The Tucker Tiger: The Greatest Combat Vehicle We Never Built
Since the first Tin Lizzy rolled off Ford’s assembly line in Detroit, no car or car maker has embodied the American spirit more than Preston Tucker…
Crafted in a Chicago auto plant in one year, the 51 Tucker Torpedos (or Tucker 48s) contained innovations never seen before : a third headlight that turned in sync with the steering wheel, a rear engine, a crash-protecting frame, a roll bar, shatterproof glass, and more.
The Tucker Torpedo’s V-6 engine produced 200 hp while idling at 100 rpm. In an effort to make engine maintenance painless, Tucker designed the car so the entire drive-train, engine and all, could be removed by loosening only six bolts.
Besides all that, it was and is an utterly beautiful car.
Before the Tucker Torpedo, however, there was the Tucker Tiger…
In the 1930s, Preston Tucker had earned a sizable nest egg refurbishing and selling automobiles, including Indiana’s own Studebaker. For him, the American auto wasn’t a tool but a timeless balance of engineering and aesthetics.
Obsessed with improving American auto design, Preston Tucker began visiting Indianapolis every month. When it came to car performance, no city held more accumulated knowledge and experience than the home of the Indianapolis 500. His engineering talents, boundless curiosity and affability made Preston Tucker a well-loved and familiar figure in Indy 500 circles.
With World War II looming on the horizon, Preston Tucker focused on creating a new kind of combat vehicle. Conceived as he recovered from minor surgery in an Indianapolis hospital, the Tucker Tiger Combat Car was light years ahead of any competing combat vehicle.
Designed to excel in the muddy terrain of Northern Europe, the Tucker Tiger was the Killer Cadillac of Combat Cars.
Although completely bulletproof, it weighed only five tons, 20% less than competing combat vehicles. Its V-12 engine roared along on flat roads at 114 mph, but also tore over muddy terrain at 78 mph (the top speed of the famous Willys Jeep was only 65 mph in ideal conditions).
The Tucker Tiger’s armored undercarriage protected occupants from mines and every window on the Tiger were of the exact same size and interchangeable, allowing a battle-scarred vehicle to hop right back into combat.
Its interior featured air-conditioning, since heat exhaustion was a frequent problem for armored vehicle troops. Its bulletproof tires withstood even .50 caliber machine fire…
Folks, I could go on and on and on.
Let me just share one…
The most distinctive and innovative feature (and that’s saying a lot) of the Tucker Tiger had nothing to do with the vehicle itself, but its weaponry.
Instead of installing a dozen machine guns poking every which way out of the vehicle like a metal porcupine, it primarily relied on a 37mm machine gun turret in the roof. This turret swung around 360 degrees and could fire in arcs as high as 75 degrees.
That turret is what one might call a leap of innovation. No one had anything like that ever before, although you may have seen something similar on the bellies of B-17 and B-29 bombers.
That’s no accident. After the US military passed on Tucker’s vehicle (!), citing their commitments to other vehicle manufacturers, the turret design started popping up, much to Preston Tucker’s dismay. He immediately filed patent lawsuits against the US government, which were delayed and dismissed using every ambulance-chasing law tactic available. They insisted their bombers turrets had nothing to do with Tucker, although they were identical in design, operation and purpose.
Despite his efforts, Tucker never received either the credit or compensation for the turret gun. Forever the optimist, his failure with the Tucker Tiger prompted him to work even harder. Within a few years, the first Tucker Torpedo would roll off a Chicago assembly line.
If this article interested you, please watch the demonstration video below showcasing the Tucker Tiger’s talents. I promise you’ll walk away from this video dumbfounded, wondering what would have happened if American forces had this on the ground in Northern Africa and Europe in those dark days.
My guess? Those dark days would have been far fewer.