AKA Preston Thomas Tucker
Birthplace: Capac, MI
Location of death: Ypsilanti, MI
Cause of death: Cancer - Lung
Remains: Buried, Michigan Memorial Park, Flat Rock, MI
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: The car of tomorrow -- today
Preston Tucker grew up near Detroit and worked in various low-level capacities for Cadillac, Chrysler, Ford, Pierce-Arrow, and Studebaker. In the mid 1930s he formed a partnership with respected auto engineer Harry A. Miller to design and manufacture Indianapolis-class racing cars, and he later rose to manager at the Ypsilanti Tool & Die Company. During World War II, as all of American industry was focused on the war effort, Detroit automakers introduced no new models, and by the war's end Tucker thought his era's cars were boring and old-fashioned. He sketched his own vehicle, the sleek "Tucker Torpedo", and formed the Tucker Corporation to manufacture his cars.
The Tucker's safety innovations were well ahead of its time, including seat belts, shatterproof windshields, a padded dashboard, and a third front headlight that turned with the steering wheel to illuminate the vehicle's path. Billed as "the car of tomorrow -- today", Tucker's concept was greeted with enormous public interest, but his company was woefully undercapitalized, and began faltering even before Tucker had secured manufacturing facilities. Desperate for cash, Tucker's fundraising efforts involved stock schemes, pre-selling dealership rights, and eventually pre-selling optional equipment -- for cars that had not yet been built. When a factory was obtained, production was plagued with mechanical, design, and bureaucratic difficulties, and the facility was briefly ordered shuttered by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1948. Amid swirling and almost universally negative news reports, Tucker was ousted from control of his company and prosecuted for crimes including mail fraud and securities fraud. Tucker and six co-defendants were acquitted of all charges, but he left the courthouse effectively bankrupt. Detractors still dismiss him as a con artist, and Tucker did apparently divert a small portion of company funds for his personal and family use, but 51 Tuckers were manufactured by his company and all but a few still exist, most either roadworthy or displayed in automotive museums.
Tucker was played by Jeff Bridges in Francis Ford Coppola's endearing but idealized 1988 film Tucker: The Man and His Dream. The movie ominously implies that Detroit's big automakers pulled behind-the-scenes strings that led to Tucker's ruin, but there is little evidence to support this. In its courtroom climax, Tucker has Tucker deliver a stirring speech to the jury, but in reality Tucker never took the stand in his own defense.
Wife: Vera Tucker (b. 1903, d. 1993)
Son: John Richard Tucker (d. 2008)
Daughter: Marilyn Lee Tucker
Son: Noble Tucker
High School: Cass Technical High School, Detroit, MI
Automobile Hall of Fame
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