By on July 31, 2015

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Some automotive production figures are etched in cast iron, if you will. There are only six Bugatti Royales and likewise only a half dozen real Shelby Daytona Coupes. Read any history of the Tucker car written in the last three decades and you’ll find that there have been 51 Tuckers, of which 47 have survived in one form or another. Now not all of those 51 were assembled by Preston Tucker’s company. History says 37 production Tuckers were completed, more or less, before the company was shut down with 13  cars left unfinished on the assembly line.

Shortly after the Tucker firm closed, a dozen of those cars were completed, with a final car being assembled from remaining parts many years later. Add the “Tin Goose” prototype and you get 51. Now that a well-known pile of Tucker parts has finally been assembled into a completed car, it will be interesting to see if historians and Tucker enthusiasts change that number to 52.

I’m not talking about the controversial Tucker convertible. That will always have a question mark over its head because of lacunae in its provenance. In contrast, the parts that went into making Tucker #1052 are well documented and for decades Tucker fans have hoped that someone might put them together.

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In 1950, Ezra Schlipf bought many of the Tucker factory’s assets at its bankruptcy auction. He later sold, to a collector named Stan Gilliland, most of the components needed to assemble an entire car. Gilliland was co-founder of the Tucker Automobile Club of America. Chassis #1052 is well documented as being used by the Tucker factory to test a proposed automatic transmission that they hoped would replace the preselector transmission in the production cars. Tucker #1018 hit a tree broadside in 1948, totaling the car but leaving the entire front end undamaged. That front clip ended up with chassis #1052. The body parts also included new-old-stock bumpers, front doors, cowl, hood, quarter panels and a rear decklid. A Tucker engine and transmission, plus lots of small parts, completed the lot.

Gilliland, though, never got around to putting things together and sold the lot at auction to noted Detroit area collector Dick Kughn in 2002. Kughn subsequently sold the yet-to-be Tucker to Wayne Lensing, who wanted to make an exhibit depicting the Tucker factory’s assembly line.

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Tucker enthusiasts are an interesting lot and to say they are passionate and opinionated is an understatement. With so few cars available, they collect just about everything associated with the Tucker company, the Tucker car or with Preston Tucker. Two different car museums in Michigan alone have Tucker archives and artifacts.

Bumpers and body parts aren’t the only NOS Tucker parts that have surfaced. You can’t start production of a car without having at least as many engines on hand as cars you are planning on building. In fact, Tucker bought an entire company — Air Cooled Engines, the corporate heir to the Franklin air-cooled car company (there is a Franklin logo on Tucker engines) — just so he could reliably source engines in the still-production-controlled postwar era. The flat-six engines, originally used in helicopters, were reengineered to be water cooled, and Tucker ordered 98 powerplants. As a result, Tucker crate (or rather pallet) engines do surface from time to time.

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John Schuler of Aurora, Indiana, is a Tucker enthusiast and he had been trying to buy a Tucker for years.

“I have been fascinated with buying a Tucker since I was a kid,” he told Old Car Weekly. “I saw their ads in the newspaper and they were neat. I wish I had gotten involved in the Tucker earlier. I would have had a car years ago.”

He’d hear of private sales after they were transacted and he got outbid at auctions. Tuckers typically sell for about $1.1 million plus or minus 10 percent. Eventually, he did acquire a Tucker motor that had been swapped out for a replacement. He knew about the components that Lensing owned, but — like many vintage car owners with persistent “someday I’ll restore it, not for sale” dreams — for a long time Lensing wouldn’t part with the parts. Eventually, though, Schuler prevailed.

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In 2010, the project was begun with Tucker expert Martyn Donaldson cataloging what was in the lot. Since it had been used as a test mule, #1052 was a rolling chassis, complete with suspension and firewall, though lacking a drivetrain. In the lot there were many hard-to-find parts, including items like door handles, the speedometer, and windshield wiper motors.

While some small parts needed to be fabricated, the only major sheetmetal parts not included were the rear doors, the Tucker’s fastback roof, and the floor pan.

Once everything was inventoried, the partially assembled car and the rest of the parts were shipped to Classic and Exotic Service, a highly respected restoration shop run by Brian Joseph in Troy, Michigan. Borrowing the Gilmore Car Museum’s Tucker #1047 to use as a template, Joseph fabricated the remaining body parts. Schuler had Gilliland rebuild a Tucker Y-1 transmission and, where necessary, other previously used parts were restored and installed.

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Preston Tucker, as alluded to above, hoped to sell the Tucker car with a novel automatic transmission that used two variable-vane torque converters, one mounted at each end of a transverse engine’s crankshaft. Not only would that eliminate the need for a differential and individual gears, the vanes could swing past center, providing reverse.

Not able to develop that drivetrain in time, Tucker switched to the Y-1, based on the Cord front-wheel drive transmission.

Joseph’s shop finished the car in maroon to match the Tin Goose prototype.

“The reason for painting it that color is the singer Sofie Tucker, who was [known as] the last of the Red Hot Mommas,” Schuler said. “So my wife thought we should call our car ‘Sofie’ because she will be the last of the red hot Tuckers.”

You can see photos of the restoration while it was in progress at Old Car Weekly.

It’s possible that some Tucker fanatics may not accept Schuler’s #52 as authentic, but he’s being completely transparent about the car, whose history is now very well documented. Whether or not it’s embraced by the Tucker community, it’s likely to be the last Tucker built from original parts. Unless some unknown trove of NOS Tucker parts surfaces, there just aren’t enough surviving original components known to exist for such a project to be possible.

The completed Tucker #1052 had its first public showing at the 2015 Concours of America at St. John’s. From the way it turned heads as it drove onto the show field — even if a few Tucker diehards don’t think it’s real, and Schuler has received some criticism — I don’t think very many people will do anything other than admire number 52. At least part of the establishment Tucker enthusiast community seems to have embraced the project, perhaps because of Gilliland’s involvement or because of how well documented the provenance is, unlike with the Tucker convertible.

Jay Follis runs the Tucker Historical Collection and Library at the Gilmore Car Museum, which, as indicated above, owns Tucker #47. He’s also a former president of the Tucker Automobile Club of America and he’s all for the project.

“I think it’s pretty great that somebody is taking the effort 65 years after the fact.”

I suppose the ultimate measure of its acceptance will be how much it sells for when Schuler or his family decide to part with it. A Duesenberg enthusiast explained to me that there are three kinds of Duesenbergs. There are the numbers matching (or with documented, period replaced components) chassis and engine combinations that still carry their original bodywork. Those sell for millions of dollars and have investment potential. Next there are original chassis with period or modern rebodies. Some of those may have reproduction components like superchargers. Those are worth about a million, plus or minus, and might keep up with inflation. Then there are the “bitsa” Duesenbergs. They may have authentic Duesenberg engines and chassis, but they are modern assemblages. Those are worth in the mid-six figures. Cars to be driven, when you drive them, and people will notice; but they won’t win any ribbons at high end car shows, and they don’t have much upside as investments, though they are welcome at Duesenberg club events.

The Duesenberg brothers and E.L. Cord made hundreds of Model Js, but Preston Tucker and his associates only managed to make a bit more than three dozen cars before the factory shut down. Tucker enthusiasts necessarily have to be less choosy than Duesenberg fans. Few of the 47 — now 48 — surviving cars are completely original in terms of being all-Tucker, let alone factory original. Many have been modified to keep them driving. While some have quibbled over #51 built in the 1980s, that’s the number I usually see mentioned in today’s sources. Serial numbers 1038 thruogh 1050 were all finished after the fact from vehicles whose assembly were started at the Tucker factory. Since #1052’s chassis was indeed assembled and in fact driven at the factory, I don’t think that #1052 should be treated any differently than they are.

By the way, if you want to ride in Tucker style without having to worry about degrading a million dollar artifact, respected hot rod fabricator Rob Ida, whose family owned a Tucker dealership, has made four examples of what he calls the Tucker 48. It’s a dimensionally accurate Tucker body on a modern mid-engine chassis (proving the point I’ve often made about the original rear engined Tucker being a technological dead end). Unfortunately, like the original Tucker’s current status, you can’t order one new from the factory. Rob builds them as a labor of love when the spirit moves him and originally planned to limit them to 51 examples. I suppose now he’ll have to make that 52.

Photos by the author. The full gallery can be seen here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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24 Comments on “Is It Real Baby Seal? Tucker #52 Gets First Public Showing...”


  • avatar
    Sky_Render

    I’ve been fascinated by the Tucker automobile ever since I saw that movie about it way back when I was in grade school.

    Why exactly did Tucker go bankrupt?

    • 0 avatar
      rpol35

      Tucker got indicted by the Securities and Exchange commission for some sketchy scheme. The charges were ultimately dropped but he and his company had reputation problems after that.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    First thought after reading the headling:
    “… hot pink, with whale skin hubcaps and all leather cow interior and big brown baby seal eyes for headlights. Yeah!”

    Back on topic, I always thought Tuckers were really neat cars.

  • avatar
    Shane Rimmer

    Don’t forget the Tucker Talisman that Leland Gaunt owned… :)

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    My two boys, 9 & 11, are Tucker fanatics ever since they saw the movie. Turns out, an older couple who attend the same church as my family have #17. They invited us over a couple weeks ago for a showing. Unfortunately it was during the week and I was out of town but my wife and kids got to see it. According to get owner, they are (as in Tucker owners) are excited to see #52 finished.

    Owning these cars is obviously a labor of love and lots of cash, but from what I can tell they are good stewards of the remaining, now 48.

    From my vantage point, I was excited to not have to take my family to Detroit to the Henry Ford Museum to see a Tucker. Which is the only place I have ever seen one. Although we will be making the pilgrimage this fall anyway, just too much cool stuff there to not go.

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      Wow, what a great opportunity for them!

      The Swigart museum in Huntingdon, PA has two Tuckers, one of which is the “Tin Goose” prototype. It’s fortunate that they have two side-by-side so you can easily see the differences in the prototype.

      The AACA museum in Hershey, PA now has a display of 3 Tuckers. The Gilmore museum in Hickory Corners, MI also has a tucker on display.

      • 0 avatar

        There’s also a Tucker on public display at the Stahl’s collection, in Chesterfield Twp outside of Detroit. However, the collection, which is set up as a non-profit foundation supposedly to educate children about automobiles, is only open to the public for three hours a week, on Tuesday afternoons, when kids are in school.

        The people there get angry when I describe it as a rich man’s tax sheltered car collection, but it is what it is. When Ted Stahl dies, his family will still control the collection. The Henry Ford Museum it ain’t.

        It’s a nice collection, they have some great cars, but with the exception of the volunteers, everyone that I’ve dealt with there has been less than pleasant to deal with.

    • 0 avatar
      healthy skeptic

      The LeMay car museum in Tacoma WA also has one, in blue. I was surprised at how sleek and good-looking the car was in person.

      I’ve heard that, in spite of all of its uniqueness and innovation, it wasn’t really all that great of a car, even by the standards of the day.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve long chafed at the notion that the Tucker car was “advanced”. Yes, it was unique in many ways but virtually none of the Tucker’s distinguishing features lasted in the industry. As far as I’m concerned, “Quick, dive under the dashboard” is not a safety feature.

        Cool car, great story, some mythology.

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          @Ronnie…other than shatter proof glass, disc brakes, & fuel injection.
          I can’t recall if they had seat belts or not, will have to check the photos my wife took.

          Also got a video of them driving it out of the garage, it definitely sounds like a helicopter motor.

          I could see the center headlight that moved with the steering gear, that didn’t catch on though recently I have seen a feature to this only the front lights are the ones that turn.

          • 0 avatar

            None of the Tuckers produced had disc brakes or fuel injection. I’m pretty sure that the Crosley was the first U.S. car with disc brakes.

            As for the center headlight that moved with the steering wheel, auxiliary lights that moved with the steering gear were common on high end cars in the classic era.

            Yes, the Tucker car was innovative but many of the claims made for it to this day are exaggerations.

  • avatar
    Undefinition

    Very good article. I am always fascinated when they find NOS parts of unobtanium things and try to re-assemble more of the original.

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    My dream is to buy a Tucker and then daily drive it.

  • avatar
    Fred

    Another fine story by Ronnie Schreiber on a car that I just don’t understand the appeal. A fun bit of automotive history, none the less.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    “John Schuler of Aurora, Indiana”

    Wah – spent 20 years of me life living 10 minutes from there (Lawrenceburg). Never saw any Tuckers though. Was there last weekend, and will be again tomorrow.

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    The Tucker archive at the Gilmore is gone, I was there last weekend, the Tucker is still there, but all of the movie props, artifacts and the office have been removed. There is also no longer any Tucker memorabilia in the gift shop. I don’t know what happened as the TACA owned everything but the car.

    • 0 avatar

      As a followup to your comment I contacted Mark Lieberman who is the director of the Tucker club archives. He told me that they retrieved the Tucker archive from the Gilmore last year and they’re in the process of digitizing it and creating a database to make the materials available online.

      • 0 avatar
        pintrip

        Does Mark Lieberman know what happened to the “actual Tucker items” and “Tucker memorabilia” that were donated by past and past on members of the Tucker Club. These items were entrusted to be inventoried for perpetuity in the archive room of the Tucker Club headquarters and since he once was a upper echelon member of the Tucker club, must know where these items disappeared to. Digitizing is fine as a written record, but the actual tangible items missing and repatriated back to the Tucker’s Club Archive room would be for par excellence, so visitors and Tucker fans can have visage to the actual items, as the intended purpose of the donors.

    • 0 avatar
      pintrip

      The Tucker club was shut down in Oct., 2011 because some members complained about nothing in the archive room except some empty boxes on the floor, scholarship funds missing by past contributions of past Tucker members and some voting improprieties on voted in officers. Some members complained that The club would sponsor Tucker meet ups and then not show up themselves. Some complained that blogging entries were deleted, when they blogged in about something contrary to the club line of thinking, so the when confronted, they shut the blogging site down. I heard this from a past member of the Tucker club and he seemed very knowledgeable. And a little pissed off too.

    • 0 avatar
      pintrip

      Maybe Mr. Gilmore would like to opine on where the donated Tucker items that once occupied the archive room, disappeared to, since he was the former president of the Tucker Club of America. There are a lot of questions, but there seems to be a rather stealth silence coming from the Club in regards to answering those questions to satisfy the inquiring minds, especially those who donated those items and trusted and entrusted the Club to their well keeping for the enjoyment of future generations of Tucker devotees.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    Aurora, IN, huh? SE Indiana is unusual in the sense that there are so many burial casket factories…Batesville Casket(the big boys) in Batesville, IN, Aurora Casket in, you guessed it, Aurora, Astral Casket in Richmond, I think, and there are others I have never dealt with. Kind of the same way van conversion and RV companies are clustered around Elkhart.

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