Tucker Car

The Tucker Torpedo may very well be the most unique vintage car ever produced in the United States. Preston Tucker, the car’s founder and ultimate designer, produced an automobile that was in many ways very far ahead of it’s time. The problem was, and perhaps one reason why the Tucker cars are so valuable today, that only fifty-one were ever built. The Tucker car shown here is on permanent display at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Sonoma County California.

tucker cars

Tucker Automobile

Preston Tucker was interested in building race cars and spent a lot of time in the 1930′s with people connected with Indy Racing. While he failed to sell his “fast combat vehicle” prototype to the U.S. government, he did make a fortune with the designing and patenting of a gun turret for World War Two bombers and Navy vessels. It was named the “Tucker Gun Turret“. For a few years during the war, Tucker was also involved with an aviation start up but soon turned his attentions to the automotive industry.

After the war, Preston Tucker introduced a radically different automobile. Referred to as the “48 Tucker‘, or “48 Torpedo“, the Tucker cars were about as futuristic as you could get in a post World War Two car in 1948. Just for starters, the 1948 Torpedo was designed to use a Bell Helicopter engine mounted in the rear of the vehicle. In addition to that, the Tucker Torpedo came with four-wheel independent suspension and a pop out safety windshield.

tucker car interior

Interior of Tucker car

The Tucker car was low and sleek, perhaps as high as a man’s shoulder. The aerodynamic flow was much better than anything else on the road. The roof was tapered in two directions and the drag coefficient was something like 0.30. Fuel efficiency was more than excellent with a reported 30 MPG and the automobile has a top speed of 120 MPH.

It was said that the public delighted over the Tucker Torpedo because, for one reason, the design was totally different than anything before. A lot of car lines stayed with certain basic designs and the Tucker automobile presented something totally new and different. Along with Tucker, the design of the Tucker Torpedo was a creation of Alex Tremulis who was a former designer for Auburn-Cord-Dusenberg. An example of this all new design was found on the front end. Featured was a fixed headlight lens that turned as the steering wheel turned. Another reason for the public attraction was the car’s reported safety advantages. This included an exceptionally wide track that helped cornering much easier.

three headlight tucker automobile

Center headlight

There were major glitches with the Tucker automobiles. One big one was with the Bell Helicopter 589 cid engine. The engine was advertised to produce 150 HP and was only capable of about 88 HP. After many attempts with aircraft engines, Tucker bought the Air-Cooled Motors company and decided on their flat 6 cylinder engine. The “Tuckermatic” transmission was developed to work with the new engine and because of the size and design, the gas tank had to be relocated. It was moved from the rear of the vehicle to in front of the dashboard. It seems that all major problems developed because of the failure of the original helicopter engine to perform.

The short lived Tucker automobile was produced from a leased former Boeing Superfortress factory in Chicago. Tucker acquired some $8 million by franchising 1,800 dealerships before he even had a working prototype of the vehicle available. That alone was astonishing.

sleek designed tucker car

Sleek, low body styling of the Tucker

The downfall came for Preston Tucker when securities fraud charges were leveled against him. Tucker’s aim was to raise capital through the issuance of stock. The charges had to do with the stock prospectus and the fact that it included many features of the new car which was not built on the production models. In other words, the SEC claimed the prospectus misrepresented the product. Eventually, Tucker automotive was unable to get loans for the needed production because of the SEC charges and he had to liquidate the company in March of 1949. Thirty-seven vehicle had already been built and another fourteen were added by volunteer workers for a total of only fifty-one cars built.

tucker automobiles

View of Tucker automobile from top

The Tucker automotive Torpedo was supposed to be a symbol of an entirely different automobile that marked the end of the war and the progress that was to follow. Most historians will say that it was too much, too soon and what there was was under financed. Just about any story you might read about the downfall of Preston Tucker’s auto company points out that many thought the Big Three automakers in Detroit had something to do with it. The theory is that the new design, which was what the public really wanted after the war, was lacking from the big Detroit automakers and the Tucker Torpedo represented a real threat. Nothing has ever surfaced to point to direct involvement from Detroit and the degree of threat his company posed to Detroit is unclear. Even so, the Tucker Torpedos that have survived the years are valuable. It’s said by some that a Tucker Torpedo in absolute mint condition might fetch up to $300,000.

See our article and photos of the Auburn Automobiles.

An excellent place to see the Tucker car on the west coast is the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Sonoma County California. Visiting the winery is not only a chance to see the rare Tucker automobile but the winery is one of the finest in northern California and a great addition to your California Wine Country vacation or side trip. The winery is located just west of US Hwy 101 in Geyserville California. This is about 75 miles north of San Francisco proper and 20 miles north of Santa Rosa.


Automotive Industry Companies / Auburn Cars

Out of all of the automobile industry companies the Auburn Automobile Company has a unique history and produced some great classic cars. The Auburn Automobile Company was founded in Auburn Indiana and was at one time the Eckhart Carriage Company. The company was founded only after two Eckhart brothers experimented with car building for a few years. The automobiles produced by the Auburn company were priced on the higher end. It many ways it was marketed to much wealthier buyers as compared to Ford’s Model T and Model A. While the Model T was a car for everyone, the Auburn’s were automobiles for the fewer. The Auburn automobiles were hand produced as opposed to mass production.

1904 auburn car

1934 Auburn

The Eckhart brothers left the auto business in 1919 when they sold out to a group of Chicago investors. World War One had been tough for the company with a lot of difficulty getting materials. This could very much explain the 1919 buyout. The previous few years were tough ones for Auburn and the brothers welcomed a buyer. The Chicago buyout group was headed by none other than William K. Wrigley Jr., the chewing gum titan. The new group did a lot with designs and built the “Beauty Six” with a new streamlined body style, windshield vents and disc wheels. All of this was well and good but there was a severe post-war recession and by the year 1924 the company was in trouble again. At this point they looked for outside help to ratchet up sales.

The next person to enter Auburn’s picture was Errett Lobban Cord. Cord was a salesman’s salesman and had sold for the Moon Motor Car Company for their Chicago market.

1932 auburn automobile

1932 Auburn

While his background was in sales, Cord took on the position as general manager for Auburn. This was his first foray into the production end of the business. By 1926 he was not only president of the company but was it’s principal shareholder. Cord also partnered with the racing car company Dusenberg. Things picked up for Auburn after Cord came in and they were selling V-8′s at very reasonable prices. By the year 1929, Auburn was selling 20,000 + cars annually. After 1930, Auburn dropped their six cylinder engines and were putting out both eight and twelve cylinder models. The very first Auburn eight originally debuted in 1925 and was named “the eight-in-line”.  In 1930, the Great Depression was picking up steam and Auburn decided that there just wasn’t enough profit in the six cylinder cars. The twelve cylinder engines however  had a relatively short life span and ended production in 1934.

Unfortunately for Auburn, the depression ate hard into sales and by 1937 the automaker halted production. There were also stories about stock manipulation by Cord and trouble with the SEC that hastened the automaker’s downfall.

1936 cord 810 automobile

1936 Cord 810

Historically, Auburn is known for it’s imaginative designing and advanced engineering. Teaming up with Dusenberg in 1926 allowed Auburn to sell higher cost luxury cars with racing flare. One very popular car put out by Auburn during it’s last few years of existence, and after Harold Ames became president of the company, was the “Speedster 851” model. Many of the Auburn Speedsters were powered with straight eight engines and “superchargers”. To give you an idea of the car’s specs, the 1935 Speedster 851 model came with an eight cylinder Lycoming engine, a three speed manual with synchromesh, weighed 3,352 pounds, had 150 HP and could go from 0 to 60 MPH in about 15 seconds.

auburn speedster advertisement

Auburn Speedster advertisement

The car also was available with the option of a  Schweitzer-Cummins Supercharger and had rear wheel drive. The “supercharged” models even had the word “supercharged” shown on both sides of the engine cover. If you owned one of the supercharged models in 1935, you wanted people to know. The Auburn Speedster supercharged models were easily recognized by their four external exhaust headers. This was truly a luxury racer in many ways and today is among truly classic cars.

The stock car version of the 851 Speedster, also called the “Auburn Boattail” averaged some 100 MPH over a twelve hour run in 1935. This event alone helped sell the new improved Auburn Speedster. Officially the car was advertised with a top speed of 100 MPH. The company sold about 5,000 of the 851′s in 1935 and then saw sales drop significantly. They did introduce a Speedster 852 in 1936 but the car was essentially the same as the 851 model and surprisingly sales dropped more than fifty-percent.  As you can imagine, the 1935 Speedster 851 is quite a collector’s prize today. Another model put out by Auburn Cord Dusenberg in 1936 was the Cord 810 shown above. The car was unique in as much as it offered front wheel drive with independent front suspension. It also sported a semi-automatic four-speed transmission. The car was powered with 190 HP. The Cord was a separate design owned by by E.L. Cord but was manufactured by Auburn.

The Auburn Speedster model is what most people remember today about the Auburn cars. The company was very innovative and had excellent designers but the downfall appeared to have more to do with financial manipulation than anything to do with the fine products they were putting out.

Today, auto enthusiasts can visit the art deco former headquarters of the Auburn Automobile Company in Auburn Indiana. The building is now the Auburn Cord Dusenberg Automobile Museum. One of the things that makes this museum historically significant is that it was here where Auburn Cord Dusenberg manufactured automobiles by hand. Obviously a rarity today. The museum is located at 1600 Wayne Street in Auburn Indiana and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

You may also be interested in our articles on the Lotus Elise automobile and the Morgan Aero 8.

While in Auburn Indiana you’ll also want to check out the Kruse International Classic and Collector Car Auction. Some 5,000 cars are put on auction each day beginning in September.

(Photos and images from the public domain)