12-14 August 2010
1948 Tucker 48 4Dr Sedan
Sold for $1,127,500
- From the estate of Mr. John M. O'Quinn
- Revolutionary postwar design
- One of 51 built
- Icon of American film and culture
Preston Tucker had automobiles in his blood. First employed as an office boy in Cadillac Engineering, he later worked on the Ford assembly line. It was in auto sales, however, that he finally made his mark, eventually appointed as a regional sales manager for Pierce-Arrow. Tucker befriended Harry Miller and teamed with him as Miller and Tucker, Inc. to build the front-wheel drive Indianapolis race cars for Ford Motor Company in 1935.
As war loomed in Europe in the late 1930s, Tucker envisaged a light, maneuverable scout car for the services, with a swiveling gun turret. He built a prototype and had talks with the Dutch, but before he could complete the deal, their country was overrun by the Germans. He marketed the vehicle to the U.S. forces unsuccessfully, although the turret was eventually used on PT boats, landing craft and bombers. It was during the war, however, that Tucker resolved to build his own automobile.
The concept was revolutionary. He intended to use a Miller-designed engine mounted in the rear. Suspension was to be all-independent, with disc brakes at each wheel. A wide, one-piece windshield would be designed to pop out in case of accident. Sketches appearing in Science Digest in 1946 were titled “Torpedo on Wheels,” and the name “Torpedo” was briefly allocated to the car. Tucker soon changed it to simply “Tucker 48” to escape any military connotations. His significant inspiration was hiring Alex Tremulis to complete the design. Tremulis, who had come from Auburn and Cord, finished the drawings in five days, and a full-page ad was running in March 1947.
The initial prototype, completed in 100 days, had a version of Miller’s horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine. With overhead valves operated by oil pressure rather than a camshaft, pushrods and rockers, it had hemispherical combustion chambers and displaced a whopping 589 cubic inches. Drive was to be by twin torque converters, one at each rear wheel, and suspension would be a “Torsilastic” affair, independent with rubber springing all around.
The Miller engine proved impractical, as did the direct torque converter drive. Instead, Tucker bought Air Cooled Motors, a Syracuse, New York company making helicopter engines for the Bell Aircraft Corporation. Reworking the helicopter engine, which was a Franklin derivative, for water cooling, he installed it in the Tucker 48 with a four-speed transaxle from the Cord 810 and 812. Disc brakes were dropped for economy reasons, and the one-piece windshield became a more conventional split design.
Eventually, 51 cars were built, but by the time they appeared in public, the Tucker Corporation had come under the scrutiny of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, some say brought on by Big Three automakers and Senator Homer Ferguson from Michigan. The gears of government ground slowly, and it was January 1950 before Tucker and his executives were eventually declared “not guilty” on all counts. But by that time, the Tucker 48 had effectively been torpedoed and its inventor left indelibly in debt.
Purchased in 2006 from Robert Pass, founder of Passport Transport, this Tucker 48 has a long heritage within the Tucker community. In the 1950s, it was owned by Nick Jenin, a Florida entrepreneur who amassed a collection of ten or more cars and various memorabilia. Jenin created a traveling Tucker show, which appeared at fairs and car shows. After about ten years, he dispersed his collection, and Tucker #1045 was sold to Walter Bellm, who put it on display at his Bellm’s Cars and Music of Yesteryear museum in Sarasota, Florida. It subsequently had a number of owners, ending up in Ohio about ten years ago before being acquired by the current private collection.
Overall, the car has nice paint and chrome. With the exception of slight misalignment of the doors, the car has very few cosmetic issues and presents very well indeed, finished in Navy Blue with blue cloth upholstery. The instrument panel and steering wheel show no blemishes; the odometer reads 608 miles. The engine compartment is clean and correct without being excessively detailed. This is a very nice example of one of America’s most innovative automobiles, however, it has been part of a large private collection and may need some mechanical reconditioning prior to road use.
Tuckers have a loyal following and are well documented by their enthusiast owners. In the years since the construction of his cars, Preston Tucker has entered the history books as a visionary car builder. His design and safety concepts were decades ahead of their time and are clearly in evidence in this very rare Tucker 48.
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