Throwback Thursday: 1948 Tucker Torpedo

The Tucker Torpedo could have been a legendary American success story, if the stars had lined up and things had worked out differently. The car was truly ahead of its time for the late 1940s, with many innovative design and safety features . Such as:

·       A third headlight at the center, which would follow the car’s steering mechanism and light the car’s way around corners

·       Rear engine and rear wheel drive, with a subframe that would allow for easy service, lowering the entire engine from the car in minutes

·       Perimeter frame for stability and crash protection, with a roll bar built into the roof

·       Safety-glass windshield designed to pop out in the event of a collision

·       Collapsible steering column and padded dash

Tucker’s engine design was entirely innovative…a monstrous 589 cubic inch flat-6 with hemispherical combustion chambers, fuel injection and overhead valves designed to operate by oil pressure rather than a camshaft, lifters and pushrods. The design never did work out, however, and the few Tuckers that were produced used an engine originally designed for the Bell 47 helicopter. One Tucker design also called for torque converters on the wheels themselves, doing away with the need for a transmission.

The Tucker sedan could have been something great, but before it could make it to mass production, the entire company came crashing to the ground. Preston Tucker himself was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the car itself got some bad publicity at its debut; even though all charges were eventually dropped, the bad publicity brought the company down, and the car along with it.

The story of the Tucker is told in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1988 movie Tucker: The Man and his Dream, with Jeff Bridges. The movie was critically well-received, but a box-office bomb…an oddball, eccentric movie that went nowhere, much like Preston Tucker and the Tucker Torpedo itself.