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Cruisin': 1948 - The Tucker
In Nov. 6 Issue
Russell County News
By Ron Cowell, Columnist

The first Tucker ever produced was a prototype sedan, known as the "Tin Goose." Fifty-eight frames and bodies were built at the factory. From these parts, 36 sedans were finished before the factory was closed. Since the factory closed, an additional 14 sedans have been completed for a total of 51. The majority of these vehicles are in excellent condition. When the cars appear at auction, which is rare, they command prices attained by only a few cars.

After WWII, the public was ready for totally new car designs, but the big three Detroit automakers had not developed any new models since 1941. This provided great opportunities for small, new automakers who could develop new cars more rapidly than the huge legacy automakers. Studebaker was first to introduce an all-new postwar model, but Tucker took a different tack, designing a safety car with innovative features and modern styling. His specifications called for a water cooled aluminum block, flat six rear engine, and disc brakes, four-wheel independent suspension and fuel injection, the location of all instruments on the steering wheel, and a padded dashboard.

 Tucker's future car became known as the "Tucker Torpedo" but because Tucker did not want to remind the public of the horrors of WWII, the name was quickly changed the to the "Tucker '48".A full page ad was run in March 1947 in many national newspapers, proclaiming 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 specifically described many of the innovative features Tucker proposed for his car, many of which would not make it to the final version. This ad helped generate considerable public enthusiasm for the car, but Tucker had much work to do before it was complete.

Many components and features of the car were innovative and far ahead of their time. The most recognizable feature of the Tucker '48, was a directional third headlight known as the Cyclops Eye. It would turn on at steering angles of greater than 10 degrees to light the car's path around corners. At the time 17 states had laws against cars having more than two headlights. Tucker fabricated a cover for the center light for use in these states.

The car was rear engined and rear wheel drive.  The frame surrounded the vehicle for crash protection, as well as a roll bar built into the roof. The steering box was behind the front axle to protect the driver in a front-end accident. The instrument panel and all controls were in easy reach of the steering wheel, and the dash was padded for safety. The windshield was designed to pop-out in a collision to protect occupants. The car also featured seat belts, a first in its' day. The car's parking brake had a separate key so it could be locked in place to prevent theft. The doors extended into the roof, to ease entry and exit. The engine and transmission were mounted on a separate sub frame which could be lowered and removed in minutes with just six bolts removed.

Tucker initially tried to develop an innovative engine. It was a 589 cubic inches flat six cylinder with, Fuel injection and overhead valves operated by oil pressure rather than a camshaft. An oil pressure distributor was mounted in line with the ignition distributor and delivered appropriately timed direct oil pressure to open each valve at the proper interval. This unique engine was designed to idle at 100 rpm and cruise at 250-1200 rpm through the use of direct drive torque converters on each driving wheel instead of a transmission. These features would have been auto industry firsts in 1948, but as engine development proceeded, problems appeared. The 589 engine was installed only in the test chassis and the first prototype.

The final car was only 70 inches tall, but was rather large and comfortable inside. It's  design was called the most aerodynamic in the world, and though it still sported pre-war type fenders, it was startlingly modern.

The world premiere of the much-hyped Tucker '48 car was set for June 19, 1947. Over 3,000 people showed up at the Tucker factory in Chicago for lunch, a train tour of the plant, and the unveiling of the first Tucker prototype. The unveiling looked doomed, however, as last-minute problems with the car cropped up. The night before the premiere, two of the Tin Goose's independent suspension arms snapped under its own weight.  Minor engine problems were fixed, and the car was presentable by the time of the premiere. However, the experimental 589 engine was extremely loud. Tucker told the band to play as loud as possible to drown out the noise.

When the cars appear at auction, which is rare, they command prices attained by only a few marquee cars. Tucker sold in August 2008 at RM's Monterey auction for the record-setting price of $1,017,500. Tucker sold at the Clars Auction on June 7, 2009 for $750,000. With the auction house buyer's premium added, the total price for the sale of the car was $853,100. The car was on the auction block for a total of 7½ minutes. The previous owner paid $5,000 for the car in 1970. In August 2010 at RM's Monterey auction, the Tucker sold for the record-breaking price of $1,127,500.

Till next time "Keep Cruisin".

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The Times Journal is a weekly newspaper issued on Thursdays. It was first published on October 13, 1949, by Andrew J. and Terry Norfleet.
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