Tucker’s initial trips to Brazil ended in disappointment. Though investors were willing to back his proposed low-cost automobile, in return they expected all design work to be carried out in Brazil. Tucker refused, a decision that was likely influenced by the instability of the Getúlio Vargas government as much as Brazil’s distance from his home in Michigan.
Determined to forge ahead with the project, Tucker enlisted the help of industrial designer Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, who penned an aerodynamic boattailed coupe reminiscent of the original Tucker Torpedo concept, but on a smaller scale. Like the earlier Tucker concept, the coupe that would later carry the Carioca name featured an air-cooled rear-mounted engine, headlamps that moved with the front wheels (supplemented by one that remained fixed), a padded dash and removable windshield for added safety, and independent suspension.
Unlike the Tucker 48, the Carioca would ride on a wheelbase similar to the smallest domestic cars of the day. Power would come from a four-cylinder engine (also horizontally opposed) instead of a six-banger, and an output of 130 hp was planned. Given a projected weight of less than 2,000 pounds, performance would have been spirited, another design goal that Tucker had in mind. Simplicity was the order of the day as well, with the Carioca’s instrumentation consisting of an oversized speedometer, surrounded by warning lamps for fuel level, oil pressure, temperature, and current.
In January 1956, the political climate in Brazil improved significantly with the election of Juscelino Kubitschek, or “JK” as he was commonly referred. A supporter of Tucker, JK once again offered incentives if the car was built in Brazil, and Tucker reconsidered. His Ypsilanti tool company, while profitable, didn’t generate the kind of revenue needed to design and build the Carioca. Brazil, perhaps, was where Tucker needed to be for his automotive second chance to become a reality.
By that time, however, Tucker was gravely ill with lung cancer, which his doctors in Michigan had essentially deemed inoperable. Seeking alternative treatments, Tucker found a doctor in Brazil who claimed to have great success in treating cancers without surgery or the favored radium therapy of the day, so Preston and his wife Vera flew back and forth to Rio de Janeiro for his treatments. In late August 1956, and against his doctor’s wishes, the Tuckers returned to the United States. The travel weakened Tucker further, who then reportedly weighed half of his former 200 pounds, and he was admitted to Beyer Memorial Hospital in Ypsilanti. On the day after Christmas 1956, he succumbed to pneumonia, a side effect of his lung cancer, at age 53.
This time around, there’s another Tucker involved in the mix as well. Sean Tucker, Preston Tucker’s great-grandson and an automotive engineer by trade, will be working with Rob on the design and creation of the Carioca. Details are still being sorted, but teasers appearing on Rob Ida’s Facebook page hint that an air-cooled four-cylinder Franklin aircraft engine may be adopted for the project.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Kurt Ernst.