With only 51 original Tucker 48s ever made, they’ve always been an uncommon sight to see for many automotive enthusaists. Claimed to be “America’s First New Car in 50 Years”, the Tucker Corporation promised to deliver a futuristic, stylish, and safe car for the masses that would out innovate any car offered in America at the time. But before Preston Tucker could deliver his experimental car to the world, he had to build a proof of concept. The original Tucker 48 Prototype, coined the “Tin Goose”, was the original concept constructed by Preston Tucker to showcase to investors and at autoshows to promote his brand, create a dealer network, and raise funds.
This revolutionary new car, originally designed by George Lawson and modified by Alex Tremulis, was a drawing board for Tucker’s team to re-invent the automobile where they experimented with new ideas on how a car should operate. As they hashed out their ideas, several odd features were implemented into the car that never made it past the prototype phase and into the production models. Many people know of the infamous “no reverse” incident in which the Tin Goose lacked a reverse gear and was unable to back up at a public showcase, but here are a few lesser known quirks of the prototype of this iconic car:
1. Front hinged doors
An iconic feature of the Tucker ‘48 are its reverse-hinged (suicide) rear doors with all four doors opening from the B-pillar of the car. However, that feature wasn’t decided upon until the production run of the Tucker ‘48 and the “Tin Goose” is the only example to feature conventional doors. Notice how the rear passenger door handle is near the rear wheel well as opposed to being center justified for a rear-hinged design.
The reason Tucker switched the design of the doors to open in a “suicide” fashion was so that the hardware and pillar could be shared by either side to streamline production.
2. Sharper front bumper design
Known for both having champagne bottles smashed onto it and being separated from the car while it rotted outside behind a barn, the bumpers of the Tin Goose have lived an interesting life all on their own. They originally featured an angled design that was later phased out in the production cars for a more modest, flattened front bumper.
The bumper that currently graces the Tin Goose is a recreation of the car’s original unit that has disappeared to history. When the car was revealed to the public on June 19, 1947 for the first time, it actually sported a wood bumper as the design teams hadn’t finalized its shape.
3. Dual front mounted radiators
Before settling on the water-cooled converted Franklin helicopter motor, Preston Tucker experimented with a 589cid horizontally opposed six cylinder engine for his creation that would have put out a vast amount of heat. To deal with this, he originally planned on having dual, front-mounted radiators in the car, but eventually decided to move the radiator closer to the engine bay at the rear of the car. However, the Tin Goose still sports the original dual radiators at its front-end, despite the fact they are not connected to anything.
4. It has a unique engine cover
On production Tucker 48s you’ll find a large, square engine cover that extends down to the rear bumper which provided easier engine access. On the prototype, it has a smaller opening (albeit still very heavy) at the end of the tapering roof line leaving excess body panels to work around in all directions.
5. Rubber donut torsilastic suspension
Sometimes innovation for the sake of innovation isn’t always practical and the original Tucker 48 suspension is a great example of where that innovation fell flat. The Tin Goose was fitted with a “Rubber Donut” type suspension that worked by bolting molded rubber units to the chassis that would twist and flex with bumps to keep the tires planted on the road. Tucker claimed that this setup would provide a superior ride and handling to other suspension setups, but it was found to be too problematic during testing and was replaced by torsion tube and rubber “sandwich” designs instead.
The Tin Goose is now fitted with added transverse leaf-springs for a more reliable ride, but the original rubber torsion units are still present and can be seen on the front and rear, as long as you don’t mind climbing under the car.
6. One-off Wheels
For as large of a car as the Tin Goose is, she wears a tiny pair of shoes that would give Cinderella a run for her money. The original wheels on the Tin Goose are only 13 inches in diameter with 7.25 inch wide tires leaving a very small footprint for a car weighing over 4000lbs. Wheel sizes were eventually upgraded to be 15 inches on production models to fit the proportions of the car.
However it wasn’t just the size of the wheels that were unique about the Tin Goose because they’re also the only Tucker wheels to be made of magnesium and feature custom designed hubcaps that were swapped out for a design featuring the Tucker logo for the 50 production models.
7. Kinmont Brakes
Never missing an opportunity to fit new innovations into his car, Preston Tucker toyed with the idea of using Kinmont disc brakes for the Tucker 48 in its early stages of development. These brakes were a Kinmont design that was licensed to be manufactured by Tucker, but in the end he decided to go with a more reliable and well-tested drum brake system for the assembly line cars.
Despite the change for later cars, the Tin Goose still wears her Kinmonts with pride and with a typical set going for upwards of $10,000, they’re not something you want to have to change often.
8. Battery location
Although this quirk isn’t original to the Tin Goose, it’s still a unique feature that you won’t find on any other Tucker 48. When the Tin Goose was refurbished by Penn College to drivable condition, they needed to install a new battery compartment. The battery ended up above the passenger side rear wheel suspension rather than near the rear bumper in most models.
9. General proportions
Being a handbuilt, prototype car, finished alongside the clay models that would dictate the shape of the production ‘48s, the Tin Goose is a little rough around the edges and it shows. It’s not terribly evident, but next to a later model Tucker 48 the differences become clear. The rough shape of the body as the design was worked out is apparent on the Tin Goose with sharper, well-formed body lines making their way onto later model cars as they worked out production issues.
The 1947 Tucker “Tin Goose” Prototype is now owned and on display in the Swigart Museum in Huntingdon, PA. Their efforts, along with the help of students in the restoration program at Penn College, have helped to restore this piece of automotive excellence. The “Tin Goose” was also honored by becoming the 5th car to ever be added to the National Historic Vehicle Register and has been extensively documented to be kept in the Library of Congress in perpetuity so generations to come can learn about its impact on American automotive heritage!