Magnetic Marketing – Business Magazine
“We want the car! chants the crowd at the reveal ceremony for the 1988 biopic, “Tucker: The Man and His Dream”. Attendees at the event at the Preston Tucker Chicago factory in June 1947 represented the 150,000 prospects who wrote to express their interest and the 1,700 dealers who signed up to sell the “Car of Tomorrow.”
Despite the chaos behind the scenes, Tucker – played by Jeff Bridges – remains suave, improvising on the engine change in 20 minutes. “Why is he saying that?” asks a Tucker Corp board member. When the moment of ecstasy finally arrives, the Tucker 48 is pushed, not driven, onto the stage.
World War II had ended two years earlier and automakers in Detroit were short of new products. Kaiser-Frazer Corp. and Tucker were daring startups. The launch of the Kaisers and Frazers, built in Ford’s former Willow Run bomber factory, went smoothly in the summer of 1946. Nonetheless, despite their novelty, the flat-sided cars disappointed. People had drooled over the 1938 Buick Y-Job concept car and futuristic renderings by Michigan illustrator Arthur Radebaugh. The Tucker 48 sits in between.
“The first completely new car in fifty years,” Tucker’s advertisement proclaimed in the fall of 1947, noting that testing had taken place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The feature list included “Cyclops Eye”. This third headlight, mounted just below the pointed hood, in a new twist turned with the front wheels. A padded dashboard and the reinforced roof supported the claim that the Tucker 48 was “the safest car ever built”.
The horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine made by Aircooled Motors, a descendant of the old Franklin Automobile Co., sat in the back. The power of 150 horsepower was needed, as the car weighed over two tons and, at 18.2 feet, was longer than a hippo.
Born in 1903 in Macomb County, Tucker grew up in Lincoln Park. After dropping out of Cass Technical High School in Detroit, he worked as a desk clerk for the Cadillac division, tried out the Ford Motor Co. assembly line, and sold cars of various brands. It was on an upward arc when he and racing engineer Harry Miller sold Ford the idea of a single-seater fleet for the 1935 Indianapolis 500. of this endeavor has left an egg on many faces in Dearborn. and discredited Tucker.
Still, Tucker, who was six-foot-two, could turn his brown eyes on you – and be wary of enlisting in his next Pie in the Sky project. He would build 60,000 cars a year. He planned to add a gas turbine car to the lineup. He has also established an international sales and marketing team.
Things were apparently going as planned, until the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission objected to his financial maneuvers. The bad news caused the company’s stock price to plummet and lenders stayed on the sidelines. Tucker put his staff on leave, shut down the plant, and faced a slew of lawsuits. After a lengthy trial, Tucker and members of his board were acquitted of fraud and conspiracy charges, but it came too late and the company was dead. The company’s assets, including the 51 pilot production cars, sold for 18 cents on the dollar.
“The idea that Tucker was transported by rail is actually very easy to support,” says Steve Lehto, lawyer at Southfield and author of “Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Ttomorrow. “Tucker was a legitimate car guy who tried to build cars. There is no doubt that the government people wanted to have it. We just don’t know why.
At the end of 1956, Tucker died in Ypsilanti, leaving behind his wife Vera and five children. He is buried in Flat Rock. The mark he left in the auto industry was big – and eerily similar to that left by his successor at Cass Tech: John DeLorean.