Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Preston Tucker from Ypsilanti, Michigan



One of the least recognized of Ypsilanti's notable citizens was Preston Tucker, an automobile innovator who many automotive historians 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. That's where he made his fortune. After the war, he turned his attention toward his life-long passion--automobiles.

The Big Three (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) Detroit automakers had not developed a new car since World War II began. 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. It's fun to see the real-life father and son actors battle it out in the film. Baby Boomer's will remember Lloyd Bridges from the 1950s television series--Sea Hunt. Younger viewers may remember him from the movie--Airplane.

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 the cars is in the Henry Ford Museum; another is in Auburn, Indiana, at their Auburn/Cord/Dussenberg Automobile Museum; and the fiberglass mock-up used in the movie is at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum in Depot Town on East Cross Street in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Check it out the next time you are in town.

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.