When Preston Tucker told the world he was going to build a “better” car, he touted two major areas of focus. His cars would be technologically advanced and they would be safe. His advocacy for safer cars in the immediate post-war years was a bit unusual, but to Tucker, safety was not just a marketing hook. His Tucker ‘48s were safer than contemporaries and he knew it from testing. One of his cars had rolled at high speed during testing. The driver walked away from the crash and the car was still drivable, other than a tire which had gone flat in the event.
In September 1948, Tucker brought a handful of his cars to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for endurance testing. Drivers raced the cars around the huge track at 80 and 90 MPH for hours at a time, stopping only to refuel. One of the drivers was Eddie Offutt, a good friend of Preston’s and his chief mechanic. He was driving Tucker #1027.
As daylight began to break at Indianapolis, Offutt’s drive took a dramatic turn. Just as he entered a curve at high speed, the sedan’s engine stalled. In a fraction of a second, the rear of the car swung out from behind him. As he fought to regain control, the right rear tire blew out. The vehicle’s tires, with a new tubeless design by Goodrich, had seen nothing but heavy driving in the previous days as the team had clocked thousands of miles at high speed, virtually nonstop around the speedway, often without slowing for corners.
Offutt lost control. He skidded onto the grass of the infield and the car turned sideways. Then it flipped. Offut held on as it tumbled over and over again, three times in all. The windshield popped out. Finally, the car landed on its wheels.
Offutt climbed out and surveyed the damage. He had bruised an elbow but nothing else hurt. Other than the missing windshield, some minor body damage, and the tire that had blown out as he lost control, Offutt saw nothing wrong with the car. The Offutt crash in #1027 was dramatized in the movie Tucker: The Man and His Dream, although there it was shown as happening on a dirt track in Michigan.
Tucker’s men figured out what caused the crash. A simple mistake had been made in the early morning darkness. At 4:15 am, when Offutt had last stopped to refuel the car, a mechanic had reached for the wrong container in the dark and put aviation fuel in the vehicle, which the Tucker engine was not tuned to run on.
Offutt replaced the flat tire and drove the vehicle off the track. Tucker and everyone who had seen the crash and the aftermath were relieved that Offutt was alright but they were also confident that the car’s safety features had worked. The windshield had popped out as they had hoped it would in a crash. Offutt had not gotten too banged up inside the car, partly because the car’s interior had been designed with extra padding and fewer jagged protrusions from the dashboard. The outcome of the crash is even more extraordinary considering that the Tucker ’48 did not have seatbelts, the only safety feature Tucker’s men had been able to talk him out of using on his car.
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 , and . He also has a where he talks about these things