1948 Tucker 48
1948 Tucker 48
Some called Preston Tucker a visionary; others called him a charlatan, a promoter, and huckster. Those who invested in his stillborn auto company might well have called him worse. That said, the former car salesman created a vehicle that shook up the auto industry and caused the gnashing of teeth in many of Detroit’s most exclusive boardrooms. Perhaps it was an orchestrated backlash from those corporate giants that eventually doomed Tucker’s dream. Or perhaps his reach simply exceeded his grasp.
There is no doubt that the vehicle Tucker put together in the heady post-World War II environment was a bold step forward. Perhaps the Tucker 48’s biggest advances came in the form of safety initiatives, something that car designs of the era paid little mind to. While seat belts weren’t standard equipment, much of the interior was carpeted or otherwise padded to help cushion the blows passengers’ bodies would take in a collision. An even better idea was a windshield that was designed to pop out in a crash, keeping occupants away from the jagged edges of broken glass that claimed so many lives in those days. For better visibility, the Tucker 48 was equipped with a third, center headlight that turned with the front wheels.
Initially, Tucker planned to power his car with an innovative horizontally opposed 6-cylinder engine designed internally, but the prototype engine proved so troublesome in development that he turned to an existing engine for his first pre-production run of cars. As a substitute, the entrepreneur lined up a supply of horizontally opposed 6-cylinder engines from Aircooled Motors, a descendant of the old Franklin marque. After conversion to water-cooling, the military-surplus powerplant displaced 334 cubic inches (5.5 liters) and produced a reported 165 hp at 3,200 rpm.
Not only did the Tucker 48 use an unusual engine, but the placement of the engine — over and behind the rear axle — was equally unusual. Virtually all cars of the era featured a front-mounted engine turning the rear wheels via a driveshaft and solid rear axle with an integral differential. The rear-engine/rear-drive arrangement put additional weight over the driving wheels but also necessitated an unconventional and complicated transmission.
Well-respected auto stylist Alex Tremulis is typically credited with designing the Tucker 48’s exterior, but in reality, a succession of designers, including George S. Lawson and Read Viemeister, had a hand in the effort.
On the strength of some futuristic renderings and a conception of what the production car would offer, Tucker took his company public. More than 44,000 shareholders bought into his dream, as Tucker set about lining up a factory to build the car, vendors to support the manufacturing, and dealers to sell the cars that would eventually be built. When that extremely complicated series of processes seemed to go too slowly, the press and then federal investigators began to look into the situation.
Tucker hurriedly hand-built a series of 51 cars, each weighing more than two tons, in an attempt to counteract the growing public sentiment against his company. Sporting a 128-inch wheelbase, these Tucker 48s were capable of 110 mph, but as the initial examples pointed out, the design was still in need of development.
Instead, Tucker was indicted on suspected securities fraud. The charges, which were later dropped, and a rollover accident during the model’s shakedown run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway effectively put an end to the venture before the car had even entered mass production.
The vehicle offered for sale, Tucker 48 No. 1028, was one of the 51 hand-built cars assembled during 1948. Factory records show the car, with engine number 335-35, was completed on September 19 of that year. It was the third car built after engineers relocated the fuel tank from the rear of the car to the front, a change necessitated by the imminent installation of a newly designed automatic transmission. However, this car does not have the automatic; it is equipped with the Tucker Y-1 transmission, a highly modified version of the transmission that had, as it turns out, been used in the Cord 810.
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