Tucker 1044, at rest in its former Ohio home. Photos courtesy Mark Lieberman.
Mark Lieberman knows a thing or two about Tuckers; he’s owned three, two of which have gone on to set record prices in private sales or at auction, and he’s the technical director and archivist of the Tucker Club (as well as a member of its board). Recently, Mark was able to acquire his fourth Tucker 48, and chassis 1044 may be the best-preserved Tucker he’s ever encountered. Those attending this year’s Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show (held in conjunction with the Tucker Club’s annual convention) will get to see this “garage find” Tucker before Mark begins restoration.
Mark’s company, Nostalgic Motoring Inc., specializes in buying and selling “special interest” automobiles. A Tucker 48 certainly fits this description, and when Mark bought his first example, chassis 1006, in 1991, he quickly discovered that Tuckers are quirky cars without a readily available supply of spare parts.
Take, for example, the Torsilastic suspension used on Tucker models. Instead of leaf springs, coil springs or even conventional torsion bars, Tuckers used a suspension system that combined rubber blocks and steel plates (later, steel tubes) to create the desired ride and handling qualities. With replacement parts unavailable, many Tucker owners and restorers used leaf springs or coil spring setups during restoration, altering the ride properties that Preston Tucker had worked hard to create. With a background in the plastics industry, Mark went one step further, creating new Torsilastic suspension components (made of modern and more durable materials) to fit both early and late production Tuckers, and these are now available as replacement parts through Nostalgic Motoring.
The company also specializes in Tucker restoration, and it was the work on a customer car that ultimately led Mark to Tucker 1044. Looking to duplicate a rare factory radio bezel, Mark contacted 1044’s then-owner, who invited him down to Ohio to photograph the dashboard and radio and take the needed measurements.
Loading the Tucker for its trip to Mark’s Michigan shop.
Calling the Tucker a “barn find” isn’t quite right; after all, it was never lost, and it was stored in a gravel-floored garage instead of a dirt-floored barn. A plank floor had been built to keep the 48 off the damp gravel, and the outbuilding was both heated and sealed off from the elements. The good news ended there, as the car hadn’t been driven in three decades; after acquiring the sedan in 1982, the Ohio owner enjoyed roughly 15 road miles in his Tucker before engine overheating and transmission issues prompted him to park it until the problems could be addressed.
As Mark told us, attempts to buy the Tucker were quickly rebuffed. The owner clearly loved the car, and one day planned to remedy its mechanical ailments so it could be enjoyed on the road. A year passed, then two, then three, but persistence paid off, and in 2016 Mark finally convinced the car’s owner to sell. Details were worked out over the phone, and Mark headed south to Ohio to collect his latest Tucker.
In Mark’s shop, pre-cleaning.
Fittingly, our conversation with Mark took place while he was seated in the 48, which he calls a “special car.” Of all the Tucker’s that have come his way, chassis 1044, in his words, “…just fits correctly. It was put together right, and it stayed together right.” In other words, while work has been done to the car, it hasn’t been pulled apart by someone without Tucker experience. Tucker 1046, whose restoration was supervised by Nostalgic Motoring, once sported an Oldsmobile driveline up front, after an owner passionate about Tuckers wanted to create one that was easy for his daughter to drive and service.
Tucker 1044 as it looks today.
We asked Mark about 1044’s history. It carried a later serial number, but Tuckers weren’t built sequentially, meaning this could have been one of the 35 assembled while the factory was in operation. It’s also possible the car was built after the Tucker plant ceased operations, but Mark’s research shows 1044 was complete except for a transmission. At some point, the Tucker received a Cord transmission instead of a Tucker Y-1.
Les Schaeffer, affixing the AACA national First Prize medallion to the Tucker’s fender in 1981; it’s still there today.
In digging up the history of the car, Mark found that Tucker authority Les Schaeffer was once an owner, describing 1044 as his favorite Tucker for both its condition and its reliability. At some point the car’s original engine was swapped for a replacement, something that Mark describes as commonplace with Tuckers. In fact, it was intended as a feature for prospective buyers; should complex repairs be required, engine removal was a simple and straightforward process.
In many cases, Tucker engines fell victim to owners who didn’t understand the idiosyncrasies of the 48. Changing from water to anti-freeze, for example, required draining the radiator and engine block separately, and the engine had a total of four drain plugs. Miss one (or, more likely, drain only the radiator and miss all four) and cold temperatures were very likely to crack the block, requiring a replacement engine.
Though not original to the car, the engine is in impressively clean condition.
As for 1044’s specific ills, Mark already has the electric pre-selector mechanism for the transmission rebuilt, and has addressed the car’s overheating issues with a waterless coolant and a larger contoured fan blade, manufactured by his company, that flows significantly more air. As he explained:
“When we first began working on Tuckers, we realized that overheating was a common problem, but not at idle. We experimented with taping plastic flags to the rear grille, and to our surprise these were actually sucked into the grille at speed, meaning the stock fan wasn’t moving enough air to cool the radiator. We experimented with different blades, and ultimately created a contoured blade with more surface area that pushes enough air to keep the engine cool.”
Tucker 1044, ready for its summer 2016 tour.
Mark tells us his first goal is to make the car mechanically sound before tackling any of the cosmetic issues. Underneath, the Tucker is remarkably rust-free, but its current brown paint is in need of attention. As built, chassis 1044 was finished in Tucker 300 Green, so Mark would like to return the car to its as-built appearance.
Perhaps to serve as a reminder on how special 1044 really is, the former owner calls Mark regularly from Ohio for updates on the project. Given all the positives of the car, we asked Mark if it was a keeper. He paused for a moment to consider that before replying, “No. There are still other Tuckers to rescue.”
Tucker 1044 will be appearing at the 2016 Tucker Automobile Club of America Convention from September 16-18, and the Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show on September 18. For more on the Tucker convention, visit TuckerClub.org, and for more on the Orphan Car Show visit YpsiAutoHeritage.org.