Sunday, January 27, 2013

Preston Tucker from Ypsilanti, Michigan

One of the more notable and least recognized of Ypsilanti's citizens was Preston Tucker, an automobile innovator who many people believed was way ahead of his time
In 1939, Tucker moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan, and opened the Ypsilanti Machine and Tool Company. There he innovated and produced the Tucker Turret used on PT boats, landing craft, the B-17, and the B-29 during World War II. After the war, he turned his attention towards automobiles, his life-long passion.

The Big Three (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) Detroit automakers hadn't developed a new car since 1941. This opened the door for small, independent automakers to produce post-war cars for a starving market. Studebaker, out of Indiana, was the first to produce an entirely new automobile after the war.

But Tucker's vision was to design and build a car with modern styling and safety innovations. He pioneered hydraulic drive systems, fuel injection, direct-drive torque converters, disc brakes, easily accessible instrument panel, padded dashboard, self-sealing tubeless tires, independent springless suspension, laminated windshield, an air-cooled aircraft engine, and a "cyclops" center headlight which would turn when steering around a corner for better visibility while driving at night. The "cyclops" became a fixed headlamp on the production model. There were only fifty Tuckers ever built.

Academy Award winner, Jeff Bridges, played Preston Tucker masterfully in the 1988 movie, Tucker: A Man and His Dream. An interesting aside to the film is that Jeff's father, Lloyd Bridges, played the Michigan senator that kicked the legs out from under the automotive innovator. 

I have been fortunate to have seen two "working" Tuckers, and a third fiberglass mock up used in the filming of the movie. One of them is in the Henry Ford Museum, another is in Auburn, Indiana, at their Auburn/Cord/Dussenberg Automobile Museum, and the mock-up used in the movie is at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum in Depot Town on E. Cross Street in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

More specifics on Preston Tucker can be found in the link below. He died of lung cancer on December 26th, 1956, at the age of fifty-three. He is buried at Michigan Memorial Park in Flatrock, Michigan.