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How Preston Tucker's Goose was cooked

2014-07-24 07:50


COMMOTION OF MOTION: Preston Tucker’s radical car made sense… trouble was the American automobile industry wasn’t ready for this young whippersnapper. Image: With permission of conceptcarz.com

Preston Tucker was a man of vision. Almost 70 years ago he showcased to the American car-buying public a vehicle that should have sold by the dozen.

Disc brakes, fuel injection, safety glass, crumple zones and a cornering central headlight were all revolutionary features that Preston Tucker had in mind for his eponymous American production line of fine cars. Alas, fewer than 50 were made before car giants Ford, Cadillac and others squeezed him out of business, never to return.


After the Second World War even the Americans were finding it tough getting back into the swing of pre-war car manufacturing. All the customers clamouring for new models and designs were receiving little more than warmed-over versions of 1942 models but war years have a habit of producing innovative ideas and clever people such as Preston Tucker.

He was an inventor and entrepreneur who knew a thing or two about car production and what people would jump at, given half a chance.

The Tucker car was radically different to anything else on the market. It could accommodate six adults in real comfort and was powered by a modified and rear-mounted Franklin helicopter engine the drove the rear wheels through a Cord transmission – a pedigreed name if ever there was one.

Tucker was proving to be light years ahead of the opposition.

Despite securing the largest car factory in the US (one in which giant B-29 bombers had been built) and raising huge capital from investors it wasn’t all plain sailing for Tucker. A shortage of steel, franchise agreements with new dealers* and selling quality accessories for his car before the first 50 had even rolled off the assembly line caused untold hatred and jealousy of the worst kind from car manufacturers in Detroit – the seminal home of the automobile.


His cars had safety glass, a world first. Disc brakes were introduced and, again in the name of safety, a centre-mounted headlight connected to the steering mechanism by a cable to illuminate the way forward. (I bet you thought Citroen had that idea first, didn’t you?) Air bags it didn’t have had, but for the front passenger, a really tough crumple zone was built around him/her – a sort of cage if you like – to literally dive into in the event of a collision.

Had Tucker been an Olympic athlete instead of an inventor he’d have probably made gold. Alas, lawsuits and bills piled up – it was to be Tucker versus Detroit – a battle he was never going to win. Some say he was a con man and was only out to make a fast buck. I reckon he was more of a visionary – the type of person who, unfortunately, often tends not to have his feet firmly on the ground, and let’s be honest, make lousy businesspeople.

But the fact remains that he built a prototype car, nicknamed “Tin Goose”, and went on to build 51 cars of which 48 survive – evenly distributed in the hands of serious collectors or dispersed across America in car museums.

Quite a following, all things considered.

• Tucker cars rarely appear for sale but in the past decade one sold for $577 500 in California, another for $461 500 and one owned by Hollywood film-maker George Lucas went under the hammer for $385 000. Three have disappeared – perhaps for ever – while one was lost in a basement fire.

Tin Goose, incidentally, gets a regular airing at the Swigart Vintage Car Museum in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.

* The 'crime' he had committed in the eyes of the Securities and Exchange Commission was the selling of dealer franchises for a car not already in production. Tucker won his case but it only served to antagonise Detroit even further.
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