September 21, 1903 – Preston Tucker is born

On this day in 1903 American car designer and inventor Preston Tucker was born in Capac, Michigan. Preston’s well known for the development of and the later lawsuits surrounding  the Tucker ‘48, also known as the Tucker Torpedo, but his legacy in the auto industry reaches well beyond the revolutionary vehicle. Tucker got his start in the auto industry as an office boy for Cadillac before joining the local police force at age 19, which he saw as an opportunity to drive high powered fast police cars and motorcycles. His mother had him removed from the force as she pointed out he was below the agency’s age limit to be an officer. He went on to manage a gas station, work on the Ford assembly line and eventually started selling Studebakers from his gas station. He joined the police force two more times between his work, the second time he joined he was banned from driving the police cars because he used a torch to cut a hole in the dashboard of one to let engine heat into the cab during winter. His stint selling Studebakers led to him eventually becoming the sales manager for Chrysler in Memphis becoming the regional sales manager for Pierce-Arrow in Buffalo, NY. He later returned to Detroit where he working in sales for Dodge starting. In the 1930s Tucker would head to Indianapolis every year to watch the Indy 500, as he had a huge interest in race cars. There he met Harry Miller, maker of more Indy 500 winning engines than anyone at the time. The two joined forces in 1935, forming Miller and Tucker, Inc in 1935 to produce race cars. They began to build racecars for Ford and Tucker met a number of auto executives, including the Chevrolet Brothers. In 1937 Tucker was in the hospital recovering from appendicitis when he read about the possibility of war in Europe. He decided he wanted to develop a speedy combat vehicle and received interest from the Dutch government. However by the time the prototype was ready Germany had already invaded the Netherlands and the Dutch government had lost interest. Tucker turned his armored prototype, which featured a patented Tucker Turret, to the US government. The vehicle, which could reach speeds in excess of 115 mph, was simply to fast for them. They did like the mechanical turret though, and it was put into production on vehicles such as PT Boats, B-17 Bombers and B-29 Bombers. Tucker would later work with American-Bantam on the design for the first Jeep. Following the war Tucker saw a need for a completely new car, whereas major automakers, such as the Big 3, were in no hurry to introduce them. Tucker’s Torpedo first appeared in Science Illustrated in 1946, and the public was immediately excited. After securing a production facility in 1947 after raining $17 million Tucker and his team of automotive executives were ready to produce the first prototypes. There were 51 built and they featured such innovations as a padded steering wheel, safety glass, independent springless suspension, roll bar in the roof, a center cyclops headlight and a 334 cubic inch aircraft engine. Tucker faced extreme scrutiny for the way he raised funds from the Security and Exchange Commission. He sold Tucker accessories and dealerships before the car was ready for production. He eventually faced a grand jury trail brought on by the SEC. While in 1950 he would eventually be found not guilty on all charges, the negative press and numerous lawsuits from people who had purchased dealerships left him riddled with debt and his dream to produce a radically futuristic car was more or less crushed. Following the trial he remained optimistic. After all of Tucker Corporations belonging were auctioned off Tucker was given one of his car’s and his mother received another. Tucker teamed up with several inventors in Brazil in an effort to build a new car, the Carioca, which never saw production. After returning to the USA from Brazil in 1956 Tucker was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died of pneumonia as a complication of the cancer in December of that year and is buried at Michigan Memorial Park in Flat Rock, Michigan. Pics:Tucker with a Tucker 48Tucker armored combat car with Tucker TurretTucker 48Brochure for Tucker’s Brazilian concept, the Carioca