The History of the Tucker Convertible
Please make sure to visit the Updated Documentation section to see a lot of the documentation that supports the fact that the Tucker convertible was a Tucker factory concept.
Preston Tucker, the man behind the Tucker automobile, was a charismatic rebel who was unfortunately possessed by his creativity and determined to do what many said couldn't be done. His cup of creativity bubbled with activity. As his career unfolded, it became clear his destiny was to shake off his contemporaries and to do what had never been done before. He was David looking for his Goliath. His two favorite words had to be "why" and "not," preferably used together as "Why not?" He was fearless and more than a bit of a gambler. Ready to risk his fame and fortune, he jumped head first into an inevitable collision with the establishment. He was determined to capture his dream and build a car that he believed America deserved - a safer, sportier and entirely unconventional sedan with baked-in engineering that his competitors could not match.
Early in his career he and a partner worked to help Henry Ford with race car engineering and design. Tucker was the inventor of the Tucker Turret, a powered gun turret that was mounted to military vehicles in the Second World War. The Tucker Turret was an innovation that played a key role in the success of the allied armies.
Tucker is most remembered for his attempt to challenge the big three American auto manufacturers by starting his own, ultra innovative car company, the Tucker Corporation. Tucker's goal was to apply his unconventional wisdom and common sense to build a car that excelled in areas such as styling, safety, performance, value, and engineering. If Tucker succeeded it would have taken the "Big Three" several years and hundreds of millions dollars to retrofit their cars in an attempt to compete. And as they did so they would have been relegated to the side of the road as they watched a Tucker drift by, eroding their domination of the American car industry. Tucker accomplished what he set out to do with what he called the Tucker 48.
The Tucker 48 sedan was unlike any other car in the world when it was introduced. Some of its most unique features were a "Safety Windshield", a centered swiveling third headlight, a quick swap power train setup, and a rear mounted "flat six" aircraft engine that had been modified. The Safety Windshield was anti-shard laminated and was designed to be easily removed in the case of an accident. The centered swiveling third headlight was synchronized to the movement of the steering wheel to help the driver see around bends in the road. Even today, synchronized headlights don't appear in any but the most expensive cars and their appearance is a relatively recent addition to what are supposed to be "state of the art" automobiles. The quick swap power train setup, that is the engine and transmission, was designed to be easily pulled out of a troubled vehicle within fifteen minutes of arriving at a Tucker service department. This system was developed so that customers could drop off the power train at the dealership and leave quickly with a "loaner power train." This would allow an owner to avoid waiting, sometimes for days, as their car was repaired, an inconvenience common among conventional cars. Imagine the advantage of such an option if you were on a long distance trip with a car full of kids. The Tucker 48's rear mounted Franklin aircraft engine could go from zero to sixty in just seven seconds! This kind of performance eclipses that of many of today's full size luxury sedans. Because of the "flat six" design, which means that the engine has six horizontally opposed cylinders, the car had a much lower center of gravity. This allowed it to navigate corners and winding roads as if it were a European sports car.
Today, the Tucker has captured the imagination of car collectors everywhere as they speculate about what might have been. Could the "Big Three" have ever caught up? As the Tucker 48s were rolling off the assembly line Preston was already busy devising improvements that would be built into future production runs. Truth be known many of those improvements would have appeared in the first Tuckers had it not been for the impracticality of building so many innovations into one car. The first Tucker ever produced was a prototype sedan, known as the "Tin Goose". Fifty-eight frames and bodies were built at the factory. From these parts, 36 sedans were finished before the factory was closed. In addition, one prototype convertible known as "Vera" was started but not finished at the factory. Since the factory closed, an additional 14 sedans have been completed for a total of 51. The convertible is expected to be completed in May of 2009, pushing the total to 52. The majority of these vehicles are in excellent condition. When the cars appear at auction, which is rare, they command prices attained by only a few marquee cars. Tucker #1038 sold in August 2008 at RM's Monterey auction for the record-setting price of $1,017,500.
The experimental department at the Tucker Corporation was very much like the experimental departments of today's automobile companie...very secretive. It is very common for automotive magazines to feature news and composite drafts of prototype vehicles on their covers. Many of these featured vehicles have been under development for extended periods of time, sometimes years, before they are discovered by spy photographers and or even insiders within the automobile companies. In companies that rely on innovation for their continued success, the purpose and documentation of research and development costs as well as the creation of prototypes do not leave a conventional paper trail. Most people assume that the primary reason companies want to keep their research and developments efforts so secretive is so they won't be scooped by industry spies. A bigger secret is the money that is spent on projects that fail. Consequently all the records regarding all highly sensitive research and development costs are "highly classified" and tend to "disappear" as just one of many costs in reams of research and development costs. We know firsthand that prototypes can be impossible to spot in company records or financial statements. They are most often accounted for as research and development expense and appears as such on a company's income statement.
Little is known about what projects were being worked on in the Tucker Corporation experimental department when the Tucker plant was forced to close. One thing that we at Benchmark Classics are sure of is that "Project Vera", the convertible project, was under way. A Tucker Corporation designer was once interviewed about Project Vera years after the plant closed. One of the questions that he was asked was "Was there a Tucker convertible project ever started at the Tucker plant?" He responded "Yes, but I thought that the project had been scrapped when the plant closed." It should be noted that he was working on Tucker number 57 when the plant closed.
The Tucker convertible that we now have in our possession started life as a Tucker 48 sedan in the Tucker factory and is stamped 57 in multiple places. When Mr. Tucker gave the orders to start work on the top secret two-door convertible project both Tucker and third party engineers from Lenki Engineering went to work. It should be known that Lenki is the firm that Mr. Tucker employed to build the sedan prototype known as the "Tin Goose". Tucker and Lenki engineers started on the convertible by cutting sedan #57's roof off. Once this was done they noticed that the frame was lagging near the middle of the car. Knowing that the standard Tucker sedan frame was not strong enough to support a convertible and to ensure that valuable torque wasn't lost in the frame the engineers completely disassembled the car and devised a plan to strengthen the convertible's chassis.
The engineers decided that adding tubular steel beams inside of the boxed Tucker frame as well as thickening the existing frame would probably take care of the problems that they were facing. The end result was a stronger tubular steel frame box wrapped in thicker than stock 10 gauge steel. The engineers' predictions were correct; the modifications strengthened the convertible frame enough to eliminate the unwanted lag.
After the problems with the frame were resolved Tucker and Lenki employees went to work on lengthening the doors and installing a shortened windshield frame. They also modified a late 1940s General Motors convertible top frame by adding a Tucker Corporation designed header. This is as far as the Tucker and Lenki engineers got with the car before the Tucker Corporation went out of business.
Information given in interviews of Robert McLelland, Head of the Tucker Experimental Assembly and Test Department, and Joe Lenki of Lenki Engineering after the Tucker plant closed states that the convertible project was taken to Lenki Engineering headquarters soon after news of a potential Tucker bankruptcy broke. There the car sat untouched and under canvass for many years. A retiring Lenki Engineering employee was allowed to purchase the unfinished project just before he left the firm. The employee had plans to finish it but never did. The Lenki employee sold the project to another individual who also planned on finishing it. This individual could not finish the project due to lack of resources and sold it to Allan Reinert, the individual Benchmark purchased it from. Mr. Reinert has owned four Tuckers and has worked on those and many other Tuckers. He is a Tucker historian without peer and is a veritable walking and talking encyclopedia of Tucker history. If you want to know something about virtually any Tucker that exists today, from the Tin Goose to #57 he can probably tell you. The question that has to be asked is "Given Preston Tucker's penchant for creativity and controversy, how can anyone imagine that a convertible wasn't in the works at the time the Tucker Corporation was shut down?"
If you are into cars this is probably not the first time you have heard about the Tucker Convertible. It has been featured in the New York Times, The Sacramento Bee, The Wisconsin State Journal, numerous other newspapers, Old Cars Weekly, video segments, and countless blogs. It was also on display at Keels and Wheels Concours D' Elegance (Houston, TX), Auto Historica (Chicago, IL), the Fairfield County Concours D' Elegance (Newport, CT), and most recently, the largest car show in the world, the Antique Automobile Club of America's Hershey, PA Meet.
If you read any of the stories that were written about the car you know that there are conflicting opinions about its origins. Publications like newspapers and magazines make money from two primary sources, sales revenue generated by selling the publication itself and advertising revenue generated by selling advertising space within the publication. Good stories equal good sales. Controversial stories equal great sales. The sad thing about every single story that has been written about the Tucker Convertible is that they have focused more on the controversy than the car. What is even sadder is that not a single one of the authors mentioned one of the car's most significant traits. This is that it is most likely going to be the last Tucker automobile to ever be completed using factory parts.
This is more important than it may seem. This is because of what was previously mentioned about when other Tucker automobiles have been finished. To reiterate, of the 52 that exist today, 16 have been finished since the factory closed and this is due to the fact that the Tucker Corporation went out of business before they could finish all of the cars they produced parts for. The Tucker sedan that sold for over a million dollars was finished after the factory closed. Anyone who is into collecting knows that the first and last units of any series of collectible items are worth far more than other units within the same series. The Tucker Convertible is a real Tucker and there is no doubt about that. Again, it is also most likely going to be the LAST Tucker to be finished. And last but certainly not least, it is the ONLY Tucker Convertible in existence.
If you have read any of the stories written about the Tucker Convertible, you know there is controversy regarding whether or not the it left the Tucker factory as a prototype convertible or not. This is where what was mentioned above about publications doing what they do to make money comes into play. Take a look at a few of the headlines from some of the stories that were written about the car: "A RAGTOP TWIST IN TUCKER SAGA", "Tucker: Devotees' Web Forum Skeptical", and "Mystery Convertible: The Tucker That Time Forgot". Justin Cole, President of Benchmark Classics was even threatened by an editor of a publication when he told the publication that he was not interested in participating in an interview regarding the car due to the fact that the last few publications that had written stories about it wrote stories that did not completely tell both sides of the story. Again, controversial stories equal great sales.
The bottom line regarding the controversy is that the critics have conspiracy theories and grudges and we at Benchmark Classics have sworn, signed, and notarized affidavits and videotaped interviews which disprove their conspiracy theories. One of the claims the critics make is that no credible independent inspector in the classic car industry will validate the car as being an authentic Tucker Corporation concept. This is not true. Al Prueitt, founder of Prueitt and Son's Restorations has authenticated the car as being an authentic Tucker Corporation concept. Mr. Prueitt has been heavily involved in the classic car industry for over fifty years. He founded Al Prueitt and Sons Restorations over thirty years ago. Over the years, Al Prueitt and Sons has enjoyed a reputation for fine work, integrity, and dependability, with over 100 national awards from such clubs as the AACA, CCCA, and the RROC. Al is also one of a select few who have received a lifetime achievement award from the CCCA. The following was pulled from a sworn, signed, and notarized affidavit provided by Al Prueitt: "In 1966, I saw the rolling chassis and many sheet metal parts for the Tucker Convertible, along with other Tucker 48 Sedans. I also saw that the convertible was stamped #57 and its frame was reinforced at that time." The following was pulled from another signed document provided by Al Prueitt: "I have seen and inspected the Tucker Convertible and have verified its authenticity." We have posted the documentation we have, including the affidavits, on the Tucker Convertible's website for the world to see.
We obviously have our opinion and the critics have theirs. What we would like you to do is look the car and the documentation we have over and form your own opinion about it. This car is not going to sell to someone who requires factory documentation from day one. It is going to sell to someone who appreciates it for what it is: A real Tucker, most likely the LAST Tucker to be finished, and last but certainly not least, it is the ONLY Tucker Convertible in existence. Oh, and don't forget that it only has a couple original test miles on it, zero owners since it was completed, it is outfitted with a correct Franklin-Tucker flat 6 engine, a correct Cord sourced transmission (many of the Tuckers that were originally outfitted with Cord transmissions), a unique Tucker frame (the thickest known to exist), and it is the famous experimental car #57 that has been written about in books!
A common question that has been asked is, "Why has this car been advertised on Ebay?" The answer is very simple. Ebay generates sales. Right now, as this write up is being written, according to the website ranking company Alexa, Ebay's website is ranked in the top ten trafficked sites in the United States and the top twenty-five trafficked sites in the world. As we have already stated, the Tucker Convertible was not finished when Benchmark Classics took delivery of it. The good thing about the project was that 99% of the parts that were needed to complete it came with it. We could go on for days describing all of the work we put into the car during its 3,800+ man hour completion but we believe that the hundreds of pictures we have posted to the car's website do a much better job. Feel free to send us any questions you have about the car.
We at Benchmark Classics are extremely proud to have the opportunity to complete this piece of automotive history! Over the next several months this website will serve as the public’s destination to witness the completion of what is sure to be one of the most historically significant automobiles ever!