Market Finds: The Tucker 48 Is The Closest Thing To A Road-Going Aircraft

The Tucker 48 Is The Closest Thing To A Road-Going Aircraft

Andrew Golseth By Andrew Golseth
March 28, 2016
2 comments

Photography Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

Automobile design has been inspired from, among other things, aeronautical machines since the earliest days of mass-production motoring. For obvious reasons, aircraft are constructed with function in mind, but for whatever reason, functionality tends to be pretty damn cool-looking. Take this 1948 Tucker 48, for example. Its approaching-70-year-old fuselage is a pair of wings away from requiring an FAA license to pilot. Driving a Tucker 48 could very well be the closest thing to chartering a DC-3 down the highway.

The Second World War forced a technological advancement on par with the impact of the Industrial Revolution. It demanded labor support and production material priority, which stinted American automobile manufacturer progression. By the end of the war, the Big Three’s lineups were getting long in the tooth, but one man was ready to fulfill the market’s need for a new kind of automobile.

Enter the mind of Preston Thomas Tucker—an experienced industrialist who, perhaps, had greater ambitions than prosperous luck. In mid 1944, Mr. Tucker hired designer George S. Lawson who initially penned their first prototype, the “Tucker Torpedo,” that would eventually evolve into the “48.” Lawson left the up-and-struggling marque after a disagreement, leaving Tucker without a chief stylist.

Preston Tucker then hired Alex Tremulis, from the Chicago-based design firm Tammen & Dension, to continue developing Lawson’s blueprint. By March 1947, the Lawson-Tremulis mash up was publicized on print across the country—earning the revolutionary Tucker concept some national interest. Attempting to gain potential buyers, Tucker promoted the Torpedo with dazzling but overpromising lines such as, “… 15 years of testing produced the car of the year”—though, at the time its only prototype didn’t even run!

Another borderline-unethical company policy was their military veteran priority. Though patriotic, veterans were granted priority on the Tucker 48 waitlist, bumping non-veterans down or completely off the list. The misleading claims, coupled with the company’s veteran preference would tarnish the brand before it could ever really achieve lift.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission took notice, and after investigation, several charges of mail and conspiracy fraud were filed along with a federal indictment of Tucker company officials—likely the primary reasons behind the maker’s short-lived life. Although the charges were dropped, Tucker failed to take flight after only 51 model 48 were produced.

Preston originally dreamt his car to feature such innovations as power disc brakes, lightweight magnesium wheels, fuel injection, tubeless tires, and a direct-drive torque converter gearbox. Due to time restraints, development issues, and unforeseen manufacturing costs, these features were abandoned. Despite the disappointments, the production Tucker 48 was still cutting-edge.

The rear-mounted flat-six failed to lump out the promised horsepower, but the air-tight cabin was treated to a gracious amount of sound deadening—providing a tomb-like quiet cabin. The advanced chassis featured several safety innovations including a collision-engaged pop-out windshield and a, now laughable, cavity (dubbed the “crash chamber”) under the padded dash where front-passengers were instructed to dive forward into before a crash.

Some of the more useful features include the center mounted “Cyclops” headlight that corresponds to steering input up to 10 degrees of horizontal rotation—this feature was deemed illegal in 17 states that banned more than two headlights. The chassis featured a perimeter crash-frame, roll bars built into the roof and pillars, and a unique independent rubber torsion tube suspension.

This particular example is chassis 1049, and is allegedly the only Tucker in Europe. It’s also worth mentioning this was the last chassis that completed assembly with a powertrain—chassis 1050 wasn’t fitted with an engine or transmission from the factory. Chassis 1049 was auctioned-off at the Tucker bankruptcy auction in 1950. Business partner and International Harvest dealer Ezra Schlipf is believed to be the first owner and was the most generous bidder during Tucker’s dissolution—making Ezra the premier new-old-stock Tucker parts distributer for years.

Starting in 2003, this Waltz Blue 48 began a four-year ground-up rotisserie restoration back to factory specifications. Shortly after the restoration was completed, a British collector purchased the car and has enjoyed the car since, winning a number of awards throughout the United Kingdom to include Best In Class at the 2008 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Although Preston Tucker’s automotive dream was short-lived with a MayDay ending, the Tucker 48 remains an American icon thanks to its impressive construction, unmistakable design, and forward-thinking innovations.       

History
– An authentic original example of an automotive legend
– Formerly of the Nick Jenin, Gene Zimmerman, and Bob Bahre collections
– Recipient of an outstanding four-year restoration to original condition
– Documented by Tucker historian Jay Follis
– Featured in Classic & Sports Car magazine
– The only Tucker in Europe

Specifications
~166 horsepower, 335 cu. in. OHV horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine, Tucker Y-1 four-speed pre-selector transmission, front and rear independent suspension, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 3,302 mm.

Vehicle information
Serial no.: 1049
Engine no.: 335-28
Body no.: 1049

Valuation
Auction house: RM Sotheby’s
Estimate: (No Reserve)
Price realized: Auction on May 14

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Car Nut Seattle
Car Nut Seattle

I call it damn unforgivable that Preston Tucker didn’t get to build any more of his cars. He had some good ideas about how cars should be built, and whether his car would’ve changed the way cars were built remains to be seen. But it would’ve given car buyers something new and different to consider.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

If you want to see the most aircraft influenced post WWII car ever made …. look no further than Bristol . From the interior , to the engineering etc right on down to their ease of maintenance [ right up until the sad demise of the company ] and the way they were constructed … they were the pinnacle of post WWII aircraft influenced automobiles … not Tucker … which for all its so called innovations was in reality a nerd/wonk/ engineers nightmare featuring Engineering for Engineering’s sake … 90\% of which did not work . FYI; For all the… Read more »