Sunday 9th December 1945
American entrepreneur Preston Tucker revealed plans to produce the Torpedo, a new 150 mph car. Tucker’s first design appeared in Science Illustrated magazine in December 1946, 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, titled the “Torpedo on Wheels”. This was only an early rendering of the proposal, with its design features yet to meet reality, but the motoring public was now excited about 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’s preliminary design. Tucker’s future-car became known as the “Tucker Torpedo” from the first Lawson sketch; however, not desiring to bring to mind the horrors of WWII, Tucker quickly changed the name to the “Tucker ’48”. With Tremulis’s design sketch, a full-page advertisement was run in March 1947 in many national newspapers claiming “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 described specifically many of the innovative features Tucker proposed for his car, many of which would not make it to the final car. This advertisement had the public very excited about this car, but Tucker had much work to do before a prototype was ready to be shown.
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 taillight bar designs were retained for the final car. Another car, a sportier version of the Tucker ’48 called the Tucker Talisman, was sketched as well, but never left the drawing board.
To diversify his corporation, Tucker imported Italian engineer Secondo Campini, who was well known and respected in the aviation industry. He was put in charge of pursuing a US Air Force development contract, hoping to use Tucker’s huge Chicago factory to someday build more than just cars. Campini and Tucker also began developing plans for a gas turbine-powered car to be produced by Tucker.
The Tucker Export Corporation was also formed, based in New York, which was established as an entity to manage worldwide sales of Tucker’s cars. Headed by Tucker’s long-time friend, Colombian Max Garavito, distributorships were set up internationally, including South America and South Africa.
Tucker assembled a group of leaders for his corporation that read like a “who’s who” of the automotive industry:
Fred Rockelman; Tucker VP and Sales Director (Formerly president of Plymouth)
Hanson Brown; Executive VP (Formerly VP for General Motors)
KE Lyman; Development engineer (Formerly of Bendix Corporation and Borg-Warner)
Ben Parsons; Tucker engineering VP and chief engineer (International fuel injection expert)
Lee S. Treese; VP of manufacturing (Formerly a Ford executive)
Herbert Morley; (Borg-Warner plant manager)
Robert Pierce; VP and Treasurer (Formerly secretary of Briggs Manufacturing Company)
Tucker and his colleagues were able to obtain the largest factory building in the world, the 475-acre (1.92 km2) Dodge Chicago Aircraft Engine Plant, which was later known as the Chicago Dodge Plant, from the War Assets Administration. The facility had previously been used to build the massive Wright R-3350 Cyclone engines for B-29 Superfortress aircraft during WWII. Tucker, thinking long-term, believed this large facility would fit his long-term goal of producing an entire line of Tucker automobiles under one roof.
Tucker signed the lease in July 1946, contingent on him raising $15 million in capital by March 1947. Tucker needed this money to get going, so he began raising money by selling dealership rights and floating a $20 million stock issue through the Chicago brokerage firm Floyd D. Cerf. With over $17 million in the bank by 1947, the Tucker Corporation was up and running.
While Tucker ultimately got the plant, he was not able to move in until September 1947, due to delays caused by counter-claims and disputes over the plant between Tucker and the Lustron Corporation. This delayed Tucker by almost a year, during which time development of the car continued at his Michigan machine shop. Tucker planned for 60,000 cars a year with 140/day produced for the first 4 months and 300/day produced after this.
Tucker suffered another setback when his bids to obtain two steel mills to provide raw materials for his cars were rejected by the WAA under a shroud of questionable politics.
Tucker’s specifications for his revolutionary car called for a rear engine, a low-RPM 589 cubic inch engine with hydraulic valves instead[clarification needed] of a camshaft, fuel injection, direct-drive torque converters on each rear wheel (instead of a transmission), disc brakes, the location of all instruments within the diameter and reach of the steering wheel, a padded dashboard, self-sealing tubeless tires, independent springless suspension, a chassis which protected occupants in a side impact, a roll bar within the roof, a laminated windshield designed to pop out during an accident, and a center “cyclops” headlight which would turn when steering at angles greater than 10 degrees in order to improve visibility around corners during night driving.
While most of these innovations made it to the final 51 prototypes, several were dropped due to cost and lack of time to develop such mechanically complicated designs. The low-RPM 589-cubic-inch engine, individual torque converters, mechanical fuel injection, and the disc brakes were all dropped during the design and testing phase.
Having run out of time to develop the 589-cubic-inch engine for the car, Tucker ultimately settled on a modified 334 in3 (5.47 L) Franklin O-335 aircraft engine. He liked the engine so much he purchased its manufacturer, Aircooled Motors in New York, for $1.8 million in 1947. This secured a guaranteed engine supply for his car.