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Monday, March 30, 2015

Preston Tucker’s Auto: A Dream that Wouldn’t Die


Copyright © 2015 Bold Ride LLC.
tucker_sedan photo

History teaches us that great works can sometimes take much longer to complete than originally anticipated. For example, Mark Twain wrote the first 400 pages of Huckleberry Finn during a creative stint in 1876, only to set the manuscript down and not touch it again until 1883.
Thomas Edison experimented with more than 1,000 ways to make a practical filament for an incandescent lightbulb before finally achieving success. Genius, inspiration, and hard work are often bedeviled by wrong turns and sheer bad luck.
The same is true of many of the great innovations in automotive history. Take for example Preston Tucker and his vision for a revolutionary new car. He first conceived of the vehicle during the Second World War.

 Afterwards he poured all of his considerable talents into mass-producing the machine, only to face failure and scandal for his efforts – until 2015, that is. Today a small group of craftsmen is breathing new life into Tucker’s groundbreaking automobile.

A Man Ahead of His Time

 America in the second half the 1940s was a nation hungry for new automobile designs. Civilian vehicles had not been built since 1941. The euphoria following the war’s end led to massive economic expansion. For the first time in nearly two decades the public had money to spend. This presented huge opportunities for entrepreneurs who could build a better car in less time than the Big Three.

tucker_sedan front photo

Enter Preston Tucker. A brilliant inventor with a history for independent thinking, he knew that traditional approaches to building automobiles simply would not work in an era of increased mobility and high-speed roadways. So he applied what were then cutting-edge concepts into an auto design of his own.

By the standards of the time what Tucker wanted to do was revolutionary. He imagined a vehicle with a built-in crash frame and rollbar, a steering box behind the front axle, a user-friendly instrument panel, a padded dash, four-wheel independent suspension, an aluminum block, and a windshield made with shatterproof glass.

Tucker also wanted his car to have disc brakes, fuel injection, tubeless tires, a direct-drive torque converter transmission, and a third headlight that could see around corners. He even envisioned a quick-swap drivetrain that can be changed out in as little as 30 minutes.

tucker_sedan side photo

Unfortunately, Tucker’s reach far exceeded his grasp. Many of his ideas were simply beyond the capabilities of his time. The few cars that were built fell far short of his original vision. Technical problems, along with negative publicity and pressure from the Big Three, crushed his dream before it ever got off the ground.

Despite all these problems, Tucker and his team built 51 versions of his automobile, the 1948 Tucker sedan. Many of these still exist and are in the hands of collectors who admire the upstart visionary and his vehicles. Owners include George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola.

Tucker had other disciples as well. One of them was a fellow named Joe Ida, who, in 1947, pulled his funds with money from his two brothers to open a Tucker dealership in Yonkers, New York. After the troubled automaker collapsed, Ida continued to believe in what Tucker had tried to do for the driving public.

tucker_sedan rear photo

Joe passed his passion for the vehicle on to his son Bobby, who started a hot rod and performance shop of his own in 1959. Bobby’s venture prospered, and in 1990 his son Rob joined the team. Today they serve a thriving client base by building specialty vehicles and aftermarket parts. Ida Automotive, Inc. is well known in customized automotive circles.

Now the Ida family is resurrecting Tucker’s legendary automobile in a new version for the 21st century. This is not a replica or a so-called “kit car” but a built-from-scratch reproduction that comes as close as possible to the original vision from back in the 1940s.

 The team is adding updated touches like a mid-engine design, rack and pinion steering, and climate control, but the essence of these hand-crafted vehicles remains true to what Preston Tucker first envisioned more than 70 years ago.

Needless to say, you won’t see these automobiles at your local dealership anytime soon. Ida Automotive is limiting production to 51 examples, each of which will we be built one at a time in the family’s workshop.

 If you can cough up the bucks, and if you’re as passionate for great design as Preston Tucker was, then perhaps you can own one of these amazing vehicles. To find out more, follow this link.

Photo Credit: Pawel Litwinski