On Christmas Eve in 1946, Alex S Tremulis was hired by entrepreneur Preston Tucker and given six days to finalize the design of an all-new car. Tucker had kicked around the racing circuits of America before World War II and saw Federal support of smaller manufacturers after the conflict as a great opportunity to hit the jackpot by getting into serious automobile manufacture.
Tucker’s ideas were revolutionary. The design brief encompassed modern styling coupled with high safety levels, plus innovative features like a flat-six rear engine, fuel injection, magnesium wheels, disc brakes, a swiveling spotlight at the front, padded dashboard and instrumentation on the steering wheel. Not all these daring notions made it off the drawing board, but Tremulis did his bit.
A final design was approved by Preston Tucker on New Year’s Eve and the Tucker Torpedo was born. This extraordinary sedan was wide and low with streamlined fastback styling and a passenger cabin that narrowed gracefully where it met the sedan’s broad rump, which had vertical air intakes for the rear-mounted engine. The prototype was ready for June 1947 and a huge launch was organized — but actually the car wasn’t ready. The suspension broke and it wouldn’t move, though Tucker saved the day by ad-libbing to 3,000 people for two hours until the Torpedo was fixed and could be unveiled to thunderous applause. But it was a portent of things to come.
His revolutionary flat six engine failed, but he found another (for helicopters) that fitted and ironed out transmission difficulties. Fifty pre-production cars joined the prototype and made triumphant national tours generating huge excitement and massive acclaim wherever they went. But sadly for all those who placed orders, the Preston Tucker Company folded amidst allegations of fraud and surviving Tucker ’48 sedans are mostly valued museum pieces.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
5.5 l (335.6 cid) Flat Six
Top speed of 120 mph (193 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in around 10 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Some of Tucker’s problems – notably the damaging official investigation into his Accessories Programme that raised money by selling accessories on cars as yet unbuilt to eager would-be buyers – were instigated by Detroit’s ‘Big Three’ car manufacturers who feared Tucker’s formidable new challenger.