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Arkansas Tucker Sales Corporation (acquired new from Factory)Returned to Tucker Factory (in exchange for Chassis 1002)Farber Motor Sales, Cincinnati, Ohio (acquired by 1950)Art Watson, Florida (acquired in 1951)William A.C. Pettit III, Louisa, Virginia (acquired by June 1962)George Lucas, California (acquired from the above in the late 1980s)Current Owner (acquired in 2005)
Desert Classic Concours d’Elegance, Palm Desert, California, 2012
While America’s “Big Three” manufacturers concentrated on producing lightly updated prewar models to meet the incredible pent-up demand for new automobiles in the immediate aftermath of WWII, smaller independent manufacturers and brash startups launched bold, new designs. Successful industrialist Preston Tucker remains the most famous of all, with his drive to revolutionize the auto industry with his radical Tucker “Torpedo,” known as the “48.”
While Tucker’s company famously closed, and conjecture remains on the causes today, his innovative Tucker 48 set the industry on its ear with its advanced engineering, comprehensive safety features, and futuristic design cues, many of which were later adopted by the Big Three. Tucker’s original design brief specified a rear-mounted engine producing at least 150 hp and fully independent suspension. Visionary passenger-safety features included a pop-out windshield in case of accident; a padded dash with an uncluttered space below at the passenger-side, allowing front-seat occupants to duck there before collision; plus, a central headlamp that automatically switched on and tracked the driver’s steering-wheel inputs beyond 10 degrees to the left or right.
The roomy and sleek fastback body design was penned by visionary stylist Alex Tremulis, whose many design credits included work with Gordon Buehrig on the Cord 810/812; the 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt, Ford Gyron concept; and even a lifting-body aircraft design, foreshadowing NASA’s Space Shuttle.
A new 589 cid engine and dual torque-converter drivetrain were under development, but challenges forced replacement by a 334 cid Franklin O-335 fat six derived from that of the Bell 47 helicopter. It was converted to liquid cooling and linked to a four-speed, vacuum-electric preselector transaxle adapted and updated from the prewar Cord 810/812 design. Suspension configurations progressed from rubber disc to rubber torsion tube and, ultimately, rubber sandwich from car 1003, the early example offered here.
Not only is car 1003 the third example built and the first with the aforementioned rubber-sandwich suspension, it is one of the 12 Model 48s originally finished in Maroon. It is also the first Tucker equipped with a revised front bumper providing improved frontal protection and the redesigned rear fenders providing easier rear-wheel removal.
Known history begins with the sale of 1003 by the factory to the Arkansas Tucker Sales Corporation. Soon after, it was returned to the factory and exchanged for car 1002. Next, 1003 was sent by Columbus, Ohio’s Farber Motor Sales to Cincinnati, where it was displayed on the city’s streets and music hall by local dealer Eddie Numerich. The Tucker remained in Cincinnati until June 1950, when it was sold at the Watson Auto Auction and acquired by Art Watson there for his own account.
During 1951, 1003 accompanied Mr. Watson to Florida, where he displayed it. In 1962, the Tucker was sold to William A.C. Pettit III of Louisa, Virginia, via Paul Stern, who drove it from Pennsylvania to its new home near Natural Bridge, Virginia, where the Tucker was a featured attraction at the Pettit’s Museum of Motoring Memories during the 1960s. In the late 1980s, movie producer George Lucas purchased the Tucker from Mr. Pettit; an appropriate connection given that Mr. Lucas served as executive producer on Francis Ford Coppola’s 1988 flm Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Mr. Lucas placed 1003 into his Skywalker Ranch private collection until September 2005, when the consignor acquired the Tucker.
In January 2008, a restoration was commissioned with Bata Mataja’s B.A.D. Company stripping the body to bare metal and correcting many errors made in previous refurbishments.
During the extensive restoration, the historic Tucker was refinished in Maroon, as originally delivered, which was one of the six factory-available color choices. In early 2014, Los Angeles-based Tucker Club historian Martyn Donaldson performed finishing work and extensive mechanical sorting, including the installation of the new wiring harness, relined brakes, newly re-manufactured torsilastic suspension, and freshly rebuilt rear-mounted engine completed by Nostalgic Motoring of Michigan. An automotive and American cultural phenomenon, this Tucker 48, no. 1003, also forms a wonderful and enduring testament to Preston Tucker’s legendary drive, energy, and vision.