Classic Car Week: Rare Tucker celebrates 70th anniversary

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The automotive industry has its share of eccentric businessmen with utopian dreams for fine machines. Preston Tucker was in the fraternity, but his legend has lasted far longer than the car he conceived.

Tucker and his cohorts made 51 vehicles, designed in Michigan and built in Chicago. The prototype was called the Tucker Torpedo, the production model the Tucker 48. It was manufactured in about a one-year span beginning in 1946 was unveiled as 1948 model.

The rare Tucker will have its own class this year during Classic Car Week.
The rare Tucker will have its own class this year during Classic Car Week.

The Tucker 48 was rear-engine, rear-wheel drive and had a four-wheel independent suspension. It had a horizontally opposed V6 engine with 166 horsepower. It had a pop-out safety glass windshield, padded dash and doors and the upper doors were cut into the roofline. It also had a six-volt positive ground electrical system.

The car, originally priced at $2,450, was a phenomenon. And it was short-lived, with Tucker ceasing operation in early March 1949. The culprit: Negative publicity cultivated by media reports about the Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of the company for stock fraud.

The accusations were proven baseless and an acquittal followed. But the damage was done and so was the company.

Rumors of the involvement of three major carmakers as well as a Michigan senator only added to the Tucker’s enduring lore.

For the first time in Concours d’Elegance history, 62 years after Tucker’s death from pneumonia and lung cancer, his prized vehicle will be celebrated on the Monterey Peninsula. The vehicle will have its own show class with more than a dozen of the rare machines showcased on the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach.

“Tucker is coming up on an anniversary of sorts; it’s in its 70th year,” said Kandace Hawkinson, marketing director for the Concours d’Elegance. “And we’ve really been trying to push the envelope in a variety ways and follow the interests of enthusiasts.”

The Tucker legacy (only 47 have survived) gained further international attention 30 years ago with the debut of the movie, Tucker: The Man and His Dream.

Francis Ford Coppola directed the film based on the car’s odd and brief history. The drama-comedy starred Jeff Bridges and featured Christian Slater, Frederic Forrest, Elias Koteas, Martin Landau and Joan Allen.

The film was almost not made. Coppola began work on the movie 15 years earlier, but financial woes halted it. The project was revived in 1986 when George Lucas became its producer.

Tucker owners and enthusiasts are as passionate about the niche cars as the fans of any vintage vehicles.

“The Tucker Club of America is very active,” said Hawkinson. “The interest is a lot broader than just the owners of Tuckers or those you have only seen Tucker. The movie definitely widened its appeal.”

Concours d’Elegance officials also expect a few more Tucker examples to be showcased during a special occasion at Peter Hay Golf Course.

A newly mastered edition of Coppola’s film will be screened and open to the public. The Tuckers owned by Coppola and Lucas will be highlights, and the two movie moguls are tentatively scheduled to attend the function beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m.

Not surprisingly, Tuckers are rarely for sale. Six years ago, a Tucker (chassis #1043) was purchased at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a record $2.91 million. It was purchased for nearly three times as much as the previous high price paid for one of the iconic vehicles.

Early this year, a Tucker (chassis #1029), reportedly the personal vehicle of the car’s originator, was sold at the RM Sotheby’s sale in Arizona for $1.79 million. The same vehicle was used in a short promotional film, Tucker: The Man and the Car. The movie was used to introduce the vehicle to American audiences.

And like the car, it was influential and not around long.

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