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Inventor of Safer Automobile

August 2006

By William Faloon

by William Faloon

In this month’s issue, we honor an American hero who was prosecuted, bankrupted, and driven out of the United States for the “crime” of designing a less expensive and safer automobile.

Members of the Life Extension Foundation are well aware of how the FDA has caused tens of millions Americans to die by:

  1. Denying the approval of lifesaving medications
  2. Allowing the sale of lethal drugs
  3. Censoring scientific data about disease prevention.

Government-induced death, however, is not limited to FDA malfeasance. A look back 58 years ago reveals how illegal governmental actions delayed the introduction of automotive safety features that could have spared hundreds of thousands of lives and prevented millions of crippling injuries.

Preston Tucker in his office displaying an advertisement for his cars.

Just as the FDA functions today to protect the entrenched pharmaceutical industry, the Securities and Exchange Commission in the late 1940s made certain that only the big automotive companies would stay in business.

Life Extension has long sought to preserve a historical record of atrocities committed against the citizenry by our own government. The corruption scandal you are about to read reveals how the federal government illegally conspired to deny Americans access to safer, better, and less expensive automobiles.

Giving the US a Technological Edge in WWII

Some of history’s most interesting and incredible figures are, for one reason or another, names that most of us do not recognize. One such individual was Preston Tucker, a visionary, innovator, and entrepreneur.

When World War II broke out in Europe, the Belgian government contracted with Tucker to design a fast-moving armored car. Tucker developed a vehicle with a gun turret that could travel at speeds topping 80 miles per hour, far in excess of the design specifications. Regrettably, the Nazis invaded Belgium before the armored car could be mass produced.

Since the Tucker armored car was so much faster than any tank, the army decided that it was impractical to use. The United States military, however, recognized the value of the highly mobile gun turret that Tucker invented. The military liked it so much that they made it a standard feature on every bomber produced for the rest of the war. The little revolving twin gun turrets you see on the top of the B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 Liberator, and other American bombers are all examples of the “Tucker Turret.” The Navy used the Tucker Turret on its PT boats and landing ships as well.

Making a Dramatically Safer Automobile

When World War II ended, Preston Tucker recognized that American car companies were making unsafe and unreliable vehicles that cost too much. Tucker set out to design an automobile that would incorporate numerous safety features, outperform any other car on the market, and save consumers money.1,2

The Tucker automobile included many previously unknown safety features: a cushion-edged crash chamber, four-wheel braking traction for panic stops, safety glass that popped out in the event of a crash, a collapsible steering column, and, believe it or not . . . seat belts!3-5

The Tucker chassis had a steel reinforced V-shape front so that unless you hit someone head on, you would deflect to one side. Tucker’s car had three welded roll bars to protect the passengers in case the vehicle rolled over, steel bulkheads in the front and rear to protect against front and rear collisions, and a wraparound safety frame to protect against side collisions. Tucker’s was one of the first cars with independent suspension to reduce the risk of the driver losing control of the steering.6

A 1948 Tucker sedan, number 1039.

Another unique feature of the Tucker automobile was a center headlight that turned with the steering wheel, thus enabling the driver to see at night when turning corners on mountain roads or into one’s driveway. Tucker felt that turning corners at night was hazardous because it was the only time you really could not see where you were going.

Preston Tucker was not shy about his ambitions of taking over the US automotive industry by delivering safer, better-performing cars. Tucker’s flamboyant promotions did not go unnoticed by the big automakers or their political cronies in the federal government.

Auto Establishment Resisted Innovation

Making a safe, reliable family automobile was a radical idea in the late 1940s. As a result, the established car manufacturers considered Preston Tucker’s car a threat to their products, and with good reason. Tucker’s car could be built for a fraction of what it cost the mainstream carmakers to build one. His vision was of an automobile on technology’s cutting edge, incorporating an aluminum, fuel-injected engine and multitudes of safety features, some of which are still not found in automobiles sold today.

Preston Tucker developed a car so far ahead of its time that the large car manufacturers felt compelled to use corrupt federal bureaucrats to shut him down. Tucker was constantly forced to switch course as the federal government did everything in its power to incarcerate him and destroy his company.

Despite interference from multiple federal agencies, Tucker succeeded in acquiring the largest manufacturing plant in the world. The site itself covered 475 acres and included additional buildings that functioned as iron and casting factories.2

When the Chicago Daily News paid a visit to the plant to see if it was real or just a show (as the SEC alleged), the paper reported hundreds of acres of engines, frames, body stampings, wheels, tires, shock absorbers, batteries, and finished car bodies on the assembly line. Tucker’s plant was clearly ready to take on the entrenched automobile establishment when the Chicago Daily News reported:

“The Tucker plant . . . appears ready to start production of cars.” 7

Tucker hoped to start full production if the government would just get off his back. The Tucker automobile gained even greater notoriety when an acknowledged authority on cars took a test drive and published a report in Mechanix Illustrated that stated:

“Tucker is building an automobile! And, brother, it’s a real automobile! I want to go on the record here and now as saying that it is the most amazing American car I have ever seen to date. This car is real dynamite and if proven reliable, will make every other car made in America look like Harrigan’s hack with the wheels off.” 8

The Mechanix Illustrated article apparently caused panic in the auto industry, and the government stepped up its brutal investigation of the Tucker Automobile Corporation. The SEC sent an armada of investigators into the Tucker plant, harassing employees and plodding through every single record at the plant. The SEC’s assault went on day after day, week after week, and lasted more than a year. At one time, there were more SEC investigators in the Tucker plant than employees. Newsweek magazine reported that 40 FBI agents were inquiring around the country about every activity of Preston Tucker and his associates.9

The government’s relentless assault put a financial squeeze on Tucker that grew tighter by the hour. Who would want to extend credit or do business with the Tucker Corporation when FBI agents were showing up with threats of criminal prosecution?

The government alleged that other than the prototype, no Tucker car of any kind had been produced, nor could be produced. These baseless allegations were made despite the existence of dozens of Tucker automobiles that were built during the time the SEC itself was inside the plant. While the government was disseminating these spurious allegations, the editor of True magazine tested a Tucker car and published an article stating:

“The car will do 125 miles per hour. It will deliver 26.2 miles to the gallon when driven at 45 m.p.h. It will accelerate from a standing start to 30 m.p.h. in 3.5 seconds, from 0 to 60 in ten flat. It is the safest car ever built, period.” 10