The 1948 Tucker was an enormously promising and prescient automobile, but the company building it failed in spectacular fashion, possibly stalling automotive innovation for decades.
World War II put the brakes on all carmakers in the United States. They were deputized to manufacture weapons ranging from guns and bombs to tanks and aircraft. You name it, and it poured forth from Detroit’s factories and other plants around the United States like a tsunami of destruction. The “Arsenal of Democracy” was running full bore and nothing could stop it, not even the Nazis.
Naturally, automakers couldn’t develop new products during the war so when the conflict ended they were forced to sell warmed-over 1942 models. Not that it mattered; the cash-flush, car-starved public bought up anything they had to sell.
It was in this frenzied market Preston Tucker tried to introduce a revolutionary new car and beat Detroit at its own game.
His innovative sedan, nicknamed the “Torpedo,” had fully independent suspension, a padded dashboard with recessed knobs for safety, a pop-out windshield as well as a steerable “Cyclops” center headlamp. It was powered by rear-mounted flat-six derived from an aircraft engine.
But all the innovation in the world couldn’t protect the newborn company from scandal. Under suspicious circumstances Tucker, founder of the organization, became a target of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. A couple years later he was exonerated but the damage had been done.
The negative publicity swirling around the investigation destroyed his firm. Only about 50 Tuckers were built, a sad end to a truly innovative vehicle.