How Preston Tucker, the Visionary Carmaker, Died of Lung Cancer

Preston Tucker was a man who dreamed big and dared to challenge the established automotive industry with his innovative and futuristic car design. He was the creator of the Tucker 48, a sedan that introduced many features that are now common in modern cars, such as disc brakes, fuel injection, and a third headlight that swiveled with the steering wheel. However, his ambitious project was met with resistance, controversy, and legal troubles that eventually led to the shutdown of his company and his untimely death from lung cancer at the age of 53.

Early Life and Career

Preston Tucker was born on September 21, 1903, on a peppermint farm near Capac, Michigan. His father was a railroad engineer who died of appendicitis when Preston was only three or four years old. He was raised by his mother, a teacher, who encouraged his interest in automobiles from an early age. He learned to drive at age 11 and started buying and selling cars at age 16. He quit school and worked as an office boy for Cadillac, where he used roller skates to make his rounds more efficiently.

He also joined the Lincoln Park Police Department, where he enjoyed driving and riding the fast police cars and motorcycles. However, his mother had him removed from the department, pointing out that he was below the minimum required age of 19. He then married Vera Fuqua in 1923 and ran a gas station with her near Lincoln Park. He also worked on the Ford assembly line and sold Studebaker cars on the side. He met Michael Dulian, an automobile salesman who later became the sales manager for the Tucker Corporation.

Tucker also had a passion for racing and designing cars. He befriended Henry Miller, a racecar designer, and they teamed up to build racecars for Ford in the 1930s. When World War II broke out, Tucker turned his attention to the war effort and invented and manufactured a gun turret for Navy ships. He also designed a combat car that had a rotating turret and a hemispherical shell, but it was rejected by the military.

The Tucker 48 Project

As soon as the war ended, Tucker was ready to start production on his own line of cars that would be unlike anything else on the market. He envisioned a car that would be fast, safe, comfortable, and futuristic. He called it the Tucker Torpedo, later renamed the Tucker 48. He leased an old Dodge plant near Chicago from the federal War Assets Administration and hired a team of engineers and designers to work on his dream car.

The Tucker 48 had a sleek, aerodynamic teardrop shape that made it look like it was doing 90 even when it was standing still (according to Wikipedia). It had a rear-mounted engine that was modified from a helicopter engine and could produce 150 horsepower. It had disc brakes, fuel injection, a specialized transmission, and independent suspension. It also had many safety features that were ahead of their time, such as padded dashboards, pop-out safety glass windshields, and a reinforced carbon frame. The most distinctive feature was the third Cyclops headlight that was connected to the steering wheel and swiveled with the car’s wheels to improve visibility at night.

Tucker and his team hand-built 50 prototype cars while they waited for the WAA to clear out the plant. The first one, called the Tin Goose, was hammered out of sheet steel because they could not find enough clay for a full-scale mockup (according to The prototypes were tested on public roads and attracted a lot of attention and admiration from the public.

However, Tucker’s ambitious project also attracted a lot of opposition and criticism from the established automotive industry, which saw him as a threat to their dominance. They accused him of being a fraud who never intended to build any cars and only wanted to scam his investors. They also tried to sabotage his supply chain and prevent him from acquiring steel, engines, tires, and other essential materials.

Tucker also faced financial difficulties as he struggled to raise enough capital to start mass production. He resorted to various methods to solicit investors, such as selling dealer franchises, selling stock to the public, and selling car accessories like radios and seat covers before the car was even available (according to These practices drew the attention of the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which launched an investigation in May 1948.

The federal government charged Tucker with fraud and conspiracy for allegedly making false claims about his car’s performance and features. They also claimed that he violated securities laws by selling unregistered stock and accessories without delivering any cars. They seized his assets and records and shut down his plant.

Tucker fought back vigorously against these accusations. He hired a prominent lawyer who defended him in a highly publicized trial that lasted for six months. He also appealed to the public opinion by publishing a full-page ad in newspapers titled “The Truth About Tucker” and by staging a demonstration of his car’s capabilities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He managed to prove that his car was real and functional and that he had every intention of fulfilling his promises to his customers and investors.

The jury eventually acquitted Tucker of all charges in January 1949. However, the damage was already done. His reputation was tarnished, his finances were ruined, and his company was bankrupt. He was unable to resume production of his car and had to sell off his remaining assets and prototypes. Only 51 Tucker 48s were ever made, of which 47 still exist today as collectors’ items.

The Final Years

Tucker did not give up on his dream of building cars. He moved to Brazil and tried to launch another car company there with the help of the Brazilian government. He also designed a new car called the Carioca, which had a futuristic look and a rear-mounted engine. However, he was unable to secure enough funding and support for his project and had to abandon it.

Soon afterward, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, probably caused by his heavy smoking habit. He returned to Michigan and underwent surgery and radiation therapy, but his condition worsened. He died on December 26, 1956, at the age of 53, leaving behind his wife and five children.

Preston Tucker was a visionary carmaker who had a bold and innovative vision for the future of automobiles. He created a car that was ahead of its time and challenged the status quo of the industry. He faced many obstacles and difficulties along the way, but he never gave up on his dream. He left behind a legacy of courage, creativity, and perseverance that inspired many people and influenced many aspects of modern car design.

Doms Desk

Leave a Comment