Saturday, January 1, 2011

This Month in Tucker History

1946 - The January 1946 issue of PIC Magazine featured a story by Charles T. Pearson, a freelance automotive reporter, about the revolutionary “Tucker Torpedo.” The excitement produced by that one article is said to have been responsible for nearly 150,000 letters and telegrams being sent to Tucker Corporation. Many examples of those letters are now part of the Tucker Historical Collection and Library at the Gilmore Car Museum, TACA’s national repository of Tucker archives.

1947 - By 1947, US automobile production, which had ceased in February 1942 due to the war, was slowly beginning to return. Demand for new cars–any new car–was so great dealers could sell the few autos they received to the car-hungry public at nearly any price. The pressure was on Preston Tucker and he knew he needed to get his dream car on the market soon or risk not seeing it happen at all.

Alex Tremulis had landed the styling consultant contract with Tucker Corporation for his employer, the design firm of Tammen and Denison of Chicago, IL, in late December. Tremulis, basing his work upon the “Tucker Torpedo” design earlier produced for Tucker by George Lawson, presented Tucker with several new renderings. Tremulis would eventually be hired outright to become the Tucker Corporation Styling Chief.

1948 - The pace of events remains hurried for the Tucker Corporation well into January 1948. It was then the company entered an unsuccessful bid with the War Assets Administration to obtain the blast furnace property from Cleveland-Republic Steel. Although having submitted the higher bid, the government awarded the foundry to competitor Kaiser-Frazer.

The report on development and testing of the original Tucker 589 engine stated, “it failed in nearly all respects,” thus confirming the earlier decision to stop further work on it and seek alternatives to power the Tucker ‘48. The company had ordered six Franklin/Aircooled Motors 6 ALV-335 engines and parts from Bell Helicopter in December, and now directed the Ypsilanti Machine and Tool Company, owned by Preston Tucker’s mother, to undertake conversion of the engines to water-cooling.

At the same time, the Tucker Corporation placed an order with Jacobs Engine Company for 50 helicopter engines very similar to the competing Franklin/Aircooled Motors being worked on in Ypsilanti, MI. Within three days the order was increased to 100 Jacobs engines.

Preston Tucker took time away from the plant to attend a demonstration of the Kinmont Safe-Stop Disc Brakes conducted by Dick Hulse at the Chicago Police Department. He selects the Kinmont disc brakes for use in all production Tuckers, but none make it into the pilot production cars (decades later, Dick Hulse becomes one of the champion supporters and promoters of the Tucker Automobile Club of America, Inc.—TACA’s true Goodwill Ambassador).

1949 - By January of 1949 the pace at the Tucker Corporation had nearly become non-existent. True Magazine reported that “a small group of workers returning on their own time have been able to complete six more Tucker cars,” since the May 1948 plant layoff had left only a skeleton crew. These returning workers would eventually complete 13 more cars for a total of 50 pilot cars before the venture completely ended.

It was also in 1949 that Preston Tucker made a formal protest to Thomas Hart of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Chicago office for their “leaks” to the press.

1950 - By the end of January 1950, the trial against Preston Tucker and his co-defendants had ended with an acquittal on all charges. Yet the damage had been done: now poor public opinion and the lack of funds to continue sealed Tucker Corporation’s fate.

1960 - Charles T. Pearson, author of the 1946 PIC Magazine article and later Tucker Corporation PR man, publishes his book “The Indomitable Tin Goose - The True Story of Preston Tucker and His Car” in January 1960. This in-depth look into the Tucker legend was reprinted in 1974 and again in 1988 in paperback, following the movie “Tucker: The Man and His Dream.” Today, it is considered a prized collectable.

1995 - January 1, 1995 marked the debut of the new cable network “The History Channel” with a series called “Automobiles,” and the Tucker ’48 was featured on the series’ third episode. Days later, on January 5th, Vera Tucker, Preston Tucker’s wife, passed away. She had been known as a tower of strength in her support of Preston and her children. We owe Vera a great deal for “Keeping the Legend Alive,” as without her assistance, the 1988 movie would have likely never been made.

(Post credit: Jay Follis)

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