Preston Thomas Tucker was the US designer and entrepreneur responsible of the conception of the Tucker Automobile, a.k.a. Tucker “Torpedo” launched in 1948. The car was briefly produced in Chicago during 1948 and only 51 cars were made before the company closed operations on 1949.

tucker world premier
Tucker World premiere, June 19, 1947.

The Tucker car features were quite innovative and far ahead from other competitor models of the era. The car featured a directional third headlight named as the “Cyclops Eye” which being activated where the steering angles were greater than 10 degrees to light the car’s path around corners.

A Tucker ´48 Sedan design patent illustration.

Additionally, the car had a rear engine and rear-wheel drive, an innovative perimeter frame all around the chasis for crash protection, the car doors were extended into the roof in order to ease entry and exit for the passengers, there was roll bar fully integrated into the roof and the steering box was behind the front axle to protect the driver in a front-end accident. The instrument panel and all controls were ergonomically designed in order to have easy reach from the steering wheel while the dashboard was padded for extra safety and the windshield was manufactured based on shatterproof glass material which was designed to pop during a collision.

Tucker Torpedo Brochure, 1947. 

The car production process was based on “iteration” design, this means that each built Tucker differed somewhat from the previous one, as each car built was basically a prototype where design features and engineering concepts were tried, improved or discarded throughout the production cycle.

Preston Tucker held a patent for a collapsible steering column design. A glove box was added to the front door panels instead of the more conventional location in the dashboard to provide space for the “crash chamber” that the Tucker is now famous for. This is a padded area ahead of the passenger seat, free from obstructions, providing the front seat passengers an area to protect themselves in the event of an accident.

Tucker envisioned several other innovations that were later abandoned. Magnesium wheels, disc brakes, fuel injection, self-sealing tubeless tires and a direct-drive torque converter transmission were all evaluated, but were dropped on the final prototype due to cost, engineering complexity and lack of time to develop.

One of Tucker’s most innovative business ideas caused trouble for the company at the end. He envisioned an accessories program to raise funds by selling accessories before the car was even in production. After the war where demand for new cars was greater than dealers could supply, and most dealers had waiting lists for new cars. Preference was given to returning veterans, which meant that non-veterans were bumped down on the waiting lists indefinitely. Tucker’s program allowed potential buyers that purchased Tucker accessories to obtain a guaranteed spot on the Tucker dealer waiting list for a Tucker ’48 car.

preston tucker
Preston Tucker, circa 1945.

This concept was investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the United States Attorney, and led to an indictment of company executives. Although all charges were eventually dropped, the negative publicity destroyed the company and halted production of the car.

Definitely the main emphasis about the car was related to the safety can bring to the passenger, where most of them somehow were taken into account later for several car manufacturers.

tucker safety
Article on Life Magazine, March 1, 1948. 

Author: Jesus Padilla

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