Tucker lives on in miniature
By Dave Weber

By 1948, the US economy had almost completely rebounded from World War II. New ideas were evident in all endeavors. This included the new automobile styling and mechanical innovations that began to appear. For example, the Studebaker in 1947 was a radical styling exercise when compared to the earlier conservative designs.

Even more radical was the Tucker 4 door sedan that was finally introduced in 1948. In some ways it did show a slight a resemblance to the Studebaker. But when the 2 cars are compared side by side, they are easily distinguishable. It is interesting to note that a Studebaker reportedly was used to portray a wrecked Tucker in the Hollywood movie , "Tucker The Man And His Dream " that was released in 1988. This car was disguised to portray a rollover in a crash scene while being test driven.

In brief, the Tucker had a much lower height. It was equipped with a very powerful air-cooled 6 cylinder rear engine. The front hood area provided adequate space for luggage and storage. The window glass was safety approved. The dashboard was totally padded and the register dials were situated directly in front of the steering wheel. The side doors opened from the center. This eliminated the center post. There were no running boards and "torpedo" style front and rear fenders were joined to and part of the fastback body. The front grille had a very tasteful wraparound design that also served as the front bumper. Probably the most unusual feature was the placement of a third headlight in the middle of the hood equidistant between the two front wheels. This light turned with the direction of the car's wheels.

According to the Tucker Automobile Club of America ( TACA) at tuckerclub@cox.net , only 51 cars were ever assembled. A major portion of these now are housed in various auto museums throughout the country. The TACA Archives are maintained at the Gilmore-CCCC Museum in Hickory Corners, MI where one of the cars is housed.

Of the original 51 cars, 4 have been reportedly damaged beyond repair. One was hit by a train. Another was severely vandalized and scrapped while a third was the victim of a warehouse fire. The last was damaged in 1948 at the factory while being road tested. About 10 years ago two of the cars were sold to a collector in Japan. I don't know if they are still housed in the Orient. Still another car was discovered to be in a deteriorated condition in a dilapidated chicken coop (museum?) in Brazil about 1993. The courts were involved in an inheritance issue since the owner had died. I also do not know the status of this car at the present time.

Probably the most unusual and notorious situation for one of the cars was when the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) took possession of one of the cars. It was determined that it had been purchased to launder monies from major drug sales. This car is now, thanks to the influence by TACA members, the property of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

Many replicas of this car have been produced in 1/43 and larger scales by some of the mainline model companies. However, It is interesting to note that until recently very few toy/model diecast manufacturers have produced a replica of this car in or near the smaller 1/64 scale size.

Although not made of metal , a craftsman by the name of Lee Stokes produced small replicas of various cars from the 1940s and 1950s for placement on model railroad platforms. I estimate from memory that these solid 'plaster of Paris' unpainted models were available in the late1950s . Of course a Tucker model was included in this collection of models! Approximately 10 years ago, I was able to obtain a small white metal kit of a Tucker from Germany in about 1/72 scale. Trading as "Lion Toys", this model was provided by Baron von Dobeneck . His products had been reviewed in brief in a copy of Model Auto Review in the early 1990s. The detail for this model is very exact ! I do not know if these models are still available. Also available about the same time was a solid resin unpainted replica which showed a great similarity in dimensions to the Baron's product. This latter model was obtained via TACA and was made available by one of the members at that time. Could this have been a homemade knockoff of the Baron's model?

In the late 1990s Summer produced a model of the Tucker. It was somewhat stylized, but there was no doubt the car was a Tucker. This model was sold in a 2 Pack and was a companion to a model of the Checker Cab. It was available in some 'dollar stores'. For some unknown reason the Tucker had a very limited availability for a considerable short time span. In fact, this model is still on my 'want list'!

One of the main reasons for me to join TACA in the late 1980s was to try to develop information on what if any models in small scale were available at that time. I did find that Lewis Galoob Toy Co issued a Tucker 'Micro Machine' model in 1990. This was also a very stylized model in about 1/87 scale. The most notable defect was the incorrect length of the body. Galoob even issued this model with an internal battery which enabled all three headlights to flash on some of the models!

Hot Wheels Collectibles issued a model called the Triclopz in 1999. This was part of the Ed Newton Lowboyz set . This model represented what a modern Tucker could look like if the company had stayed in business. Many of the features on this designer's conceptualization do borrow styling elements from the original car produced by Preston Tucker!

Now, thanks to the folks at Playing Mantis/ Johnny Lightning, a new and very accurate Tucker model is being issued. It is part of the Classic Gold Series #19. Additional models are slated to be available in the 2003 Christmas ornament package. I have read many positive comments about this new model. Some collectors even have voiced a desire to buy 51 of the models to represent all the fullsize cars that were produced!

It is a shame that Mr Tucker is no longer alive to enjoy this revival of his product, this time in miniature. He died in 1956. I suspect the Federal court episode in the late 1940s did not help prolong his life. I conclude by quoting the motto of TACA, "Keeping the Legend alive".

Sources about Tucker and his car are as follows:

  • Pearson, Charles T. "The Indomitable tin Goose", Abelard- Schuman , NY .1960 ( Out of print)
  • Tine, Robert " Tucker The Man And His Dream ", (a novel based on the movie screenplay ) Pocket Books (paperback) NY. 1988
  • Egan, Philip S. " Design And Destiny: The making of the Tucker Automobile"
  • On The Mark . Orange , CA . 1989 (This paperback is still available at a reasonable cost from TACA)

1:60 scale Tucker - Johnny Lightning,
image courtesy of Playing Mantis

1:72 scale Tucker - Lion Toys

resin casting of Tucker

resin casting of Tucker

1:60 scale Tucker - Summer

1:87 scale Tucker - Galoob

Triclopz - Hot Wheels