Ijaw Dictionary Online

How Automobiles Work


(car engine revving) (brakes screeching) – It was the car of tomorrow. With futuristic engineering and pioneering safety features, that were way ahead of their time. He was also a man with exceptional ideas and an uncrushable spirit. Together the two make for an epic story of post war optimism, forward
thinking automotive design and government interference
that brought down a promising new car company. This is everything you need to know to get “Up to Speed” on Tucker. (digital music) – Born in 1903, Preston Tucker
grew up outside of Detroit. And like all good motor city kids, he loved cars since he was little. At 16 he was already buying used cars to fix up and sell for a profit. A few years later, he
worked as an office boy at Cadillac headquarters
on the Ford assembly line and ran a gas station. Tucker would do anything as
long as it involved cars. He even had three separate
stints as a police officer just to drive the souped up cop cars. His mom wasn’t too stoked on that but she didn’t have to worry long because he soon got fired for making some customs mods on his police cruiser. But it wasn’t the kind of
mod you’re thinking of. – Oh, God. Man, it’s freaking freezing in here. I could really use some heat. (tools whirring) – Yeah that’s better. – Tucker, you can’t cut
holes in your police cruiser. – But Chief. – You’re threw, Tucker. I don’t even know why
I gave you this badge and this gun three times. You’re like, 16-years-old. I assume this is the past and
thing are different back now. But still, it seems very
odd that a teenager would have three different
stints as a police officer. – In the early 1930’s,
Tucker started spending a lot of time at the
Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Because what red-blooded,
Detroit native, car lover wouldn’t also love the Indy 500? There he met Harry Miller. Miller was a great engineer,
but not a good business man. And he went bankrupt. So, Tucker talked Miller
into starting a business developing race cars with him. They worked together for the next 10 years and Tucker became a well
known name around the car biz. He also meet John Eddie Offutt at Indy. Another mechanic who would play a part in the creation of
Tucker’s car of the future. When the prospect of World
War II loomed in 1939, Tucker moved from
Indianapolis back to Michigan and… What the (beep) is that word? Y-P-S-I-L… Who the (beep) names a city that? Back to Michigan and opened the Ypsilanti Machine and Tool Company. He and Miller dabbled in everything from high-speed armored, combat vehicles and gun turrets, to airplane
engines throughout the war, but none of panned out. What Tucker really wanted
to do, was build his long held idea of the first
completely new car in 50 years. The Big Three Detroit
automakers hadn’t debuted anything for several years. You know, ’cause of the war. The great one. That gave smaller automakers
an opportunity to fill the gap. Tucker really wanted to be an automaker. He had a stream line concept created by designer George S. Lawson. It had two doors that stretched up into the slopping roof
line, headlamps mounted on pivoting front fenders
that turned when cornering. And a fixed center, that’s
right, center headlight. The car was supposed to
have a fuel-interjected, rear-mounted 589 cubic inch,
aluminum, flat-six engine, with hydraulic valve train, and two hydraulically
driven torque converters powering the rear wheels,
instead of a normal drive train. No traditional transmission or anything. Weird. Tucker advertised the ultra
modern safety oriented torpedo concept in Science
Illustrated Magazine and the public ate it up. But Lawson’s design was too far fetched and after two years of
work, he still wasn’t able to give Tucker a real car he could show to potential buyers. So, in 1946, former
Auburn/Cord/Duesenberg/Dub-Dub two jet designer, Alex
Tremulis, took over design. What he sketched up in just six days, ended up being the ultimate
car’s ultimate form. Tremulis kept the modern fast-back look, but turned it into a realistic design. He added two more doors, and made the center cyclops eye
headlight pivot when the steering angle was at more than 10°, while the outer headlight stayed fixed. – [Audience] Whoa. – To get the car into
production as fast as possible the rotating fenders were axed. Tuckers wish list called
for magnesium wheels, fuel injection, disk breaks, seat belts, safety glass, a built-in roll bar, a padded dashboard, and
independent springless suspension. By the time Tremulis came
along, Tucker had already signed a lease on the
biggest factory in the world. The Dodge Chicago Aircraft Engine Plant. It had 475 acres that Tucker
was sure could produce an entire auto lineup. But he had to raise $15
million in less than a year to pull it off and that
was going to be tough. ‘Cause that’s a lot of money now, and that’s even more money back then. (soft piano music) So, Tucker raised the
money by arranging one of the first ever company stock IPOs and selling dealership rights for the car that didn’t even exist yet. This was all pretty unusual. And at the time the U.S.
Securities and Exchange Commission was keeping a close eye on
small, up-start automakers. So, the SEC was like… – Dude, there’s a huge possibility that this car is gonna flop. – [James] And Tucker was all… – No way, man, this is gonna be huge. – Look, you put in those dealer contracts that there’s a good chance
that this goes south, or we’re shutting you down. – Fine. God. I’ll change the contracts. I’m not trying to defraud anybody. I’m trying to revolutionize
the auto industry, man. – Tucker started advertising
the future Tucker ’48 in early ’47. He called it a car ahead of its time and made the ridiculous
claim that 15 years of testing had gone into it. But even Tucker’s wife, Vera, thought the add was kind of misleading (laughs). The SEC agreed with Vera and filed away the misleading ad as ammunition
in a looming investigation. In the meantime, the first
prototype was being built. And development of the
new 589, flat-six engine was underway, with the help of fuel injection expert, Ben Parsons. It was designed to have 200HP and run at an ultra low RPM, like
1,000 RPM at 60 miles an hour. But the innovative
hydraulic valve operation required high oil pressure and
a 24 volt electrical system. The engine needed 60 volts to start-up and cranked for a long time. (car sputtering) – A world premier party was scheduled at the Chicago factory for June of 1947. So, there had to be a working prototype to show the crowd, regardless of problems. Tucker’s engineers managed to put together a semi-functional car built around a 1942 Oldsmobile, and
called it the Tin Goose. But the Tin Goose didn’t
have a reverse gear. And two of the independent suspension arms broke under the car’s own weight the night before the premier. Ugh, talk about bad timing. It was repaired so it could roll again, but the 589 engine was extremely noisy and difficult to start. But Tucker would not be phased. He told the band to play extra loud to cover the thunderous engine noises. And made sure they played the whole night. The press reported that
the car couldn’t back up. And that is drove
goose-geese down the road. Must be a hipster 1940’s lingo. – Ah, this is driving
goose-geese down the road. – Hey there, Governor, look you got a little slack in your step. You need a peppy pick up? Try Edmond’s Cocaine pills. Is your baby making teething noises? Give him some Edmond’s Cocaine
pills and bottle of whiskey. That’s medicine back now. – Desperate for an engine, he found that the 166 HRSPRS, Franklin, 0335 flat-six, used in Bell 47 helicopters, would work. Tucker’s son, and his old
Indy 500 buddy, Eddie Offutt, converted it from
air-cooled to water-cooled. Though no one is sure why. More than 18,000 miles worth
of full-throttle testing actual testing this time,
proved the engine’s reliability. So, Tucker bought the
entire engine company. Then he canceled all
their aircraft contracts to focus on automotive engine production. Turns out that was 65% of all
the US’s post-war aviation engine production contracts. The transmission was a
whole nother boone doggle. The only thing that
seemed like it would work was a 1930’s Cord transmission. So, they scavenged 22
of them from junk yards and adapted some of them to work with the Tucker 48’s rear engine lay-out. They were always fragile though. And couldn’t handle the power of the 335 cubic inch, flat-six. Engineers at Tucker’s
machine and tool company, redesigned the Cord
tranny and strengthened it to create their own
unit called, the Tucker Y1. Why? Because it was built in Ypsilanti. The Y1 transmission had
an electric vacuum shift mechanism connecting it
to the column shifter instead of a mechanical linkage. And it had problems too. Tucker brought in Warren Rice, creator of the Buick Dynaflo in the Road Master. Rice and the engineering
team, came up with the Tucker-matic, which
was really an early CVT. It had two torque converters
and only 27 moving parts, compared with traditional
modern day automatics. It was revolutionary. But only Tucker-matics were
ever installed in the cars. (car starting) (engine revving) – The engine and transmission were mounted on a separate sub-frame
that only used six bolts. So, the whole drive train could
be dropped in half an hour. Tucker imagined that engine
needing work, could just be quickly and easily
swapped with a loaner engine. That sounds a lot like
Tesla’s Battery Swap Program. Only Tucker thought of
it about 30 years before Elan Musk was even born. The strangeness continued with the four-wheel independent suspension. Instead of steel springs,
components were made of Firestone rubber, that
was vulcanized to get a specific spring ring. Similar to the Indy 500 race
cars Tucker had worked on. They ended up being super stiff, which was good for
handling, but made removing the rear wheels tough, since there wasn’t any suspension droop. As with brand new cars development, plenty of things didn’t work out the way Tucker hoped. The fuel injection, disk
breaks, magnesium wheels, ad his fancy transmission, all
hit the cutting room floor. But a lot of his innovative ideas made it through to production. All the instrumentation and car controls were within reach of the driver. At the time, gauges and knobs were usually spread out across the whole dash. Glove boxes were on the door panels, to keep the area under
the padded dashboard a clear crash zone for better safety. It also kept the integrated
roll bar in the roof, and the pop-out, shatter proof windshield. Concepts that were improved
during endurance testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when Ofutt rolled a Tucker ’48 three times at 95 miles per, and the
car was still drivable. Despite all the troubles,
the Tucker corporation had 1,900 employees and
was actively building pre-production cars. And the public was still excited to see the car of tomorrow become a reality. The company needed more money, so Tucker came up with the idea for a Tucker Accessories Program. It raised $2 million more dollars, by guaranteeing buyers a
spot on the waiting list for the new car if they
pre-purchased accessories like radios, seat covers, luggage. Who would do that? (laughs) Sounds nuts. That was the final straw for the SEC. And in 1948, a formal investigation of Tucker Corporation began. The government thought the company just wanted to scam people out of their money and never planned to build a car. In 1949 all Tucker Corporation files were turned over to authorities and Tucker and six other company executives were indicted on charges of violating SEC regulations and conspiracy to defraud. The SEC leaked its reports to the press. And negative coverage cast doubt on the company in the public’s mind. Tucker felt that government politics had been foiling his plans all along. And he was unfairly taking
the brunt of their aggression. In October, the Chicago factory shut down after having built only 37 cars. But about 300 of the most loyal employees came back to build 13 more. Some even without pay. Over the course of the four month trial, Tucker proved he really was trying to make the car of tomorrow a reality. And all charges were
dropped in January of 1950. Unfortunately, by then, both
the Tucker Corporation’s reputation and it finances were ruined. Amazingly, Tucker didn’t
let the whole debacle crush his spirit. Saying even Henry Ford
failed on his first try. Over the next few years, he linked up with some Brazilian investors to develop a new sports car called a Carioca. I think. After all the hardships he’d endured right as the resilient Preston Tucker was ready to try again, he learned that his next battle would be one that he couldn’t win. Lung cancer was the one thing
that finally slowed him down. He died in 1956. He was 53-years-old. And the Carioca never came to be. Without Tucker, we might not have many of the safety features
that cars have today. Laminated safety glass, and crumple zones, are just two of the now standard elements that Tucker pioneered. Today, 47 of the 51 Tucker
48’s are still around. And they’re some of
the rarest classic cars of all time. A lot of them are on display in museums. And they don’t come up for sale often. And when they do, they
go for a lot of coin. Like this one that sold at Barrett Jackson for $3 million in 2012. Though the company never
got off the ground, and the cars were few, Tucker’s remarkable story and innovative
ideas made a lasting mark on the auto industry. Big thanks to the Petersen museum for letting us shoot in their vault. Tuckers are hard to find and they have the only one we know of. (triumphant music) Yo, we make a video every single day. So make sure you don’t miss any of them. Click on this subscribe button right here. Check out this episode of Up to Speed. Check out this episode of Up to Speed. Follow me on Instagram @JamesPumphrey. Follow Donut on Instagram @DonutMedia. ♪ I love you ♪

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