Preston Tucker had automobiles in his blood. First employed as an office boy in Cadillac Engineering, he later worked on the Ford assembly line. It was in auto sales, however, that he finally made his mark, eventually appointed as a regional sales manager for Pierce-Arrow. Tucker befriended Harry Miller and teamed with him as Miller and Tucker, Inc. to build the front-wheel drive Indianapolis race cars for Ford Motor Company in 1935.
As war loomed in Europe in the late 1930s, Tucker envisaged a light, maneuverable scout car for the services, with a swiveling gun turret. He built a prototype and had talks with the Dutch, but before he could complete the deal, their country was overrun by the Germans. He marketed the vehicle to the U.S. forces unsuccessfully, although the turret was eventually used on PT boats, landing craft and bombers. It was during the war, however, that Tucker resolved to build his own automobile.
The concept was revolutionary. He intended to use a Miller-designed engine mounted in the rear. Suspension was to be all-independent, with disc brakes at each wheel. A wide, one-piece windshield would be designed to pop out in case of accident. Sketches appearing in Science Digest in 1946 were titled “Torpedo on Wheels,” and the name “Torpedo” was briefly allocated to the car. Tucker soon changed it to simply “Tucker 48” to escape any military connotations. His significant inspiration was hiring Alex Tremulis to complete the design. Tremulis, who had come from Auburn and Cord, finished the drawings in five days, and a full-page ad was running in March 1947.
The initial prototype, completed in 100 days, had a version of Miller’s horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine. With overhead valves operated by oil pressure rather than a camshaft, pushrods and rockers, it had hemispherical combustion chambers and displaced a whopping 589 cubic inches. Drive was to be by twin torque converters, one at each rear wheel, and suspension would be a “Torsilastic” affair, independent with rubber springing all around.
The Miller engine proved impractical, as did the direct torque converter drive. Instead, Tucker bought Air Cooled Motors, a Syracuse, New York company making helicopter engines for the Bell Aircraft Corporation. Reworking the helicopter engine, which was a Franklin derivative, for water cooling, he installed it in the Tucker 48 with a four-speed transaxle from the Cord 810 and 812. Disc brakes were dropped for economy reasons, and the one-piece windshield became a more conventional split design.
Eventually, 51 cars were built, but by the time they appeared in public, the Tucker Corporation had come under the scrutiny of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, some say brought on by Big Three automakers and Senator Homer Ferguson from Michigan. The gears of government ground slowly, and it was January 1950 before Tucker and his executives were eventually declared “not guilty” on all counts. But by that time, the Tucker 48 had effectively been torpedoed and its inventor left indelibly in debt.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August of 2010 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.