The Tucker was a pioneer in terms of engineering and safety features. Rear drive had been employed in Tatras and Volkswagens, and headlamps that turned with the front wheels had been available since the 1920s, but they would have been firsts for a modern American production car. The most recognizable feature of the Tucker '48, was a third directional headlight (known as the "Cyclops Eye"). Centrally located, it would activate 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 cyclops center light for use in these states.
The car had a rear engine and rear-wheel drive. A perimeter frame surrounded the vehicle for crash protection, as well as a roll bar integrated 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 within easy reach of the steering wheel, and the dashboard was padded for safety. The windshield was made of shatterproof glass and designed to pop out in a collision to protect occupants. 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. Each Tucker that was built differed somewhat from the previous car, as each car built was basically a "prototype" where design features and engineering concepts were tried, improved, or discarded throughout the production cycle. The door releases on the interior of the Tucker came from the Lincoln Zephyr. The steering columns used in the Tucker were donated by Ford and are from the 1941 Lincoln. Preston Tucker held a patent for a collapsible steering column design. A glove box was added to the front door panels instead of the more conventional location in the dashboard to provide space for the "crash chamber" that the Tucker is now famous for. This is a padded area ahead of the passenger seat, free from obstructions, providing the front seat passengers an area to protect themselves in the event of an accident. The engine and transmission were mounted on a separate subframe which was secured with only six bolts. The entire drive train could thus be lowered and removed from the car in minutes. Tucker envisioned loaner engines being quickly swapped in for service in just 30 minutes.
Tucker envisioned several other innovations that were later abandoned. Magnesium wheels, disc brakes, fuel injection, self-sealing tubeless tires, and a direct-drive torque converter transmission were all evaluated or tested, but were dropped on the final prototype due to cost, engineering complexity, and lack of time to develop.
Tucker initially tried to develop an innovative engine, with help from Ben Parsons, then owner and president of the Fuelcharger Corporation, and would later be Tucker's VP of engineering. It was a 589 cubic inches (9.65
liter) flat-6 cylinder with hemispherical combustion chambers, 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 proper intervals. The oil pressure fed to each valve was "timed" by intake and exhaust eccentrics and measured by spring-loaded plungers. It had large pistons built of aluminum and magnesium castings with steel-plated cylinder linings. 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. It was designed to produce almost 200 hp (150 kW; 200 PS)1 and 450 lb⋅ft (610 N⋅m) of torque at only 1800 RPM. When cruising at 60 mph (97 km/h), it would only turn at approximately 1000 rpm. These features would have been auto industry firsts in 1948, but as engine development proceeded, problems appeared. Six prototypes of the 589 engine were built, but it was installed only in the test chassis and the first prototype.
One of Tucker's most innovative business ideas caused trouble for the company. His Accessories Program raised funds by selling accessories before the car was even in production. After the war, demand for new cars was greater than dealers could supply, and most dealers had waiting lists for new cars. Preference was given to returning veterans, which meant that non-veterans were bumped down on the waiting lists indefinitely. Tucker's program allowed potential buyers that purchased Tucker accessories to obtain a guaranteed spot on the Tucker dealer waiting list for a Tucker '48 car.
This concept was investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the United States Attorney, and led to an indictment of company executives. Although all charges were eventually dropped, the negative publicity destroyed the company and halted production of the car.
1948 Tucker Sedan
1948 Tucker Sedan in Waltz Blue
1948 Tucker at Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles
Keep Your Car Looking New
The 1848 Tucker Motor Car
Reviewed by Gene Wright on