This vehicle paper model is a 1948 Tucker Sedan (referred to as Tucker 48 or Tucker Torpedo) paper car, an advanced automobile conceived by Preston Tucker and briefly produced in Chicago in 1948, the papercraft created by Matyas Sevcik. The scale of the paper car is in 1:100. Only 51 cars were made before the company folded on March 3, 1949, due to negative publicity initiated by the news media, a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and a heavily publicized stock fraud trial. Speculation exists that the Big Three automakers and Michigan senator Homer S. Ferguson also had a role in the Tucker Corporation's demise. The 1988 movie, Tucker: The Man and His Dream is based on Tucker's spirit and the saga surrounding the car's production.
After World War II, the public was ready for totally new car designs, but the Big Three Detroit automakers had not developed any new models since 1941. This provided great opportunities for new, small automakers who could develop new cars more rapidly than the huge legacy automakers. Studebaker was first to introduce an all-new postwar model, but Tucker took a different tack, designing a safety car with innovative features and modern styling. His specifications called for a water-cooled aluminum block flat-6 rear engine, disc brakes, four-wheel independent suspension, fuel injection, the location of all instruments within reach of the steering wheel, seat belts, and a padded dashboard.
Tucker's first design for the car appeared in a December 1946 Science Illustrated magazine article entitled "Torpedo on Wheels", showing a futuristic version of the car with a hydraulic drive system designed by George Lawson, along with a photo of a 1/8 scale model blown up to appear full sized. This was only an early rendering of the proposal, with its design features yet to make it off the drawing board, but the article helped make the motoring public aware of the Tucker.
To finish the prototype design and get construction under way, Tucker hired famed stylist Alex Tremulis, previously of Auburn/Cord/Duesenberg, on December 24, 1946 and gave him just six days to finalize the design. On December 31, 1946, Tucker approved Tremulis' preliminary design. Tucker's future car became known as the "Tucker Torpedo" from the first Lawson sketch, but because Tucker did not want to remind the public of the horrors of World War II, he quickly changed the name to the "Tucker '48". With Tremulis' design sketch, a full page advertisement was run in March 1947 in many national newspapers, proclaiming "How 15 years of testing produced the car of the year". Tucker said he had been thinking about the car for 15 years. This second advertisement specifically described many of the innovative features Tucker proposed for his car, many of which would not make it to the final version. This advertisement helped generate considerable public enthusiasm for the car, but Tucker had much work to do before a prototype was complete.
To finalize the design, Tucker hired the New York design firm J. Gordon Lippincott to create an alternate body. Only the front end and horizontal tail-light bar designs were refined for the final car. Tremulis gave the first prototype car the nickname of "Tin Goose".
Some components and features of the car were innovative and ahead of their time. The most recognizable feature of the Tucker '48, a directional third headlight, would activate at steering angles of greater than 10 degrees to light the car's path around corners. At the time, 17 states had laws against cars having more than two headlights. Tucker fabricated a cover for the cyclops center light for use in these states.
The car was rear-engined and rear wheel drive. A perimeter frame surrounded the vehicle for crash protection, as well as a roll bar integrated into the roof. The steering box was behind the front axle to protect the driver in a front-end accident. The instrument panel and all controls were within easy reach of the steering wheel, and the dash was padded for safety. The windshield was made of shatterproof glass and designed to pop out in a collision to protect occupants. The car's parking brake had a separate key so it could be locked in place to prevent theft. The doors extended into the roof, to ease entry and exit. Each Tucker built differed somewhat from the previous car, as each car built was basically a “prototype” where design features and engineering concepts were tried, improved, or discarded throughout the production cycle. The door releases on the interior of the Tucker came from the Lincoln Zephyr. The steering columns used in the Tucker were donated by Ford and are from the 1941 Lincoln. Preston Tucker held a patent for a collapsible steering column design. A glove box was added to the front door panels instead of the more conventional location in the dash to provide space for the “crash chamber” that the Tucker is now famous for. This is a padded area ahead of the passenger seat, free from obstructions, providing the front seat passengers an area to protect themselves in the event of an accident. The engine and transmission were mounted on a separate subframe which was secured with only six bolts. The entire drivetrain could thus be lowered and removed from the car in minutes. Tucker envisioned loaner engines being quickly swapped in for service in just 30 minutes.
Tucker envisioned several other innovations which were later abandoned. Magnesium wheels, disc brakes, fuel injection, self-sealing tubeless tires, and a direct-drive torque converter transmission were all evaluated and/or tested but were dropped on the final prototype due to cost, engineering complexity, and lack of time to develop.
Tucker initially tried to develop an innovative engine. It was a 589 cubic inches (9.65 L) flat-6 cylinder with hemispherical combustion chambers, fuel injection, and overhead valves operated by oil pressure rather than a camshaft. An oil pressure distributor was mounted inline with the ignition distributor and delivered appropriately timed direct oil pressure to open each valve at the proper interval. This unique engine was designed to idle at 100 rpm and cruise at 250-1200 rpm through the use of direct drive torque converters on each driving wheel instead of a transmission. These features would have been auto industry firsts in 1948, but as engine development proceeded, problems appeared. The 589 engine was installed only in the test chassis and the first prototype.
The world premiere of the much-hyped Tucker '48 car was set for June 19, 1947. Over 3,000 people showed up at the Tucker factory in Chicago for lunch, a train tour of the plant, and the unveiling of the first Tucker prototype. The unveiling appeared doomed, however, as last-minute problems with the car cropped up. The night before the premiere, two of the Tin Goose's independent suspension arms snapped under the car's own weight. Minor engine problems were fixed, and the car was presentable by the time of the premiere. However, the experimental 589 engine was extremely loud. Tucker told the band to play as loud as possible to drown out the noise. As the car was driven on to the platform, the liquid coolant boiled over and some steam escaped from the car, but no one seemed to notice.
A skeptical journalist named Drew Pearson reported publicly that the car was a fraud because it could not go backward and that it went "goose-geese" going down the road. This hurt the public view of Tucker's car, at a time in history when journalists and public officials were more trusted than they are today. Despite the fact that this problem was limited to the first prototype only, a symptom of the speed with which the first car was put together, the damage was done in the court of public opinion. A negative media feeding frenzy resulted.
Tucker suffered another setback when his bids to obtain two steel mills to provide raw materials for his cars were rejected by the War Assets Administration under a shroud of questionable politics. For more infomation of the Tucker Torpedo please click here.
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