There’s no other postwar car that’s as dramatic or advanced as Preston Tucker’s futuristic ’48 Torpedo. With four-wheel independent suspension, rear-mounted Bell helicopter engine, pop-out safety windshield, and uncrushable passenger compartment, it was 20 years ahead of its time. “You’ll step into a new automotive age when you drive your Tucker ’48,” bragged the ads.
It was a promise that convinced an astonishing 300,000 people to place orders, but their dreams were never to be realized. Problems with the engine and Tuckermatic transmission, plus a serious cash-flow crisis, meant that only 51 Torpedos left the Chicago plant. Worse still, Tucker and five of his associates were indicted for fraud by the Securities Exchange Commission. Their acquittal came too late to save America’s most eccentric car from an undignified end.
One of the fastest cars on American roads, the Tucker had a low floor that gave it a huge aerodynamic advantage. The roof tapered in two directions to reduce lift forces, and the drag coefficient was as low as 0.30. The Torpedo’s top speed was 120 mph (193 km/h), and an astonishing 30 mpg (10.6 km/l) was possible.
Novel engine was positioned lower than the rear passenger seat to diminish noise, heat, and fumes.
Front and rear seat cushions could be interchanged to spread wear and tear.
With no engine upfront, luggage space was roomy.
Slippery front was designed to cleave the air.
The first of the Tucker engines was a monster
589cid aluminum flat-six that proved difficult to start and ran too hot. It was replaced by a 6ALV 335cid flat-six block, developed by Air-Cooled Motors of Syracuse. Perversely, Tucker later converted this unit to a water-cooled system.
Some say that Detroit conspired to destroy Tucker, but steering wheels on Torpedos were from the Lincoln Zephyr, given freely by Ford as a gesture of assistance. Although the interior was groaning with safety features, the Tucker sales team figured it was too austere.
Interior was designed by Audrey Moore, who had worked with Raymond Loewy on Studebakers.
The horn on the steering wheel lay flush for safety and was adorned with the Tucker family crest.
AN INSTANT HIT
The public loved the Tucker not only for its comfort, power, and safety, but also because the styling was completely free from the usual prewar clichés. The prototype was ready in 60 days and more than 5,000 people attended the launch.
Vents were to reduce the considerable heat generated by the engine.
Steerhorn bumper gave the car a dramatic frontal aspect.
Daring cyclops headlight swiveled with the front wheels.
The Torpedo was so different from anything else on four wheels that it was a complete sensation. It had the widest track of any car and had all-around independent suspension sprung by rubber-in-torsion units similar to those of Issigonis’s Mini.
Rear light, like much of the Tucker, was bought in, and was a prewar Dodge design.
Engine was placed crosswise on the overhang between the two independently sprung rear wheels.
UNIQUE AND EXCITING
The front was like no other American car, with a fixed circular headlight lens that pivoted with the steering and a front panel that blended artfully into the bumper and grille. Designed by former Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg stylist Alex Tremulis, the Tucker was so low that it only came up to a man’s shoulder.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Tucker Torpedo (1948)
PRODUCTION 51 (total)
BODY STYLE Four-door sedan.
CONSTRUCTION Steel body and chassis.
ENGINE 335cid flat-six.
POWER OUTPUT 166 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Three-speed Tuckermatic automatic, four-speed manual.
SUSPENSION Four-wheel independent.
BRAKES Front and rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 120 mph (193 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 10.1 sec
A.F.C. 30 mpg (10.6 km/l)