Martin talks to author Steve Lehto about Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow.
After World War II, the American automobile industry was reeling. Having spent years building tanks and airplanes for the army, the car companies would need years more to retool their production to meet the demands of the American public, for whom they had not made any cars since 1942.
And then in stepped Preston Tucker. This salesman extraordinaire from Ypsilanti, Michigan, had built race cars before the war, and had designed prototypes for the military during it. Now, gathering a group of brilliant automotive designers, engineers, and promoters, he announced the creation of a revolutionary new car: the Tucker '48, the first car in almost a decade to be built fresh from the ground up. Tucker's car would include ingenious advances in design and engineering that other car companies could not match. With a rear engine, rear-wheel drive, a safety-glass windshield that would pop out in case of an accident, a padded dashboard, independent suspension, and automatic transmission, it would be more attractive and aerodynamic—and safer—than any other car on the road.
But as the public eagerly awaited Tucker's car of tomorrow, powerful forces in Washington were trying to bring him down. An SEC commissioner with close ties to Detroit's Big Three automakers deliberately leaked information about an investigation the agency was conducting, suggesting that Tucker was bilking investors with a massive fraud scheme. Headlines accused him a perpetrating a hoax and claimed that his cars weren't real and his factory was a sham.
In fact, the Tucker '48 sedan was genuine, and everyone who saw it was impressed by what this upstart carmaker had achieved. But the SEC's investigation had compounded the company's financial problems and management conflicts, and a superior product was not enough to keep Tucker's dream afloat.
In Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow, author Steve Lehto tackles the story of Tucker's incredible rise and tragic fall, relying on a huge trove of documents that has been used by no other writer to date. It is the first comprehensive, authoritative account of Tucker's magnificent car and his battles with the government.
The interview was recorded on July 6, 2016