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I'm Determined to See Every Surviving 1948 Tucker Torpedo

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author photo by Tyler Hoover April 2018

When I was nine, my grandfather gave me a die-cast model of a strange old car for Christmas. He must have been eagerly anticipating the opening of his gift, since, right after I took the model out of its protective case, he gleefully proclaimed I was holding "the car of the future" -- a car that would have changed the world if it had been made in 1948. He further explained that it was the first car with seat belts, and the middle headlight swiveled with the steering wheel -- and it was fitted with a helicopter engine that could bring the car to 100 miles per hour while getting 30 miles per gallon. He had never seen one in person -- but he always wanted to, and mentioned taking me a museum to see a real one some day. Sadly, he died a few years later, before we had the chance to see a Tucker together -- but my interest in the Tucker 48 never stopped.

While my grandfather did exaggerate on the fuel economy, he was underrating the top speed. Apparently, the Tucker could reach 120 miles per hour -- and, at normal cruising speeds, 20 miles per gallon was attainable. Both of these figures are very impressive for a giant sedan from the 1940s -- but if Doug DeMuro ever gets a hold of one of these (note: I would strangle him if I wasn't invited along) he would freak out over this car's numerous quirks. Yes, the center headlight does indeed swivel with the direction of the steering wheel, and the Tucker is actually powered by a rear-mounted, all-aluminum helicopter engine. Initially, the cars were offered with seat belts, but they were removed in later models, as the marketing folks worried seat belts would make buyers think the car was unsafe. Tucker also padded the dashboards, and noted the driver could dive into the soft passenger footwell and brace for a collision if an accident was unavoidable.

The interior of the Tucker is very Tesla-esque in its minimalism, with the instrument binnacle housing all of the controls, including the optional radio -- and a silly little gear selector that bares a striking resemblance to the shifter in a modern Prius. Other features of the Tucker that were decades ahead of its time included disc brakes, 4-wheel independent suspension and shatter-proof glass. Despite these nods to the future, the design of the car is certainly of the period, with art deco instruments and chrome trim that looks like it was stolen off the Chrysler Building. The buzz surrounding this car was massive, and the company's founder, Preston Tucker, used this buzz to sell stock in his new company, as well as deposits on new cars. Sadly, the money ran out before Tucker could deliver on his car of the future, and the Tucker Corporation shuttered after only 50 prototypes were completed.

I accidentally came across a Tucker 48 for the first time in 2011 at the Gooding auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. I wasn't able to get close to the car, which was unrestored and in very rough condition -- but I did watch it sell for a staggering $797,000. My second opportunity came the same year at the Amelia Island Concours, and I must have spent 30 minutes examining every inch of the car. Even though I probably came off as a total creep, the owner was kind enough to give me a tour of the car -- and I was able to hear the strange flat-six engine buzz to life for the first time. A few months later, I spied my third Tucker at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles -- but someone must have warned them of my arrival, as there was a velvet rope surrounding it on all sides, putting it just out of my reach.

My next spotting was the following year at another Gooding auction -- this time during the 2012 festivities at Amelia Island. Sadly, my $5,000 offer was ignored -- and this perfectly restored, low mileage example eventually sold for $1.32 million. This was apparently a bargain, as these cars in more recent years have brought in over $2 million. A year later, I found another really nice example at a classic car museum at San Marcos, Texas, where I learned another museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, was opening an exhibit totally devoted to Tuckers. It took a little over a year before I found an excuse to visit Hershey -- and I was able to bask in the Tucker motherload. Three cars were on display, along with vast amounts of spare parts and memorabilia. Unfortunately, I was told that they don't allow overnight stays in the exhibit.

I've only seen one other example since that Tucker sensory overload in Hershey, and that was at the 2016 Amelia Island Concours. I attended that year with my mechanic, the Car Wizard -- who I discovered enjoys sniffing the interiors of vintage cars and critiquing them like it's a fine wine tasting. So that's nine Tuckers down, 38 to go -- and if there's any Tucker owners reading this, I'll be on a plane tomorrow if you'll let me drive one. I promise things won't get weird.

Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
I'm Determined to See Every Surviving 1948 Tucker Torpedo - Autotrader