Tucker automobiles, famed for innovations and scandal-plagued demise, will get a day in the sun

Tucker automobiles, famed for innovations and scandal-plagued demise, will get a day in the sun
Posted at 7:00 AM, Aug 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-18 03:46:38-04

PEBBLE BEACH, CA (RNN) – Rare car enthusiasts and history buffs will soon gather out west to gaze upon what might have been.

The famous late-1940s Tucker Corporation automobiles will be on display next week at a car show in Pebble Beach, CA, where onlookers can admire 11 of the surviving Tucker cars, of which only 51 were ever produced.

The highly valued automobiles will appear at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, a long-running classic car show, to mark their 70th anniversary.

It will be the largest gathering of the would-be cars of the future since director Francis Ford Coppola featured them in his 1988 biopic "Tucker: The Man and His Dream," which dramatized the spectacular collapse of Michigan-born inventor Preston Tucker's short-lived eponymous company.

Tucker, who presaged colorful salesman-CEOs like Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Steve Jobs – albeit with far less success – made history in his quixotic attempt to realize a fresh new car design in the optimistic boom times that immediately followed World War II.

For his sleek "Tucker Torpedo," which was later renamed the "Tucker '48," he included disc brakes, along with cutting-edge safety features like a padded dash, a reinforced carbon frame and a pop-out safety glass windshield.

He also threw in some idiosyncratic features that never caught on among mainstream designers, including the "Cyclops" center headlight, which turned with the steering wheel.

Another notable quirk was the Tucker '48's rear-mounted engine, which was actually a modified helicopter engine.

Tucker's Chicago-based company produced only 51 cars before legal trouble and bad press surrounding that legal trouble ruined him.

The federal government brought fraud charges against Tucker, arguing that he'd bilked his investors by taking their money while never intending to mass produce the cars.

Tucker was acquitted of the charges, but not before the trial had inflicted severe damage on his reputation and finances. He was forced to shutter his company in 1949.  

A second act for Tucker never came. He died of lung cancer in 1956 at the age of 53.

As for his cars, they were collected and most of them were preserved, with 47 still existing today.

In the late 80s, Coppola, along with his friend and fellow filmmaker George Lucas – themselves brash innovators in their chosen field – decided to tell an idealized version of Tucker's story.

With Coppola directing and Lucas producing, the pair made "Tucker: The Man and His Dream," starring Jeff Bridges as Tucker.

That film portrayed Tucker as David to the Goliath represented by the "Big Three" U.S. automakers – General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler – who used their vast political and economic influence to crush Tucker…and, yes, his dream.

Though critics mostly appreciated the sympathetic portrait, audiences largely stayed away, and the film, like its subject, met with commercial failure.  

Oddly enough, Francis Ford wasn't the first Coppola to lose money over Tucker; his father had invested $5,000 in the company before it collapsed, according to Smithsonian.

But since Lucas and Coppola were already mega-successful Hollywood heavyweights, they didn't come away from the experience empty-handed. They each decided to buy one of the surviving Tucker cars for their private collections.

As for the rest of us, we can see the post-war relics in museums or at events like the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance show, should one ever swing by our towns.

The Pebble Beach showing is being marketed as the "largest public gathering of Tucker automobiles since the sale of the Tucker Company assets in 1950 and the largest overall gathering of Tucker automobiles since the filming of the movie in the late 1980s."

And it's not just about the cars. Attendees might even meet some of Tucker's relatives, since a few dozen of them plan to be there.

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