When Preston Tucker’s automobile factory closed, it left behind the makings of more than a dozen additional vehicles, some of them rather easy to assemble, some a little more difficult. Now, more than 65 years later, one of the latter will soon make has made its public debut and become quite possibly the last Tucker to ever be built.
For the last quarter century, the total number of Tucker 48s built (not including the Tin Goose prototype) has stood at 51: 37 built and sold from the factory in Chicago, 13 completed after Tucker shut its doors, and one built from parts decades later. Yet Tucker enthusiasts have long known of a collection of parts floating around the collector car community that could, feasibly, come together to build one more Tucker. Those parts just needed somebody intrepid enough to put them all together.
A number of collectors tried, according to Jay Follis, former president of the Tucker Automobile Club of America. Ezra Schlipf, who bought much of the contents of the Tucker factory at its bankruptcy auction in 1950, sold most of the parts necessary to build a whole car – the cowl, dash, seats, and chassis of car #1052; the front sheetmetal from car #1018; NOS bumpers, front doors, quarter panels and decklid; and an engine and transmission – to Stan Gilliland, one of the co-founders of the Tucker club. Gilliland never assembled the parts into a whole, though, and ended up selling the lot to Dick Kughn, who in turn sold it to Wayne Lensing, who had planned to use the parts to create an exhibit replicating the Tucker assembly line.
Meanwhile, Tucker enthusiast John Schuler of Aurora, Indiana, had begun his own search for a Tucker to purchase or restore. “When I started, there was this period where nobody was selling Tuckers,” he said. “And then when they did start selling them, the prices kept going up.” He did manage to buy a Tucker six-cylinder air-cooled engine, but he kept missing out on private sales or getting outbid on Tuckers at auction.
Schuler knew of Lensing’s parts collection, but plenty of other Tucker enthusiasts before him had tried and failed to convince Lensing to sell the parts. “I think my timing was just right,” Schuler said. “Wayne’s dream was getting a little harder to fulfill, so he decided to sell.”
So in the spring of 2010, Schuler sent the parts to Tucker expert Martyn Donaldson to have him take inventory of the haul. According to Tucker historians, factory engineers used chassis #1052 as the testbed for the automatic transmission Preston Tucker initially envisioned for the car; the engineers were actually able to get it running and driving around the factory with a dashboard and seats bolted to the chassis. Tucker #1018 had been wrecked in 1948, but its front sheetmetal remained undamaged. Schuler couldn’t likely source another automatic transmission – only one complete automatic transmission car had been built – so he had Gilliland rebuild a Tucker Y-1 transmission for the car.
The only major parts the haul didn’t include were rear doors, a roof, and a floor. Donaldson then sent the partially assembled car on to Brian Joseph at Classic and Exotic Service in Troy, Michigan, where Joseph not only fabricated a floor and roof, but also a pair of rear doors, using patterns from other Tuckers the shop has worked on.
“I didn’t realize when I started what a big job it was,” Schuler said.
With the entire assembly/restoration completed earlier this month and the Tucker now running and driving and painted maroon like the Tin Goose, Schuler said he believes #1052 will be the last Tucker built using mostly original parts. “Jay, who’s been around the Tucker hobby long enough to know, said he doesn’t think there’s enough parts out there to make another car,” Schuler said.
The most recent Tucker to be completed using original parts like Schuler’s was #1051, which Chick DeLorenzo completed in the late 1980s using body #1054. Some observers tend not to think of that car as an authentic Tucker, and Schuler said he’s already heard similar criticism of his car. “There are a few people against it,” he said. “Why? That’s a good question. We’re not saying this car is something it’s not, we’re not saying it rolled off the assembly line, we’re just saying it’s basically some Tucker parts we’ve put together. I think most people will be excited about seeing another one.”
Tucker #1052 debuted this past weekend at the Concours d’Elegance of America in St. John’s, Michigan (where it won its class), and will make a followup appearance at the Red Barns Spectacular at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, where Follis serves as director of marketing. This year’s 35th annual Red Barns Spectacular will also include a De Lorean gathering to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Back to the Future films, a special display of highwheelers, and a Tin Can Tourist Camp.
The Red Barns Spectacular will take place Saturday, August 1. For more information, visit GilmoreCarMuseum.org.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Daniel Strohl.