I decided to forego the usual Teutonic Tuesday today for something different, which nonetheless has a very Teutonic configuration. Hope you like it!
Inspired by Amoore100's great Cord post last night, I thought we could use another classy American today of all days, since those seem to be in short supply outside our little world. Continuing the election theme, this is also fitting as a story of the big guys smashing the little guy (inasmuch as any car company founder is a little guy).
This, of course, is the 1948 Tucker “48", colloquially known as the Torpedo, though it was only referred to as such during development and marketing. We all know the basics of the story, Preston Tucker set out to bring something new to the American car buyer, whose options after the war were limited to rehashed prewar models. Together with designer Alex Tremulis and mechanic/engineer Eddie Offut (whose name you may associate with Miller Indy cars) and a host of other talented men, Tucker built an innovative rear engined bombshell, with features and performance ahead of its time.
Using a water cooled 334cid flat-six developed from the air-cooled Franklin/Air Cooled Motors O-335 helicopter engine and making over 160hp and 370lb of torque, the Tucker was said to be capable of 120mph and 60mph in 10 seconds. This, in a time when the Jaguar XK120 was so named for the same top speed, from a large, stately family car. This was not the engine intended for the car, however. No, that engine was a monster called the 589:
This was a bonkers transverse 589 cubic inch hemi flat six, with direct drive to the wheels (note the torque converters on each side). It was intended to be fuel injected, with twin-plug ignition and attendant 24V electrical system, and the valves were to be opened by oil pressure. Its diabolical complexity and famous lack of reverse gear doomed it to failure, but it’s one hell of a side note. Not Preston’s only folly, but it was a big one that cost precious time and money in development.
Once the decision was made to drop the 589, a transmission was needed for the Franklin engine. This actually ties into Amoore100's post last night as well, as it’s one of the great Tucker myths: That the 48 used junkyard Cord preselector gearboxes. Used boxes were used in prototyping, but it was found that they could not withstand the O-335's immense torque in low gears. It was modified to account for this, and the resulting proprietary box in most Tuckers was called the Y-1, for Ypsilanti. There were others tried, including a 3-speed automatic in one car, and the “Tuckermatic”, basically a CVT using two torque converters, in two others. It certainly can’t be said that Mr. Tucker ever rested on his laurels, there was always something new afoot.
To that end, there were numerous changes made to the 48 during production, as development never truly stopped. The cars were tested extensively and exhaustively, proving their mettle before going on sale. This led to no less than three different designs for the 4-wheel independent rubber sprung suspension, tuning the cars’ handling to mitigate undesirable alignment changes. Remember, this is late 40's America! Handling, what?
Ultimately it was all for naught, as we well know. Preston Tucker did use some creative financing techniques (including the pre-sale of the above luggage), which in addition to pressures from the Big Three led to the SEC investigation that sunk the company, and some say led to Preston’s death in 1956. He was ultimately acquitted, but the damage to his and the Tucker company’s reputation was irreparable. 51 cars were built, of which 47 are known to exist.
I’ve been collecting model Tuckers and memorabilia since childhood, since I first found out they existed. I’ve now got movie posters, a framed stock certificate, and toys and models in every scale from Micro Machines to a 1/18 by Road Signatures (by far my biggest model short of RC cars!), all of which I’ll share here sometime. There’s a very good reason for this collection, and it’s my name. My parents had no idea these existed, nor were they really into cars, but I showed a car obsession since I was a toddler so you can imagine my amazement upon finding out such a machine shared my name!
This one is in 1/24 by the Franklin Mint, one of two Mint cars I have. The first one is in Waltz Blue, and I received it as a kid from the wonderful people who shared their Ferrari 308 with me. That one is at home in its display case. This one is colored as #1002, which interestingly was originally Waltz Blue, as this gold was never an original Tucker color. 1002 currently lives in Southern California and is apparently used regularly. Honestly the blue car shows better, but this one was easier for me to transport in its foam box. The blue car will come out in the future, as will the others.
I felt the Tucker was a good choice for today. It offered performance, style, innovation and forward thinking in a time of stagnation in its field. It wasn’t perfect, but it was worth Americans’ attention. But for all that promise, it wasn’t allowed to live within the existing structures of power, which only seek more influence for themselves, saying anything necessary to do so. Even at the expense of the little guy with a good idea. Sound familiar? Obviously it’s election day here in the Untidy States of Bitchin’ Camaros, and it’s safe to say I’ve never felt more apathetic about an election in my lifetime. I voted of course, and you can’t bitch about it if you don’t, but we’ve done better. We must again.