact, his own father was one of thousands of investors in the new car company that was going to revolutionize the automobile industry with its mantra of “Safety With Style.” The name of the car was “Tucker ‘48” and the movie that told the story was entitled, appropriately enough: Tucker: The Man and His Dream.

In the waning days of WWII, Preston Thomas Tucker – a self-proclaimed “motorhead” and “plow jockey from the back forty” (who spoke “barnyard Anglo-Saxon”) had a bright idea. For four years, the American public had toiled in the arsenals of democracy producing the tools of war. At the same time, armies of veterans were returning with expectations of the “good life” after their long ordeal. What better way to manifest that dream than with a new car that would make all others seem like relics of the past by comparison. After all, no new cars were produced during the war and those that were offered by the “Big Three” in its aftermath were merely chromed-up versions of their pre-war designs. Even better, Preston Tucker would apply all he had learned at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the pre-war years concerning automotive design, innovation, safety and maintenance and incorporate those ideas into his namesake car.

Considering the odds against him, it’s amazing that he was able to produce anything at all, no less than fifty pre-production cars (plus one prototype). Whether or not there was a conspiracy to suppress the Tucker 48 is still the subject of much debate (as is the character of Preston Tucker himself), and will be for a long time to come (there are good arguments both for and against). What’s important is the legacy of safety innoivations the Tucker 48 introduced (and/or intended to introduce) to the automotive marketplace which are now commonplace. Like his “Tucker Tiger” combat car which never went into production, Preston Tucker’s turret design for the car was recognized as worthy of exploitation thus, the famous “Tucker Turret” was featured widely on bomber aircraft and naval vessels during the war. So too, the myriad of safety features introduced by the Tucker 48 would be recognized as worthy of emulation and exploited for the public good in the post-WWII years. As a bonus, the fastback styling would offer tremendous “eye appeal,” making the Tucker 48 one of the most sought-after collector cars of all time.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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