Preston Thomas Tucker - 20th Century Genius Award

Preston Thomas Tucker - 20th Century Genius Award

The 20th Century’s most influential person is one who has an impact on modern society and Western culture. This person would have had one or more characteristics of greatness including; design, forward thought, outside the box thinking, and many other traits that are usually linked to the term Genius. This candidate must have had an influential impact on our culture or a specific part of the makings of our culture. His or Her actions must have been
considered monumental in the forward progression of our quest for enlightenment. This Author believes Preston Tucker to be a perfect candidate for such an award.

Preston Thomas Tucker was born September 21, 1903, on a peppermint farm in Capac, Michigan. He grew up in the suburban Detroit community of Lincoln Park where, even as a child, he was fascinated by anything having to do with automobiles. He learned to drive at the age of 11 and quit school two years later to become an office boy for a local Cadillac dealer. Tucker throughout his early life worked at a number of other automobile companies,
including Ford, Studebaker, Chrysler, and Pierce-Arrow. Although he began his career as a mechanic and test driver, he eventually moved into sales after attending Detroit's Cass Technical High School.

During the 1930s, Tucker dabbled in a number of unsuccessful business ventures, most of them automotive-related. In 1935 he teamed up with famed engine designer Harry A. Miller to build Indianapolis 500 race cars for the Ford Motor Company. But none of the ten cars they completed managed to make it across the finish line, this forced Ford to withdraw from the project. Then came World War II, during which time the major automobile manufacturers dedicated their assembly lines to the war effort. From 1942 until 1946, no new models were introduced. Thus, by the mid-1940s, American consumers were desperate for cars. Seeing an opportunity to challenge General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler for a share of this eager, fast-growing market, Tucker formed his own automobile manufacturing company, which he named the Tucker Corporation.

Hailed as a visionary by some and a con artist by others of the time, Preston Tucker was the man behind a ground breaking, futuristic-looking car that debuted in the middle of a great fanfare during the summer of 1948. This feat of ingenuity was not long lasting. Within just a couple of years, the Tucker Corporation had folded because of suspicions about its founder's business practices. The Big Three car manufacturers pooled their effort to put Tucker out of business. The innovations his car brought forth would have made the other totally redesign their entire fleets. Public accusations were made about Preston being a thief or even a communist. This nearly destroyed his image, but the car again spoke for itself.

The prototype engine displaced 589 cubic inches, but the production model would eventually be toned down to 335. The final engine had a power output of 166 hp. To get a modern comparison, look at a 2000 model Mercedes C280 sedan, which offers 194 hp. The Tucker engine was placed in the rear of the car, for a couple of reasons: 1) the additional weight gave the drive axle better traction, and in the event of an accident, the engine wouldn't be thrust through the firewall on to the passengers, which could be one of the biggest dangers to passengers in a car crash. Tucker put air intakes in the rear fenders and an exhaust fan in the rear bumper. The power plant provided 0-60 acceleration in 10 seconds. It also averaged 20 miles per gallon of gas and gave the car a top speed of 120 mph. Some of the tricks that Preston pulled to prove the value of his creation were unorthodox to say the least. One, for instance, was to prove the top speed of his car. He ran a high speed chase from the police and then used the officer’s sworn testimony about the top speed of the patrol car and the fact that the Tucker was much faster. This car was very efficient and well built for the time it was created.

Other features included a padded, push button dashboard, front windows that popped outward for safety, and easy replacement. It also had a collapsible steering column, also for safety, and interchangeable seats, all of which were unheard of at the time. The car had bench seating – like a couch. Unlike the cars of the day, whenever the upholstery wore out on the front seat, you could pop it out and switch it with the rear seat. The chassis had a steel reinforced V shape front so that unless you hit someone head on, you would deflect to one side or the other.

The front had a headlight that would turn with the steering wheel, much like the new Lexus SUV of 2006. Tucker felt that turning corners at night was hazardous because that was the only time you really couldn't see where you were going. The turning light addressed this problem. The car was also the first to offer seat belts and disc brakes. It had three welded roll bars to protect the passengers in case the car flipped and was one of the first cars with independent suspension. The sedan's most striking feature was its styling, developed by Alex Tremulis and J. Gordon Lippincott and Company. The car had pop-up tail lights and doors that cut into the roof for easy entry and exit. The car offered a roomy six-passenger cabin with "step-down" floor much like the 2007 Dodge Caravan. The original projected selling price of the 1948 Tucker Torpedo, as it was called, was $2450. Depending on your down payment, you could get a radio, heater or even a complete set of designer luggage thrown in to the deal.

So, to get the car company started, Tucker would get a small manufacturing site and progressively build his way up toward competing with the big boys, right? Not Tucker. He petitioned for and was awarded the largest manufacturing site in the country, a former WWII bomber factory outside of Chicago that had churned out B-29 engines during the war. The grounds spanned over 475 acres and its main building covered 93 acres. The War Assets
Administration leased the site to him provided he could show $15 million in capital by the following year. You can still visit the site of Tucker's factory - it's the Ford City Mall on Cicero Avenue in Chicago. He began production in 1947 and the first model rolled off the assembly line in June of 1947.
With the post-war economy booming during the summer of 1948, American consumers were in a buying mood, especially for cars. But the people crowding dealers' showrooms wanted something more exciting than the offerings of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, whose designs seemed old-fashioned and boring. This is where Preston Tucker stepped in. He was a brash entrepreneur and master of promotion who insisted that he had just what Americans wanted--"The Car of Tomorrow …Today." His namesake automobile boasted a radical new aerodynamic look and a number of innovative safety features. At first, it seemed that Tucker had definitely tapped into the public's growing desire for a sleeker, safer car; his company was flooded with orders in a matter of just a few months. However, his inability to deliver on his promises cost him his business as well as his reputation. The lack of funds to pay workers left Preston with only friends and family to assist in the production effort.

To this day, more than 50 years later, the ideals of Preston Tucker's vision, and the 1948 Tucker Torpedo, are widely regarded as the best car ever built, based on design, innovation, safety and overall value. All but 4 have survived the intervening years and are either privately owned or on public display. However, Tucker's most enduring legacy remains his bold, resolute and innovative spirit that still inspires us all. Taking into consideration that most of the principles that Tucker based his car on are now considered Standard Equipment on today’s cars, proves that he was a genius for his time. The Safety features built into this machine actually were placed there by a man that cared about the passengers of his automobiles. They were simply put in place for function, whereas today’s features are seen primarily as marketing tools.

In this authors opinion, Preston Tucker more than meets the criteria to be a recipient of the 20th Century’s most influential person award. By the standing 47 cars that remain in existence, Preston’s legend lives on in the hearts of car enthusiasts everywhere and his dedication to fulfill his own dream is a characteristic that more people should strive for in life.