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Ultra Rare Tucker 48 Driven on the HOT ROD Power Tour 2015

HOT ROD logo HOT ROD 6/9/2015 Douglas Glad, Phillip Thomas

Check out this Ultra Rare Tucker 48 Driven on the HOT ROD Power Tour 2015

1948 Tucker Torpedo Passenger Side© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Passenger Side

The Tucker story is well known these days, and if you get too far into the chapters, you almost reach myth. The Tucker “Torpedo” is an interesting landmark in American automotive engineering, business, and politics; long story short, Preston Tucker’s dream—and the methods he used while attempting to reach it—rocked the boat just a bit too hard, and he was left with few options when it came down to the challenge set by the SEC: Build 50 production cars or close the doors.

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Tucker funded the development of the Tucker 48 by pre-selling accessories to hopeful future customers, which drew great attention from consumers, but caught the ire of everyone else.

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The result is that Tucker could not produce enough examples of his hyped Tucker 48, and the car ran into various budget and developmental problems as Tucker aimed to revolutionize the automobile as he knew it. Features we take for granted today, such as four-wheel independent suspension, tempered safety glass, thoughtful interior design to increase occupant safety, steering headlights to illuminate the direction you were steering around a corner, safety belts, and a high-strength body structure that could handle any number of combinations of front, rear, and side impacts, even rollovers. To say that it was ahead of its time is an understatement.

Where Tucker had issues was in some of his more radical ideas. In particular, the suspension and drivetrain were particularly bizarre. We’ll take this 1948 Tucker 48, owned by a guy that we’ll just call “Adam.” Adam is the second owner of this Tucker 48, after a friend of his passed away, passing along the Tucker to Adam. This is Tucker 48 production number 1048 (one of the last examples built), and while still quirky, is one of the better-developed Tucker examples.

1948 Tucker Torpedo Brake Light© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Brake Light

The front control arms are produced out of solid brass. For instance, we wanted to nerd-out and watch the center headlight (also nicknamed the Cyclops eye) swivel around with the steering. Unfortunately, while standing still, it’s possible for the control arm to twist as the wheels turn on dry pavement. Of course, this is a concern that comes out of an overwhelming and understandable abundance of caution. You can’t exactly call your local speed shop for Tucker control arms. The rear suspension was also inadequate for the weight of the physically massive 334ci flat-six. Tucker used a unique torsion suspension, with a cantilevered shock absorber mounted forward of the rear suspension. Unfortunately, most Torpedoes suffer from what’s known as the “Tucker lean,” according to Adam. That is to say, each car tends to sit off-level in its own unique way, depending on how the suspension has worn. To alleviate this issue on No. 48, Adam added QA1 coilovers in place of the original shock absorber to help support the rear. Up front, a custom-made transverse leaf spring was added to solve the Tucker lean.

A few other fun things to note about this car are some of its accessories. The amber lamps on the front bumper, the sunvisor, third brake lamp, and the reverse lamps are aftermarket that were installed by the original owner. The parts are either N.O.S. (new old stock) accessories or similar to the original accessories that Tucker sold.

1948 Tucker Torpedo Rear Quarter Panel© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Rear Quarter Panel

Another unique piece of the Tucker No. 48 puzzle is that many of its interior parts were outsourced. Kaiser, Jeep, and Lincoln all donated pieces of interior trim, including the steering wheel, which is pulled from a 1941 Lincoln.

1948 Tucker Torpedo Knobs Controls© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Knobs Controls

1948 Tucker Torpedo Steering Wheel© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Steering Wheel 1948 Tucker Torpedo Radio© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Radio

The engine is a bit of a marvel. While the cylinder heads were designed by Tucker to convert the engine to water cooling, the short-block was essentially sourced from the Franklin Engine Company, producers of air-cooled airplane and helicopter engines. The engine is topped with a two-barrel carburetor, which feeds the flat-six enough fuel and air for 166 hp at 3,000 rpm and a stout 372 lb-ft of torque. While the horsepower doesn’t sound like a lot, especially given the Torpedo’s claimed curb weight of 4,235 pounds, it’s well-geared, especially using the pre-selector four-speed gearbox.


1948 Tucker Torpedo Engine Detail© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Engine Detail

Pre-selector? While Tucker dreamed of using massive torque converters at each wheel hub, in order to eliminate shifting all together, his ingenious gearboxes were the largest variable of the production run. This later-production example is fairly simple to use, but if anything significant were to fail, it would end this Tucker’s presence for a long time period. Any replacement parts have to be custom-machined and all of Tucker’s gearboxes were experimental—with many variations.

To drive it, however, you start in First gear by clutching in and pulling the tiny H-pattern shifter on the column to the right and down. You release the clutch, as usual, and get on your way. When you feel like shifting, while maintaining throttle, you can select your next gear. Second gear is up and to the left—effectively where Third gear would be on a typical H-pattern gearbox. You can select this gear at basically any time; the transmission will not shift until you press the clutch in, hold it for about a second, and then release the clutch as usual. Surprise, you’re in the next gear. This allowed drivers to keep their hands near the wheel, only needing to concentrate on footwork during a shift, instead of doing this crazy every-limb-for-itself-bonanza that we see shifting a conventional manual transmission.

1948 Tucker Torpedo Steering Column Controls© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Steering Column Controls

We have always heard manufacturers tout that their new interior ergonomics are driver-centric, but no one was as focused on the driver as Tucker. The dashboard is effectively nonexistent. Tucker saw the numerous injuries inflicted on passengers when they contacted the era-standard steel dashboard. Tucker built a console around the driver’s column that houses the radio controls on the right-hand side and HVAC and lighting controls on the left-hand side of the wheel. That’s the entire interior.


1948 Tucker Torpedo Chrome Detail© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Chrome Detail

Beyond that, the Tucker really isn’t too special or peculiar. It is spacious, comfortable, stylish, and drenched in chrome. Its shortcomings are only due to its lack of time in development. Tucker was using his first 50 customers as guinea pigs. Even at the time, the Big Three destroyed more cars in prototype testing than Tucker was ever able to produce.

While the execution of some of Preston Tucker’s ideas weren’t quite perfect in the Tucker 48, it foresaw a wealth of features and design ideals that we see today. It’s unfortunate that the Torpedo ended production, but we’re ultimately thankful for its existence.

1948 Tucker Torpedo Hood Ornament© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Hood Ornament 1948 Tucker Torpedo Grille Detail© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Grille Detail

This was Tucker’s American Dream, in a sense, and it represents a unique moment in American automotive history.


1948 Tucker Torpedo Rear Three Quarter© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Rear Three Quarter


1948 Tucker Torpedo Three Quarter© Provided by Hotrod 1948 Tucker Torpedo Three Quarter
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