Tucker Torpedo: A Car 70 Years in the Making [Video]
Most people have heard the story of the Preston Tucker and the Tucker 48. In fact, we've written quite a lot about it here on Driving Line.
Very few enthusiasts realize, however, that the Tucker 48 was not the original design concept that Preston wowed the public with. That was the Tucker Torpedo, and not a single full-scale car or prototype was ever built... that is, until now. It's a car that's been 70 years and 4 generations in the making...
Torpedo or 48?
The 51 cars the Tucker Corporation did build, Tucker 48s, were changed quite drastically from the drawing you see above of the Tucker Torpedo — much like what happens with some of today's concept cars.
(Photo courtesy of Petersen Automotive Museum)
Although no Torpedo was ever built (and probably for good reason, as you will see later), there was a 1:4 scale model of the concept created by George Lawson, the original engineer on the Tucker project. The model was stored in a barn on the Lawson farm for decades before being donated to the Petersen Museum by Lawson’s estate. If not for this one little model, the Tucker Torpedo, like so many other concept cars, would be completely lost to history.
Enter the Idas
Fascinated by the Tucker Torpedo concept, in 1947, Joe Ida and his brothers Dominick and Frank founded one of the original Tucker dealerships in Yonkers, NY. The Idas loved the revolutionary design on the Torpedo. Not only did Preston Tucker revolutionize styling, but he made great advancements over the other cars of the era in safety, weight distribution and creature comforts. But it was that styling that knocked people off their feet. Accustomed to the oversized behemoths created by manufacturers that were unresponsive to consumers’ desires for more exciting cars, the Torpedo’s design made people such as Joe Ida take notice. Stocks and dealerships sold quickly.
Rather than responding to the challenge of this upstart company by changing their ways to compete with it, the Big 3 did business as usual; many believe it was their influence that caused the Federal government to find ways to close the factory and pass laws to make Tucker’s cars illegal.
Having raised some $20 million, Tucker had enough money from his IPO and subsequent dealership sales to open a manufacturing plant in Chicago; while back in Detroit, the plotting began. Eventually, the SEC indicted Tucker on trumped-up stock fraud charges. Although Tucker eventually beat the phony charges, there was no turning back on the project. The public’s perception had been altered to believe that Tucker never really planned to make a car (despite thousands of drawings, patents and the little issue of having actually built more than four dozen cars in the brief time that his plant was opened). The company was ruined.
From Torpedo to '48
Just like any other concept, the Torpedo was not perfect. It had issues that would have to be addressed before going into production. George Lawson had left the project and Alex Tremulis was brought in. Lawson’s designs were very space aged (two decades before the actual Space Age began) and Tremulis’ were more practical, yet still exciting.
The original Torpedo design had a center driver seat, which was impractical and Tucker demanded headlights that flowed with the direction of the car. To create this effect, Lawson designed fenders that turned with the steering wheel. Tremulis, recognizing that this could turn the wheels into rudders on a windy day (the car was being built in Chicago, after all), redesigned it so that the center headlight turned with the car instead of the outer ones. Another issue was that there was no way for the side windows to roll down. Tucker being a smoker would likely never have allowed this dysfunction on the final product. When the Tucker 48 was finally revealed, it didn’t share a single body panel with the Torpedo.
But that didn’t quell the Idas’ thirst for the project. They kept their dealership and opened it as planned. The Ida dealership was open three days when the government closed down the Tucker factory and the dealerships (whom the government alleged to be the victims). The Ida brothers returned the deposits of all 130 customers from whom they took orders in those few days. The Ida family believed in the Tucker family... and they still do.
(Photo courtesy of Rob Ida Concepts)
Over the past few years, the descendants of Joe Ida and Preston Tucker got together to build “Lower 48,” the first all-new Tucker in over 60 years. Joe’s son Bob and his son Rob built it to be a present for Joe. They wanted it to be a Tucker which Joe could drive around and show off to his friends. They began the build in their hot rod shop in Morganville, New Jersey, and finished it in the spring of 2005.
See the video below for the complete story:
Just like Lower 48, the Torpedo is being made with the Tucker family. Sean Tucker, an automotive engineer by trade, journeys to the Ida shop weekly to assist Rob in the build. His brother Mike and father John Tucker Jr., who is a grandson of Preston Tucker, also continue to help with the build, which is expected to be finished late in 2015.
But how did this project come about?
Obviously, the Ida family and Tucker family adore these cars and certainly have the skills to build wonderful machines. But when a New Jersey car collector approached them with the idea of building him a Torpedo, the Idas began to wonder if it was possible. Knowing that there had never been a full-scale prototype, Bob Ida decided that the only way to make the first Tucker Torpedo was to go to Los Angeles and get his hands on the model and use it to design a full scale version using Computer Aided Design (CAD).
Back in New Jersey, Bob got to work designing the 2015 Tucker Torpedo. Once he finished designing it, son Rob built a buck on which to build the bodywork of the car; the Ida shop will also build the frame and drivetrain separately.
Unlike the prototype, this vehicle will be drivable and usable. The windows will roll down and it will be left-drive. Other minor changes (such as a Cadillac Northstar engine) will break from the original design, but the car will be as striking and as beautiful as Preston Tucker imagined! Better still, this particular car will be a one-off. The Idas don’t plan to build any more and this prototype, 70 years in the making, will be a car completely unique in all the world!
Special thanks to Rob Ida for letting us have a peek at this amazing endeavor.Rob Ida ConceptsMorganville, New Jerseywww.robidaconcepts.com