Not many cars have ever captured the public’s imagination quite like the Tucker. Though just 51 Tuckers were built, they were raced at NASCAR, became the subject of the Francis Ford Coppola film Tucker: A Man and His Dream, and today have become some of the most valuable cars in the world. Few people know the fascinating story behind the actual company, though. Read on and we will relate the amazing story of the Tucker Company.
The United States entered World War II in 1941 and the production of automobiles essentially stopped. All the major automobile manufacturers switched over to making war machinery. It was out of this environment that the Tucker automobile emerged. Preston Tucker was a brilliant engineer who came to prominence during the war with his “Tucker Turret,” a rotating gun turret that saw duty in a wide variety of Allied aircraft. As the war entered into its final stages, Tucker’s mind began to switch over to peacetime projects. First and foremost, he knew that when the war ended that Americans would be eagerly snapping up new cars and this was a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him to pursue his dream: his own car. Thus began the design of the Tucker 48.
To start his company, Tucker took out full-page advertisements in major newspapers around the country with bold tag lines like “The First New Car in 50 Years,” and “The Car of the Future.” Although a prototype didn’t exist yet, Tucker claimed he had been working on the car for 15 years and that it would be cutting edge. He promised four-wheel disc brakes, a fuel-injected 589 cubic-inch engine with direct-drive, run-flat tires, seat belts, and numerous safety features. With demand starting to build, Tucker took his show on the road, and began a highly-publicized national fundraising tour.
Within a few months, Tucker had raised over $28 million. With this capital, he bought a plant in Chicago, appointed an impressive board of directors and started to hire workers. But even at this early stage, money problems started to appear. In order to keep cash flowing, Tucker first took the company public and then began selling dealer franchises and accessories. Keep in mind this is for cars that hadn’t been built yet. Eventually, the Securities and Exchange Commission got involved in this “creative” method of financing a new business. After a thorough investigation, they shut the company down on March 3, 1949. Soon thereafter, Tucker and his board of directors were indicted for fraud. The company’s assets, including the 51 assembled Tuckers, were auctioned off by the government in 1950. Unfortunately, as the sales staff at Patrick Dealer Group of Schaumburg, IL, explained to us, this was the end of the company.
Today, the Tucker remains such a fascinating story not only because of the wildly advanced car that he promised but also because of the way he approached the building of the Tucker Company. With the sheer power of showmanship, he was able to raise enough money to start a company that actually could have competed with the major automobile manufacturers. Unfortunately, his brilliance as an entrepreneur and businessman became his downfall.