Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Who I'd Like To Meet

In the inaugural edition of who I'd like to meet, my subject is Preston Tucker. Best known for starting his own auto company, the Tucker Corporation and the car that bore his name. Unfortunately only 50 of these innovative cars were ever produced. The Tucker Sedan or Tucker Torpedo as it was also known, featured several innovative design and safety features, some of which were adopted by other auto manufacturers, some that weren't. Before other cars, it had disc brakes, fuel injection, seat belts, and 3 headlights: one in the center that always faced forward, and 2 that would turn with the wheel, allowing the driver to better see around corners. All this and it outperformed other production vehicles. As a matter of fact, when test driving his cars, Tucker was known to outrun and out handle police that were trying to chase him down and ticket him.

The car was not his only achievement. He designed an armored combat vehicle for the military which was ultimately rejected because it was too fast, hitting top speeds of 115 mph. But it wasn't a total loss, the motorized ball turret that he built atop the combat vehicle was licensed by the air force and used in bombers.

In a premise put forward by the movie Tucker: The Man and His Dream, he was forced out of business by overly aggressive government investigators in the pockets of the threatened big 3 auto makers. I don't know how much of that is truth and how much is Hollywood, but what is known is that government officials prosecuted him with a religious fervor and though he was eventually acquitted of all fraud charges, he was left bankrupt.

What I find fascinating about Preston Tucker and men like him is his combination of having a vision of something better and a drive and ability to overcome obstacles to realize his dream. I can't even imagine starting with nothing and building your own auto company - it is completely incomprehensible. And having the will power to know what you want and find a way to make it happen is the American dream. This country is all about people making something out of nothing, and Preston Tucker very nearly succeeded at building something tremendous from the ground up. He was an amazing man and someone I would have loved to meet. As soon as I get my hands on a time machine, I'm heading back to 1948 Detroit.
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