- Mar 6, 2005
- Motor City, Michigan
- 13 Ford Mustang GT, 17 Ford Fiesta ST
I've heard rumors about this car, but never thought any of them were true. Apparently they were.
If you want to start a fight, just log onto any Web site where Tucker automobile buffs hang out ? www.tuckerclub.org is a good place to start ? and start asking around about the existence of a Tucker convertible. Then put on your helmet and protective cup and wait for the sparks to fly.
Whether or not an unfinished, legitimate Tucker convertible ? one that was designed and at least partially assembled at the company factory ? actually exists has been a hot-button topic for years among Tucker club members and fans of the famous, star-crossed marque. Chat room debates have raged, tempers have flared and rocks have been thrown.
Now, more than 60 years after the factory closed, only two things are really clear:
1. The Tucker Corp. never ?officially? built any topless Tucker automobiles. It built 50 four-door sedans and one prototype. That?s it.
2. Today, a Tucker convertible DOES exist, its legitimacy, its history, and its significance depends on your interpretation and, ultimately, who you want to believe.
One fact that is clearly not debatable is that Benchmark Classics, a collector car dealership and restoration shop in Madison, Wis., currently has the Tucker that has sparked so many arguments, and the company plans to finish the car off and unveil it to the world in May. Justin Cole, president and sales manager at Benchmark, said his company bought the car last month from a fellow Wisconsin resident, Allen Reinert, who had owned it for many years.
He knows that the decision to purchase the topless Tucker, chassis No. 57, and Benchmark?s plans to finish the car, show it off, and ultimately sell it, will no doubt re-ignite debate over the car?s murky past. It was an opportunity, however, that was too tempting to pass up.
?We?re just trying not to get too excited about it,? Cole said. ?It?s a huge deal, we know that ? We?re planning on it bringing in a ton of work for us, for our restoration shop ? It?s going to be an unbelievable sight when it?s done.?
Currently, the car consists of: a reinforced 10-gauge steel chassis; Tucker front end; a special shortened windshield and extra-long doors that were obviously different from standard Tucker parts; Tucker body panels, including the fenders; a Tucker engine and some interior parts, such as the dash and seat frames. It also has a convertible frame that is believed to be from a Buick. What it is missing is basically upholstery, a canvas top, a ?landing? area for the convertible frame to reside in when retracted, and body panels for the area ahead of the rear fenders, but behind the doors. Since all other Tuckers had been four-door sedans with back doors, no panels apparently existed that would bridge the gap between the A-pillar of a convertible and the back fenders.
?The only parts of the car that are not (currently) bone stock are in the suspension,? said Cole. At some point in the car?s past, he noted, the original leaf suspension was converted to a better-performing coil-over arrangement.
That there is actually such a car is not in question. Clearly there is. The debate comes over where it was born, whether it was a factory project, some secret ?back room? scheme, or a car that was cobbled together outside of the factory well after the production facility was shuttered.
Cole says he has plenty of evidence that proves the Tucker brass were in on building the car and that the mystery car was either a prototype convertible that officials hoped to offer to the public in later years, or a custom one-off car that someone was putting together for Vera Tucker, Preston?s wife. The plot thickens and becomes harder to unravel with the involvement of a third-party design and manufacturing firm ? Lencki Engineering ? which had been working with Tucker. At some point, the car wound up under canvass at the Lencki building, where it remained until a retiring employee took possession of it.
One of the biggest bones of contention is whether the car was in a rolling, ?almost-done? state when it got to the Lencki grounds, or whether it was pieced together at a later date with leftover Tucker parts that Lencki had on hand or were acquired in auctions after Tucker went under.
Jay Follis, the president of the Tucker Automobile Club of America and the marketing director of the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Mich., says he?d love to be convinced otherwise, but he contends that factory records simply don?t support the notion of a convertible ever being built, even partially, at the Tucker factory.
?My conclusion?? he asks with a chuckle. ?Our conclusion is that we have no conclusion ? The preponderance of evidence that we have seen is that it was not a factory product. We invite somebody to prove to us otherwise.
?I am definitely not opposed to finding some new piece of history. I?d love that! I?d love for somebody to be able to prove something. The problem with this car is that the proof is always conjecture.?
When pressed for his guess as to where the car originated, Follis points to the number of Tucker parts that were available and that were bought at auction following the company?s demise. ?We know for a fact that several bodies, body systems, chassis, sheet metal ... it was all sold at auction,? he said. ?My guess is that Joe Lincke wound up with some of these parts, and over time thought, ?You know what? This would be a fun project. We have all the sheet metal we need. We can build the chassis right here in-house. We can build a Tucker convertible. Why not make a fun project out it??
?That?s where I feel its birth came from. The story of it being this off-site project ? I just have to laugh.?
Regardless of its pedigree, the car figures to be a showstopper when it?s finished. Cole said he is hoping to show it at the Pebble Beach and Amelia Island concours events in the next year, and perhaps show the car off at SEMA in Las Vegas in the fall. He says he is going to enjoy the ride while it lasts, because by this time next year somebody else will probably own it. Cole did not disclose his actual purchase price, but said he is giving Reinert a newly restored 1957 Corvette ?fuelie, a 2003 ?.007 Edition? Thunderbird, and ?a large amount of money? in exchange for the convertible. Reinert had the car up for sale on a few occasions over the years, usually as a package deal with Tucker No. 43, which he also owned. In 2001, according to Follis, the asking price for both was $1.1 million.
?We?re doing a concours restoration on it and we?re going to sell it,? the easy-going Cole said. ?We?d love to keep it, but the economy isn?t treating us any better than it?s treating any other dealer of luxury goods, I guess. It?s an awesome car, and it?s going to be beautiful when it?s done, but we?ll have to sell it.?
?It?s quite the project, and we?re just ecstatic to have it.?