Francis Ford Coppola’s biopic “Tucker, the Man and His Dream” hit U.S. theaters on this day in history. The film starred Jeff Bridges as an incredibly unwieldy and brash Chicago business man who turned to designing cars as a means to an end. The car designer Preston Tucker shook up the car industry in Detroit during the 1940’s automobile boom. He invented something called the “Car of Tomorrow” which was touted as being fast, sleek and above all else: affordable.
A lot of historians and car enthusiasts remember Preston Tucker as someone who was ruthlessly pragmatic. His visionary talents and flamboyant nature made him somewhat of a failed opportunist. He was inspired by his friendship with Harry Miller, a World War II business partner and race car driver, to design cars. Preston Tucker thought that Americans were ready for a change, and that the stale state of the auto industry warranted a new kind of car. His independent, brash and often time’s reckless entrepreneurial spirit drove him to create something entirely new for the market.
Tucker invented the car, took the risk and ended up hiring a team of designers and mechanics to carry out his vision for the “car of tomorrow”. They included Alexander S. Tremulis and chief mechanic John Eddie Offuttas. The three of them worked hard to bring Preston’s vision to life and leased an old Dodge aircraft engine plant in Chicago. They had plans to design and build the car of Tucker’s dreams.
The car came to life through a strange medium. The three workers based the design off of clay mock-ups built to scale. Tucker and his team produced a metal prototype. They called it the “Tin Goose.” It was completed in June of 1947.
By the following spring, the teardrop-shaped, 150-horsepower Tucker “Torpedo” complete with a new aspect of the “rear engine” rolled off the assembly line much like Ford’s model T had years before. The mad men of the era did a lot to try and market the new car company. The slogan was, “Don’t Let a Tucker Pass you By.” The Torpedo featured a lot of new innovations like a padded dashboard for comfort and different crash results, a pop-out windshield for easy cleaning and repairs and the strange motorcycle-like addition of a center-mounted headlight.
Like most new innovations Tucker and his group faced insurmountable pressure from people who had already established themselves in the market. If Tucker were on Shark Tank today, all of the sharks would be out, because the licensing deals to other car companies and plants fell through early on.
Despite all of the traction and great reviews from people in the auto industry, the company couldn’t get past the SEC. Apparently there was a case of mail fraud and a few other charges. The investigation lead to a loss of trust in the market and a lot of bad publicity. A great deal of his staff members ended up leaving in the fray. The company fell into receivership in 1949 and all of its assets were seized. The movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola chronicled this entire process and won rave reviews for the gritty, real nature of the film.