(Scroll down to last picture for technical data and history)
New information about the car and the owners added 12/2009 at bottom of this page.
We were driving back from Las Vegas when we came upon a mint-condition '48 Tucker, having tire problems. A tire was not flat, but starting to come apart. We followed him to an abandoned gas station in Yermo, Ca. to get out of the desert sun, and helped him change the tire.
During the process I got some great photos of a great car. I don't remember the owner's name, but he and his wife had purchased the car brand new in 1948, and were returning from a Tucker rally in Las Vegas. Most of the Tuckers had been trucked or trailered into the rally, but they had driven this one from San Francisco.
Engine in the back...It is a converted helicopter aluminum block engine...
The gear shifter is that little button at the end of the post sticking out of the steering wheel...
Still a great looking car...
Headlight in the center turns with the steering wheel...
ABOUT THE TUCKER CAR...
There's still the question if the cars were any good or not. For starters, it's doubtful that any car maker besides Tucker can say that 60 years after they were first built, the bulk of their cars are still around. From a performance standpoint, Tuckers are hard to beat when placed against any other car from their era. In 1954, Bill Hamlin pitted his Tucker against a new Oldsmobile 88. The Olds had a V-8, the Tucker a flat six. At the time, Hamlin's Tucker had 110,000 miles on the clock, the Olds topped out at 78.8 MPH, while Hamlin's Tucker topped out at 82 MPH. Hamlin had a slight disadvantage, in that he had to start his car in second (Tuckers had a 4-speed tranny, BTW), since the torque from the engine most likely would have shredded the Cord tranny if he'd started in first. The Tucker also stopped in two thirds the distance of the Olds. The helicopter engine, which powered the Tucker could run for 1,500 hours without a rebuild, and exceeded every military specification required of it. At least one Tucker had 200,000 miles on the clock without needing a major repair.
Hamlin's unmodified Tucker was rated at 103 HP at 2,000 RPM, while a 1954 Cadillac was only 87 HP at 2,000 RPM in dyno testing. A Tucker's engine put out some 372 ft. lbs of torque and the car had 0-60 times of 10 seconds. Not bad for a 4,200 lb car.
As for safety features, well everyone knows about the center headlight, padded dash, seat belts, and pop out windshield, but those are only part of the Tucker's safety features. Unlike cars of the era, or most cars built today, the Tucker used a unibody which was welded to an automotive frame (in order to eliminate body rattles), thus giving the protection of a safety cage. Additionally, the frame of a Tucker was shaped like a ship's prow at the front and rear. The reason for this was that research by the folks at the Tucker Corp. revealed that most collisions tended to be glancing blows at an angle. The prow shape of the frame, it was hoped, would deflect the other vehicle away from the Tucker. There were also steel bulkheads at the front and rear of the passenger compartment, to further protect the passengers. The aerodynamics of the car were such that you didn't need to use the wipers above 50 MPH. The bumpers were mounted on springs to absorb shock in a crash, and because of the weight balance provided by the rear mounted engine the brakes would wear evenly and the car would lower itself evenly, instead of the front end pitching down, in panic stops. The rims were also designed so that if one of the tires went flat, the car wouldn't pull dramatically to that side. With the use of live bearings, the front end of the car was “light” enough, that the car didn't need power steering.
The steering wheel was designed to dissipate the impact of the driver's body in a crash (sadly, they never got made) and the steering column was a breakaway design so that it wouldn't "spear" the driver in the event of a crash.
Sadly, because so few Tuckers were produced, the data on how well they would protect the occupants in a crash is severely limited. We know, that when a car rolled on the test track at around 100 MPH, the driver escaped with only a bruised elbow, and the car was able to be driven away under its own power. It's now common place for automakers to do crash testing on computers (and they've found that it gives better results than real world testing), and if an owner of a Tucker would be willing to consent to a thorough examination of their car (the original blueprints have been lost), it should be possible for someone with the necessary software (a university perhaps) to gather enough information to simulate a collision with a Tucker in a computer so we could exactly determine how safe a Tucker was. (That's assuming that Toyota, which owns a Tucker, hasn't already done so. If you have, guys, please share the data! Thanks.)
Had Tucker continued, we have only the barest hints as to what would have been. We know that there would have been at least two possible designs for a two door version of the car. We know, also that Tucker had purchased the patents of Secondo Campini which related to automotive turbines, and possibly would have beat Chrysler in its development of a turbine car. And thanks to Philip Egan we have some idea of what a modern Tucker would look like.
Still, even up to the moment he died, Tucker was trying to start another car company. Several backers in Brazil were willing to support Tucker, but he kept holding out for an American backer. However, he did name a car in honor of Rio. It was to be called the “Carioca” and, IMHO, was a stunning work of art. Tucker was pretty closemouthed about the features of the car, but we know that it would have been built on a modular platform, and could have been easily converted into a pick up. It would have had a 100 HP rear mounted air cooled engine built by Aircooled Motors, with disc brakes, 12 volt electrical system, four wheel independent suspension, and except for the electrical components would have had one bolt and cap screw size.
There are a few known glitches with the car: The first is that the center headlight didn't work as well as predicted (this could have been corrected with a lens change), the pop out windshield could be removed with a moistened toilet plunger (making the cars easy pickings for thieves), and the transmission had lubrication problems at idle (stop and go traffic would play hell on the tranny). However, these are relatively minor issues and likely would have been easy to correct if the cars had gone into production. Also not bad considering a lot of the design work was basically done in somebody's garage.
There's occasional ads in Hemmings Motor News for a Tucker convertible for sale. Phil Egan did do some sketches for a 1950 model convertible, but both he and Alex Tremulis have stated no such car was ever built! Given that the design department was within earshot of the body knockers who were building the Tin Goose, if a one off prototype of a convertible was going to be built, I'd think that it would have been done in the same area that the Tin Goose was constructed, and Egan and Tremulis would have heard the car being built, and gone over to investigate, but Egan makes no mention of loud noises in the plant after the Tin Goose was built. Photos of the convertible have finally surfaced. As you can see, the car isn't finished, and the story I've been able to uncover is that the car started out as a 4 door body shell bought at auction by a former Tucker employee. He decided to turn the car into a convertible, but was never able to complete the car, for some reason.
12-2009 Update from Bob Higday
I have been enjoying your piece on the '48 Tucker. It has come around on e-mail at least 4 times over the past 2 years.
I have some information on the Tucker that you might like to know. This car was owned by a couple in our car club. Bev and Dorothy Ferreira. He didn't buy it new as this story says. He bought it from the new owners of the Sutro Baths Museum in San Francisco. I remember seeing the car there in 1960 when I visited the city. It was black then. The new owners didn't know what they had and Bev bought it for $6,000 as I remember now. It sold at auction this year for $750,000.
Both Bev and Dorothy have died now, but I recognized them in the pictures the first time I saw them. I didn't personally see the car since joining the car club, but I verified with other members that sure enough it is them and their car. Some were on the same Las Vegas trip when your pictures were taken.
The profile story I wrote about them is on our web site. Check it out at http://www.chvaredwoodregion.
Great pictures and I have posted a link to your story on our web. http://CHVAredwoodregion.org