Remembering the Tucker Torpedo: A Futuristic Classic Car With a Cyclops Eye and an Aircraft Engine

Some historic cars are legendary, like the Ford Model T and the Volkswagen Beetle. However, other vehicles could have changed the auto world as we know it, but fate had different plans. That is the case for the Tucker 48, otherwise known as the Tucker Torpedo. 

Preston Tucker invented this car. It was so close to greatness that failing was impossible. Yet it did. Despite this, the Tucker Torpedo has left a mark on automotive history which will never be erased.

Preston Tucker came up with an ingenious plan

A black and white picture of a 1948 Tucker Torpedo.
1948 Tucker Torpedo

According to Smithsonian Magazine, Preston Tucker didn’t start out looking for greatness. He was just a cop hunting down bootleggers in Lincoln Park, Michigan. This career came to a screeching halt after he decided to warm up his cruiser by torching a hole through the dashboard. He did this in hopes of using the heat from the engine to warm the vehicle.

During this time, car production was halted from 1942 to 1945 as car manufacturing plants focused on wartime weapons. When they began to produce cars again, they went back to the tried and true method. But consumers found it to be a little dated. Tucker saw this as a chance to focus on his dream as a car inventor by creating a new startup he would lead.

According to Hot Cars, Tucker had plenty of experience with cars. He learned to drive at age 11 and worked for Cadillac in the office. His focus was on comfort and safety, much as automakers are today. 

There were actually several designs before Tucker’s dream came to fruition. Many people were excited to see what he could come up with. Tucker began production in Chicago in 1948, but it failed to go beyond that.

A car ahead of its time 

Tucker broke the mold by approaching the Air Cooled Motors company for his engine. He ended up using an O-355, which produced 166 hp. This engine was designed for small aircrafts and the Bell 47 helicopter.

A headlight placed in the middle of the Torpedo turned with the wheels. It looked very unusual and was dubbed ‘The Cyclops.’ Tucker also added springless suspension, disc brakes, fuel injection, and a padded dashboard.

The Torpedo could also go from 0 to 60 in just 10 seconds, which sadly beats out some of the vehicles on the market today.

It wasn’t meant to be

According to Barrett-Jackson, despite all of Tucker’s immense work to make this aerodynamic car a reality, only 51 cars were produced. Of those 51, including a prototype, only 47 remain. This makes the Torpedo one of the rarest cars in the world.

Audrain Auto Museum reports that Tucker’s dream ended on March 3, 1949, when his plant was shut down. This had a lot to do with his company being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, for stock fraud. It all came to naught, and the investigation was quickly closed, but the damage was done. The bad press meant that no one trusted Tucker.

However, there were other reasons why Tucker’s business failed so quickly. He didn’t want to give up control over how the business was run, but in spite of his ingenious ability to build cars, he didn’t have much of a mind for business. One example was that he tried to sell dealership rights before the Torpedo was even built.

There are a lot of ‘what if’ questions regarding the Torpedo. What would have happened if Tucker had waited until the economy was better? Would things have turned out differently if the SEC hadn’t gotten involved? If Tucker had realized his strengths and focused on them instead of trying to do it all independently, would the Torpedo still be in production today?

We’ll never know. Even so, the Torpedo will never be forgotten.

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