Preston Thomas Tucker (September 21, 1903 – December 26, 1956) was an American automobile designer and entrepreneur.
He is most remembered for his 1948 Tucker Sedan (known as the "Tucker '48" and initially nicknamed the "Tucker Torpedo"), an automobile which introduced many features that have since become widely used in modern cars. Production of the Tucker '48 was shut down amidst scandal and controversial accusations of stock fraud on March 3, 1949. The 1988 movie, Tucker: The Man and His Dream is based on Tucker's spirit and the saga surrounding the car's production.
Early life (1903-1931)Edit
Preston Tucker was born on September 21, 1903, on a peppermint farm near Capac, Michigan. He grew up outside Detroit in the suburb of Lincoln Park, Michigan. First learning to drive at age 11, Tucker was obsessed with automobiles from an early age. At age 16, Preston Tucker began purchasing late model automobiles, repairing/refurbishing and selling the cars for a profit. He attended the Cass Technical High School in Detroit, but he quit school and landed a job as an "office boy" for the Cadillac motor company. Young Tucker then joined the Lincoln Park, Michigan police department (against the pleas of his mother), his interest stirred by his desire to drive and ride the fast, high-performance police cars and motorcycles. After he was banned from driving police vehicles by the force (after using a blowtorch as a heater in one of the cruisers) he left the force and briefly worked on the Ford Motor Company production line. Finding assembly line work unchallenging, Tucker left Michigan and began selling luxury cars for Mitchell W. Dulian at his dealership in Memphis, Tennesee (Dulian would later be sales manager for the Tucker Car Corp). In 1931 Tucker moved to Buffalo, NY and became regional sales manager for Pierce-Arrow automobiles, but after only two years he moved back to Detroit and worked as a salesman for Chrysler.
Auto Racing and the Indianapolis 500 (1932-1939)Edit
During this time Tucker began an annual one-month trek to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Having a heavy interest in the race cars and their designers, Tucker met Harry Miller, maker of more Indianapolis 500-winning engines than any other during this period. Tucker moved to Indianapolis to be closer to the racing car development scene and worked as the transporation manager for a beer distributor, overseeing the fleet of delivery trucks for the company.
A better engineer than businessman, Miller declared bankruptcy in 1933 and was looking for new opportunities. Tucker convinced Miller to join him in building race cars, and they formed "Miller and Tucker, Inc.", in 1935. The company's first job was building 10 souped-up Ford V8 racers for Henry Ford. The time to develop and test the cars was insufficient, however, and the steering boxes on all entrants overheated and locked up, causing them to drop out of the race. The design was later perfected by privateers, with examples running at Indy through 1948. Miller and Tucker, Inc. continued race car development and construction until Miller's death in 1943. Tucker was close with Miller and even helped his widow pay for Miller's funeral costs. While working with Miller, Tucker met chief mechanic John Eddie Offutt, who would later help Tucker develop and build the first prototype of the Tucker '48. Tucker's outgoing personality and his involvement at Indianapolis made him well known in the automotive industry by 1939.
Tucker Combat Car and the Tucker Gun Turret (1939-1941)Edit
At the end of the 1930s, Tucker began and operated a machine shop out of an old barn on his property in Ypsilanti, Michigan, called the Ypsilanti Machine and Tool Company.
With war looming on the horizon in Europe, opportunity arose for Tucker from the Dutch government, who wanted a combat vehicle suited to the muddy and hilly Dutch terrain. Continuing his working relationship with Harry Miller, Tucker and Miller began designing a narrow-wheelbase armored combat car, powered by a Miller-modified Packard V-12 engine.
Several prototypes were built at the Rahway, NJ factory owned by the American Armament Corporation. However the Germans invaded Holland before Tucker could complete the deal and the Dutch government lost interest, so he completed the prototypes and opted to try to sell the vehicle to the U.S. government. The car could reach over 115 mph (185 km/h), far in excess of the design specifications. The U.S. military felt the vehicle was too fast and had already committed to other combat vehicles. However, the highly-mobile power-operated gun turret featured on the Tucker combat car, which became known as the "Tucker Turret", earned the interest of the U.S. Navy. Interestingly, Harry Miller would later take some of the designs from the Tucker Combat Car to American Bantam where he was involved in the development of the first Jeep.
The "Tucker Turret" was soon in production (initially at Tucker's Ypsilanti, Michigan machine shop). It was used in PT boats, landing craft, and B-17 and B-29 bombers. Tucker, however, made very little money from the turret, donating much of his labor for the war effort, as many corporations did at that time.
Tucker Aviation Corporation and Higgins-Tucker Aviation (1941-1943)Edit
In 1940 Tucker formed an upstart, the Tucker Aviation Corporation. A public corporation with stock certificates issued, Tucker raised enough to develop the design for a fighter aircraft, the Tucker XP-57, which earned the interest of the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC). Development of a single prototype of the airplane was started, powered by a straight 8-cylinder engine developed/influenced by Harry Miller, called the Miller L-510. Nicknamed the "Peashooter", this fighter competed for WWII government war contracts. However financial problems within the company slowed the development of the prototype and the USAAC allowed the contract to lapse.
During World War II, Tucker became associated with Andrew Jackson Higgins, builder of Liberty ships, PT boats and landing craft. Higgins acquired Tucker Aviation Corporation in March 1942, and Tucker moved to New Orleans, Louisiana to serve as a vice-president of Higgins Industries, specifically in charge of the Higgins-Tucker Aviation division. This entity was to produce gun turrets, armament and engines for Higgins' torpedo boats. This relationship did not work out and Tucker severed his association with Higgins in 1943. Higgins referred to Preston Tucker as "the greatest salesman in the world."
After 1943 Tucker moved back to Michigan intending to start his own auto company, the Tucker Car Corporation.
Tucker Corporation and the 1948 Tucker Sedan (1944-1947)Edit
- Main article: 1948 Tucker Sedan
After the war the big three Detroit automakers had not developed any new models since 1941. The public was ready for totally new car designs, but the big three were not. This provided great opportunity for small, new automakers who could develop new cars more rapidly than the huge legacy automakers. Tucker saw this as his opportunity to develop and bring his "car of tomorrow" to market. Another small automaker, Studebaker, was first with an all-new post-war model, but Tucker took a different tack, designing a safety car with innovative features and modern styling.
Tucker's first design appeared in Science Illustrated magazine in December 1946, showing a futuristic version of the car with a hydraulic drive system designed by George Lawson, along with a photo of a 1/8 scale model blown up to look full size, titled the "Torpedo on Wheels". This was only an early rendering of the proposal, with it's design features yet to meet reality, but the motoring public was now excited about the Tucker.
To finish the prototype design and get construction underway, famed stylist Alex Tremulis, previously of Auburn/Cord/Duesenberg, was hired on December 24, 1946 and given just six days to finalize the design. On December 31, 1946, Tucker approved the design, which would come to be initially known as the "Tucker Torpedo", however not desiring to bring to mind the horrors of WWII, Tucker quickly changed the name to the "Tucker '48". With Tremulis' design sketch a full page ad was run in March 1947 in many national newspapers claiming "How 15 years of testing produced the car of the year". Tucker said he had been thinking about the car for 15 years. This second ad described specifically many of the innovative features Tucker proposed for his car, many of which would not make it to the final car. This ad had the public very excited about this car, but Tucker had much work to do before a prototype was ready to be shown.
To finalize the design Tucker hired the New York design firm J. Gorden Lipincott to create an alternate body, but only the front end and horizontal taillight bar designs from that model appeared on the final car. Another car which was a sportier version of the Tucker '48, the Tucker Talisman, was sketched as well, but never left the drawing board. Tucker also began plans for developing a gas turbine powered car with help from Italian aviation engineer Secundo Campini.
Tucker and his colleagues were able to obtain the largest factory building in the world, the 475 acre Chicago Dodge Plant from the War Assets Administration, previously used to build the massive Wright R-3350 Cyclone engines for B-29 Superfortress aircraft engines during WWII. Tucker, thinking long-term, believed this large facility would fit his long-term goal of producing an entire line of Tucker automobiles under one roof.
Tucker signed the lease in July 1946, contingent on him raising $15 million in capital by March 1947. Tucker needed this money to get going, so he began raising money by selling dealership rights and floating a $20 million stock issue through the Chicago brokerage firm Floyd D Cerf. With over $17 million in the bank by 1947, the Tucker Corporation was up and running.
While Tucker ultimately got the plant, he was not able to move in until September 1947 due to delays caused by counter-claims disputes for the plant between Tucker and the Lustron Corporation. This delayed Tucker by almost a year, during which time development of the car continued at his Michigan machine shop.
Tucker suffered another setback when his bids to obtain two steel mills to provide raw materials for his cars were rejected by the WAA under a shroud of questionable politics.
Tucker's specifications for his revolutionary car called for a rear engine, a low-RPM 589 cubic inch engine with hydraulic valves instead of a camshaft, fuel injection, direct-drive torque converters on each rear wheel (instead of a transmission), disc brakes, the location of all instruments within the diameter and reach of the steering wheel, a padded dashboard, self-sealing tubeless tires, independent springless suspension, a chassis which protected occupants in a side impact, a roll bar within the roof, a laminated windshield designed to pop-out during an accident, and a center "cyclops" headlight which would turn when steering angles at >10 degrees to help see around corners.
While most of these innovations made it to the final 51 prototypes, several were dropped due to cost and lack of time to develop such mechanically complicated designs. The low-RPM 589 cubic inch engine with it's individual torque converters, mechanical fuel injection, and the disc brakes were all dropped during the design and testing phase.
Having run out of time to develop the 589 cubic inch engine for the car, Tucker ultimately settled on a modified Franklin O-335 aircraft engine. He liked the engine so much he purchased it's manufacturer, Air Cooled Motors in New York for $1.8 million in 1947 . This secured a guaranteed engine supply for his car.
Turmoil Surrounding Tucker Corporation (1946-1948)Edit
The Tucker Car Corporation was given trouble by the Securities and Exchange commission from its early days. The SEC was embittered after small automaker Kaiser-Frazer was given millions of dollars in grants towards development of a new car, and subsequently squandered the money. While Tucker took no money from the federal government, small upstart automakers were under the microscope by the SEC and Tucker was no exception. Also a slanderous article about the first test car dubbed the "Tin Goose" hurt Tucker's early efforts to gain investors and maintain value of the company's stock. Much speculation exists that the SEC's focus on the Tucker Corporation was politically fueled by the Big Three automaker's lobbying power in Washington, most notably Michigan senator Homer Ferguson.
One of Tucker's most innovative business ideas caused the most trouble for the company and was used by the SEC to spark its formal investigation. His Accessories Program raised funds by selling accessories before the car was even in production. Potential buyers who purchased Tucker accessories were guaranteed a spot on the dealer waiting list for a Tucker '48 car. Tucker also began selling dealerships before the car was ready for production, and at the time of the trial had sold over 2000 dealerships nationwide at a price of $7500 to nearly $30,000 each.
Feeling the heat from the SEC, chairman of the Tucker board of directors Harry Aubrey Toulmin, Jr. resigned and wrote a letter to the SEC on September 26, 1947, in an attempt to save his own skin. In the letter, Toulmin Jr. indicated that he quit "because of the manner in which Preston Tucker is using the funds obtained from the public through sale of stock." Described as "a tall, dark, delightful, but inexperienced boy," by Toulmin Jr. to news personnel, he added that the Tucker '48 machine does not actually run, it just goes "goose-geese" and "I don't know if it can back up." In reply, Tucker stated that he had asked Toulmin Jr. to resign "to make way for a prominent man now active in the automobile industry." The "prominent man" turned out to be Preston Tucker himself.
In late 1947 a negative radio segment on Tucker by popular journalist Drew Pearson slandered the Tucker '48, calling it the "tin goose" and noting that the first prototype "could not even back up" (referring to Toulmin's "goose-geese" comments). The first prototype lacked a reverse gear because Tucker had not had time to finish the direct torque drive by the time of the car's unveiling. This was corrected in the final driveline, but the public damage was done and a negative media feeding frenzy resulted. Tucker responded by publishing a full page ad in many national newspapers with "an open letter to the automobile industry", where his subtly hinted that his efforts to build the cars were being symied by politics and SEC consipracy. Unfortunately for Tucker the forces against him were too great and dealership owners begain filing suits to get their money back. Tucker's stock value plummeted.
SEC Trial and Demise of the Tucker Corporation (1949-1950)Edit
In 1949 Tucker turned over his corporate records to the the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. United States Attorney Otto Kerner, a democrat, began a grand jury investigation in February 1948. On March 3, 1948 a federal judge handed control of the Tucker Corporation over to Aaron J. Colnon and John H. Schatz. Soon thereafter on June 10, 1949, Tucker and six other Tucker Corporation executives were indicted on 25 counts of mail fraud, five counts of violations of SEC regulations and one count of conspiracy to defraud. The indictment included 46-year-old Tucker, Harold A. Karsten, 58, ("alias Abe Karatz" ); Floyd D. Cerf, 61; (whose firm had handled the stock offering), Robert Pierce, 63; Fred Rockelman, 64; Mitchell W. Dulian, 50 (Tucker sales manager); Otis Radford, 42 (Tucker Corporation comptroller); and Cliff Knoble, 42, (Tucker advertising manager).
Tucker publically called the charges "silly and ridiculous" and hailed the indictment as "an opportunity to explain our side of the story". Tucker and colleagues' defense was handled by a team of defense attorneys led by William T. Kirby.
Another publication, Collier's magazine, ran a slanderous article against Tucker on June 25, 1949 which included leaked details of the SEC report before it was released publically. This highlighted the questionable SEC behavior surrounding the Tucker investigation and added fuel to the belief that the SEC's actions were driven by outside influences. This article was reprinted in Readers Digest as well, expanding the news media's slander of Preston Tucker.
The trial began on October 4, 1949; presided over by Judge Walter J. LaBuy. Tucker Corporation's factory was closed on the very same day. All told 37 Tucker '48s had been built; 13 were later finished from parts stores for a total production of 50 cars (not including the prototype). At trial the government contended that Tucker never intended to produce a car, however throughout the trial the SEC report on Tucker was classified as "secret" and Tucker's attorneys were never allowed to view or read it.
As the trial proceeded the government and SEC brought several witnesses (mostly former Tucker employees) to highlight the rudimentary methods used by Tucker to develop the car. This included that early suspensions were installed 3 times before they worked and that early parts were taken from junkyards to build the prototype. Answering back in Tucker's favor, designer Alex Tremulus testified for the defense that it was common industry practice to use old car parts for prototype builds, and pointed out this had been done when he was involved with developing the 1942 Oldsmobile under General Motors.
Tucker VP Lee Treese testified that Tucker's metal stamping and parts fabrication operations were 90% ready to mass produce the car by June 1948 and that outside interference had slowed the final preparations for production. This back and forth between the prosicution and the defense continued until November 8, 1948 when the judge demanded the SEC prosicutors "get down to the meat of the case and start proving the conspiracy charge."
Tucker's defense attorney Kirby directed attention to automaker Kaiser-Frazer, pointing out that early models of their government-funded new car model were made of wood and that when this project failed there was no indictment of Kaiser-Frasier executives. Kirby is quoted in court documents as stating "Kaiser-Frazer didn't get indicted, and they got 44 million dollars in loans from the government, didn't they?"
After a break for Christmas the trial was resumed in January 1950. The government's star witness, Daniel J. Ehlenz, a former Tucker dealership owner and distributor from St. Paul, MN testified that he had lost $28,000 in his investment in the Tucker Corporation. However on cross-examination the defense used this witness to their advantage when Ehlenz testified that he still drove his Tucker '48 given to him by Tucker and that the car had 35,000 miles on it and still cruised smoothly at 90 miles per hour.
The tide turned in Tucker's favor when the government called its final witness, SEC accountant Joseph Turnbull, who testified that Tucker had taken in over $28 million dollars and spent less than one-seventh of it on research and development of the car. He stated that Tucker had taken over $500,000 for himself out of the money obtained for investors, but never delivered a production car. Tucker's lead attorney (Kirby) demolished Turnbull's claims on cross-examination when he asked for proof of the alligations of financial mis-management with Tucker's siezed financial records, and Turnbull could not back up his claims. In closing his witness testimony Kirby asked Turnbull "You are not here suggesting these figures are figures of monies taken fraudulently, are you?" Turnbull's answer was, "Not exactly, no." This embarassing testimony by the SEC turned the jury in Tucker's favor, supporting that the SEC's investigation and report (which was never released publically) was a fraud.
After this final SEC witness testified, Tucker's defense attorneys surprised everyone by refusing to call any witnesses to the stand. Defense attorney Daniel Glasser told the court "It is impossible to present a defense when there has been no offense". In his closing arguments defense attorney Kirby became tearful and emotionally told the jury to "stop picking at the turkey," and stated that Tucker "either intended to cheat and that's all they intended to do or they tried in good faith to produce a car. The two are irreconcilable." He then invited the members of the jury to take a ride in one of the eight Tucker '48's parked in front of the courthouse before they made their decision.
Before the jury was released to deliberate the judge told them "The fact that the defendants and those associated with them failed to mass-produce an automobile and accomplish what they undertook is not of itself proof of fraud," suggesting that their deliberations must focus on whether Tucker actually intended to defraud, rather than simply tried and failed to bring a car to market successfully, which is in and of itself not illegal.
On January 21, 1949, after 28 hours of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict of "Not-Guilty" on all counts for all accused in the trial. Tucker had won the trial, but the Tucker Corporation, now without a factory, buried in debt, and faced with numerous lawsuits from Tucker dealers angry about the production delays, was no more.
Speculation and Controversy Surrounding the Tucker CorporationEdit
To this day many have continued to speculate whether Tucker was actually trying to produce a car and bring it to market, or whether the entire enterprise was a flim-flam-sham to make money for Tucker and his investors.
By the time of the investigation Tucker had hired over 1900 employees including teams of engineers and machinists and had and sold nearly 2000 dealerships. Over 400,000 drawings/blueprints, corporate documents, and letters organized by Tucker collectors of the Tucker Club of America suggest that Preston Tucker was ready to mass produce the Tucker '48. These documents prove that Tucker wasn't simply building prototype parts, but was developing the manufacturing process to mass produce the Tucker '48. In the trial the Tucker VP Lee Treese testified that they were 90% ready with industrial machinery at the Chicago plant to mass produce the Tucker '48.
This controversy lives on, but the large volume of evidence collected by Tucker historians supports the conclusion that Preston Tucker was on his way to mass producing the Tucker '48, provided he could continue to raise sufficient funds.
The haste with which the car was developed and the creative methods with which public funds were raised, combined with the timing of the bad press, interference from Detroit's Big Three, and SEC allegations couldn't have been worse for the Tucker Corporation. Tucker simply ran out of time and money before his dreams could be realized. Without these outside influences Tucker may have been successful.
Later life and Death (1950-1956)Edit
Preston Tucker's reputation rebounded after the acquittal. His optimism was remarkable; after the trial was over he was quoted as saying "Even Henry Ford failed the first time out". Tucker Corporation assets were auctioned off publically in Chicago. One remaining Tucker '48 car was given to Preston Tucker, and one was given to his mother. Peter Dun, of Dun and Bradstreet purchased the rights to the Tucker name.
In the early 1950s Tucker teamed up with investors from Brazil and auto designer Alexis de Sakhnoffsky to build a sports car called the "Carioca". Since rights to the Tucker name were now owned by Dun, Tucker could not use the Tucker name on the car.
Tucker's travels to Brazil were plagued by fatigue and upon his return to the United States he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Tucker died from pneumonia as a complication of lung cancer on December 26, 1956, at the age of 53. The Tucker Carioca was never developed.
Tucker is buried at Michigan Memorial Park in Flat Rock, Michigan.
In 1954 a group of investors tried to revive the Tucker Corporation by soliciting investors (mostly former Tucker distributors and dealer owners) for a new car. They developed sketches for a sleek 2-door coupe, but were unable to generate enough support to get off the drawing board.
Tucker's defense attorney William T. Kirby later became Chairman of the Board of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The US attorney - Otto Kerner, Jr., who aggressively pursued the Tucker Corporation, was later (ironically) convicted on 17 counts of bribery, conspiracy, perjury, and related charges for stock fraud in 1974. He was the first federal appellate judge in history to be jailed. He was sentenced to 3 years in prison and fined $50,000.
The location of the former Tucker Corporation at 7401 S Cicero Ave, Chicago, IL 60629-5818, is now the corporate headquarters of Tootsie Roll Industries and the Ford City Mall (the name owing to ownership of the building for a time by Ford Motor Company). The building is so large that it was split in two, and even with a large open area between the two resulting buildings, each structure is still substantial.
The Tucker family held on to Air Cooled Motors until 1961, when it was sold to Aero Industries.
Today, remaining original stock certificates for Tucker Corporation common stock, circa 1947, are valuable to collectors, and are worth more than when originally issued at their then share prices. Stock certificates of over 10,000 shares were personally signed by Preston Tucker himself, making these larger certificates the most desirable.
- ↑ Tucker Combat Car Promotional Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTga-68fplQ
- ↑ Strahan, Jerry (1998). Andrew Jackson Higgins and The Boats That Won World War II. Baton Rouge: LSU Press. pp. 400. http://www.lsu.edu/lsupress/bookPages/9780807123393.html.
- ↑ Egan, Philip S.; Design and Destiny: The Making of the Tucker Automobile; On the Mark Publications; 1989
- ↑ "Business: Chug-Chug". TIME. Monday, Sep. 29, 1947. http://jcgi.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,804280,00.html. Retrieved 2007-08-25.
- ↑ "Tucker Profile". sportscarmarket.com. July 2004. http://www.sportscarmarket.com/profiles/2004/July/American/index.html. Retrieved 2009-08-25.
- ↑ "An Open Letter to the Automobile Industry". Tucker Car Club of America. June 15, 1948. http://www.tuckerclub.org/html/openletter.html. Retrieved 2009-12-20.
- ↑ Egan, Philip S.; Design and Destiny: The Making of the Tucker Automobile; On the Mark Publications; 1989
- ↑ Catalogued with an estimated value of between $ 2000 -$ 3000 by W. M. Smythe & Co. in New York City in 2003.
- Tucker History and Photos - The Man and his Dream.