A Tucker 48 sedan is one of the rarest classic cars you’ll find, being so sought after that people are willing to pay stupid money just for a fake. This one-off Tucker Convertible for sale claims to be the rarest of them all, but its legitimacy as a genuine design is hotly disputed.
The car is being sold by Accelerate Auto Group of Texas, which has listed it a number of times for eye-popping figures, apparently without it finding a new home. Its latest attempt has it going for $2,495,000.
While the car is built with real Tucker parts and it looks like a phenomenal convertible, the debate about how the car became that convertible remains.
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Preston Tucker and his Tucker Corporation tried to take on Detroit’s Big Three with a car loaded with innovation.
The Tucker 48 sedan was known for its then novel safety glass, padded interior, integrated roll bar, and turning third headlight. The engine, a flat-six originally meant for a helicopter, was placed in the rear giving the car some incredible packaging.
The company was even thinking about easy ingress and egress with doors cut into the roof.
The Securities and Exchange Commission constantly kept Tucker under a microscope and in 1949, Tucker and six Tucker Corporation executives were indicted on mail fraud, violations of SEC regulations, and conspiracy to defraud. Tucker eventually won the battle, but lost everything in the process.
Tucker produced 58 chassis with 36 completed sedans before the factory’s 1948 closure. Another 15 vehicles were completed afterward and only 47 completed cars survive to today. According to the story that comes with the car, Preston Tucker started a secret project using sedan chassis 57 to build a convertible known as “Vera” before the factory closed.
A Tucker Corporation design engineer was once interviewed about the prototype years after the plant closed. One of the questions that he was asked was “Was there a Tucker convertible project ever started at the Tucker plant?” He responded, “Yes, but I thought that the project had been scrapped when the plant closed.” It should be noted that he was working on Tucker number 57 when the plant closed.
Work on that prototype is said to have started at the Tucker factory but later moved to Lencki Engineering, the firm Tucker hired to build his first prototype, the “Tin Goose.” Removing the sedan’s roof weakened the structure so Lencki bolstered the car’s chassis with a frame of thicker steel and a tubular steel insert for even more strength.
The ad for the car says that the last work done on the convertible before Tucker folded was adapting a 1940s General Motors convertible top frame to fit. Al Reinert of Wisconsin later picked up the car in 1981, intending to do what Tucker couldn’t. But the car had to wait to get finished.
Benchmark Classics in Middleton, Wisconsin completed a restoration of the vehicle in 2010. It sold the completed car to a private collector after a number of failed attempts to sell it for more than $1.4 million.
Some documentation comes with the car that seems to prove the story.
There is a letter from Tucker Corporation accountant Mel Koeppen asking Reinert if the convertible is finished. Also in there is a notarized statement from the owner of a Harley-Davidson dealership hired by Reinert to work on the restoration. Car restorer Al Prueitt has a notarized statement in there, stating that he saw the convertible in 1966. Finally, there is a last notarized statement by a person that says that they saw the convertible and its mechanical drawings in 1972.
Sounds like an open-and-shut case, right?
I spoke with Mark Lieberman, Tucker representative for the AACA Museum and the Director of the Tucker Club Archives. I left the conversation thinking that the vehicle’s chassis is original, but Lieberman clarifies that such isn’t the case:
I did not say the chassis to the convertible is original. In fact Reinert had much of it reconstructed. In actuality, these cars are unibody and don’t have a chassis but there are substructures that extend from the lower body tub that resemble a chassis. Much of the underside and substructures of the car Reinert had made and or reconstructed are NOT original to the factory 1057 body. The changes he had done are NOT documented as Tucker designs in anything we have found in the archives. I stated that many original Tucker parts were used in the construction of the convertible. The the chassis (as described) is most definitely NOT one of them.
When Tucker had their body tubs manufactured by a company near Grand Rapids Michigan. They specifically had #1057 built with the wrap around rear window as a feature of their 1949 model. By the time they received the final tubs the company was already fighting for their very existence, badly short on capital and now being investigated. It is very unlikely that they would have diverted resources and their only 1949 body for a secret project.
Now that being said, all of us who are diehard Tucker fans celebrate all things Tucker. This car is no exception. The build of this car has preserved many original parts and gives us a glimpse at what might have been. That in itself is fantastic.
Lieberman told me that the documentation doesn’t definitively prove the secret project story. He explained that Preston Tucker loved documenting absolutely everything, so it would be out of character for him to start something and not leave behind a paper trail.
Likewise, Lieberman points out that the letter from Koeppen shows that the convertible existed in 2000, but says nothing about who originally created it. He also notes that a notarized statement doesn’t mean that what is being said is true. Indeed, notaries don’t fact-check the documents that they stamp.
Lieberman clarifies that he’d love for the Tucker Automobile Club of America to accept the Tucker Convertible as an official Tucker design. After all, having a sweet one-off convertible in Tucker’s history would be awesome. But TACA is looking for something more substantial than statements.
The club’s position is that there is insufficient evidence to prove that the convertible was planned for or started at the factory. As stated above, Lieberman’s position is that body 57 is meant to be a prototype for a 1949 Tucker sedan that featured a wraparound rear window, a claim disputed by the selling dealership.
Regardless if it is original or modified, the Tucker Convertible is certainly a cool classic car. A collector will have to decide if its mysterious history is worth $2,495,000.
Correction: October 7, 2021, 12:34 p.m. ET: A previous version of this story incorrectly paraphrased Mark Lieberman’s response. The error is corrected with a direct statement from Lieberman.