Tucker On Trial (10-4-1949)

The Tucker Torpedo had been hailed as The Car of the Future.  Today, automaker Preston Tucker went on trial in the Chicago courtroom of Judge Walter La Buy.

Now 46 years old, Tucker had been involved in the auto industry since his teens.  At heart he was a promoter.  According to a friend, Tucker was such a great salesman that “he could sell a Chrysler to Henry Ford, and a Ford to Walter Chrysler.”

Preston Tucker

Preston Tucker

In 1946 Tucker launched his own car company.  He leased the largest factory building in the world, the 475-acre Dodge Chicago Plant at 76th and Cicero.  The plant had been used for making aircraft engines in World War II, and was now vacant.

Tucker soon produced a stunning prototype.  It was sleek and sexy, “the kind of car Flash Gordon would drive,” someone said.  The Tucker Torpedo was also ahead of its time in many of its engineering features.

To finance his venture, Tucker sold stock.  Then he ran into production problems.  Only 50 cars were produced.  The Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating Tucker’s stock sale.

Tucker claimed that Detroit auto companies were behind the probe, trying to stop a potential rival.  In June 1949, Tucker and seven associates were indicted in federal court.  They were charged with multiple counts of mail fraud, conspiracy, and SEC violations.

In 2016 we assume that the identity of jury members will be protected.  When the Tucker trial opened on October 4, the newspapers actually printed the jurors’ names, home addresses, and occupations.  Among those deciding Tucker’s fate were an electrician, a garage owner, a phone company exec, and four housewives.

On the same day the trial began, another judge ordered the lease on Tucker’s Southwest Side plant cancelled.  The building reverted to the federal government.

Tucker Torpedo proto-type

Tucker Torpedo prototype

The trial lasted three months.  The defendants were found “Not Guilty” on all counts.  Tucker was free, but had no factory and was deeply in debt.  No more Tucker Torpedos were ever made.

Preston Tucker died in 1956.  Francis Ford Coppola’s 1988 movie, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, was a sympathetic account of the automaker’s story.  Jeff Bridges starred.

Portions of the onetime Tucker auto plant are now the Ford City Mall.  The surviving Tucker Torpedos have sold at auction for as much as $2.9 million.


2 Responses to “Tucker On Trial (10-4-1949)”

  1. 1 Garry October 4, 2016 at 10:01 am

    And the rest of the Dodge plant is the Tootsie Roll factory.

  2. 2 Mike October 18, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Tucker Torpedo #1043 sat outside of a driving range in Bellwood for years, painted pink and white, until being purchased, restored and sold to a private collector in Arizona very recently.

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