In early 1948, Preston Tucker’s company was ready to start production of the “Tucker ’48,” the "Car of the Future" he had been heralding since the end of World War II. His prototype, dubbed "The Tin Goose," had met rave reviews and his men had worked out most of the details for the production models.
One problem was Tucker’s micromanaging. He insisted on reviewing and approving the smallest details of the car, and this often led to delays. The Tin Goose had found itself in the quicksand of Tucker’s dithering and now that cars began coming down a makeshift assembly line, a problem arose in one of the most unlikely ways: they had not finalized a design for a steering wheel.
The Tucker automobiles were adorned with the Tucker Family crest in several places and there was discussion of adding one to the steering wheel. Tucker had also charged the designers with making the driver controls of the ’48 as simple and practical as possible. Somehow, as these design cues were batted around, no final design for a steering wheel had been reached by the time the cars began final assembly.
Alex Tremulis, the man who oversaw the design of the car, couldn’t let the production grind to a halt over such a strange problem. Tremulis had friends elsewhere in the industry and decided to call in a favor. He ed an acquaintance at Lincoln and described the situation. Was there any way they might be able to help? Never mind that Tucker was an upstart competitor, telling everyone he planned to upend the entire industry.
The friend, whose name is lost to history, said it was no problem. They had recently found a batch of Lincoln Zephyr steering wheels with slight flaws. The wheels could not be used due to Lincoln’s crazy-high standards but the man said no one would be able to spot the flaws in the steering wheels without being told. He’d ship over 50 on one condition: When Tucker finally got around to approving a design for his own wheel, the company would have to replace all 50 of the Lincoln steering wheels with Tuckers. Tremulis agreed and soon he had steering wheels for the first 50 Tucker ‘48s off the line.
As we now know, Tucker’s company closed before the 50th car down the line was fully assembled. But the cars which were assembled were driven off the line, steered by Lincoln Zephyr steering wheels, courtesy of Lincoln. Unfortunately for Alex Tremulis, the promise to his friend was not kept in that the steering wheels were never replaced with Tucker steering wheels.
If you ever get a chance to look at a Tucker ’48 in person, notice the plain but elegant steering wheel. It bears no logo–and was a gift from Lincoln.
Steve Lehto is a writer and from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow, and Dodge Daytona and Plymouth Superbird: Design, Development, Production and Competition. He also has a where he talks about these things.