Topless Tucker causes a sensation

I HAVE a 1/43rd scale model of a Tucker Torpedo among my diecast Dinkys, Corgis, Brumms, Solidos and other models of yesteryear.

It’s probably worth about $50, maybe more.

But had it been a real one, it would have fetched well over a million bucks, in either US or Australian dollars.

There are very few of them left in the world, because only 51 were ever built. All of them sedans.

But now a convertible model has surfaced, causing quite a stir in the auto world.

A Tucker?

It was an American brand that emerged in the years following WWII and one that soon died because of bias, jealousy and/or some underhanded or mismanaged events.

Correctly called Tucker 48s, the number reflecting the year they were produced, they were originally called Tucker Torpedos, but founder Preston Tucker thought the torpedo name would recall the horrors of recently-ended world war, and badly reflect on the car.

Tucker himself was a man of many talents.

He had worked, mainly in sales, for many car companies, among them Cadillac, Stutz, Dodge, Pierce-Arrow and Studebaker and was deeply involved with the Indianapolis 500 racing scene.

At one time he built racers for the Ford Motor Company, then, with war looming in Europe, he developed a Packard-engined armoured car with an advanced rooftop gun turret for the Dutch government, but the Germans invaded Holland before the vehicle was ready. 

He then offered it to the US authorities, but they figured its 160km/h speed was way in excess of their design specifications.

After the war, the US car companies had nothing new to offer the public, which suited the enterprising Preston Tucker.

His car was years ahead of anything the US had seen so far.

It had a 5.5litre horizontally-opposed rear engine, a central ‘cyclops’ headlight that turned with the front wheels a perimeter frame for crash protection, a roll bar integrated into the roof, a padded dashboard, a shatterproof windscreen that would pop out in the event of a crash, doors that extended into the roof, a collapsible steering column and several other innovations.

But a negative press and an ongoing Securities and Exchange Commission investigation, the latter due to government suspicions after big losses in trying to keep the failed Kaiser-Frazer carmaker afloat.

Tucker thought the media and securities onslaught was sparked by rumours started by worried Big Three people and it ended in Tucker being found guilty of shareholding stock fraud.

An appeal and revisit of the events proved he’d done nothing wrong, but by then his company and his advanced cars are no more. 

Tucker never officially launched a convertible and there are no official documents mentioning such a thing.

But Benchmark Classics of Madison, Wisconsin, said it had an unfinished prototype of a Tucker convertible that it restored and it’s listed for sale on eBay with a Buy It Now price of US$2.175 million( about AUD$3.4million.)

 It’s been listed by Accelerate Auto Group and they say the convertible was one of several unfinished Tuckers, the car bearing chassis number 57, that Tucker was working on when the company was shut down. 

It features a reinforced version of the 48 sedan’s chassis developed with Lenki Engineering, the same company that helped Tucker build the first prototype for the 48.

After Tucker went under, the convertible allegedly sat at Lenki Engineering for many years until it was sold to an employee who wanted to complete it. 

The car then traded hands a few times before ending up at Benchmark Classics.

Accelerate Auto has posted on its website a number of documents it claims authenticates the car, among them an affidavit from a person said to be a former Tucker employee confirming the convertible’s existence.

The convertible has many original Tucker parts, including a flat-6 engine in the tail  and connected to a Cord transmission. The original engine was good for about 166 horsepower.

So, is it the real thing?

Whatever, it seems clear it’s the only one of its kind, in which case the Buy It Now price might be a bargain.


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