The Government Seizes Tucker’s Plant
Despite these positive news stories, the federal government ordered Tucker’s plant to be shut down. A month later, a grand jury was seated for the purpose of indicting Preston Tucker on charges that he defrauded investors and had nothing that resembled an automobile. According to the federal government, the Tucker car did not exist!
After hearing dozens of SEC witnesses, the grand jury indicted Preston Tucker and his associates. The federal government then ordered the immediate seizure of the Tucker plant, since it was allegedly acquired from the proceeds of fraud. The plant was later liquidated for pennies on the dollar (that the government kept). The Tucker Corporation, unfortunately, was destroyed even before Preston Tucker’s trial on criminal charges began.
The Government Presents Its Case
The SEC obtained a criminal indictment against Preston Tucker based on the way he raised money to finance his company. Tucker impressed so many business people with his superior automobile design that he was able to sell dealerships before he could even make the car. Investors later poured more than $15 million into the Tucker Corporation.
In the courtroom, prosecutors told the jury that Preston Tucker was a con man who took investors’ money and never intended to produce any cars. The prosecutors went so far as to say that Tucker never built any cars, despite their knowledge that he had indeed built 37 of them while under relentless siege by the SEC and FBI.
At trial, government prosecutors paraded one SEC witness after another, attacking design flaws in the Tucker prototype car—flaws that had nothing to do with the fraud allegations. These initial design flaws had long ago been corrected to the extent that dozens of Tucker cars were in operation during the trial—cars that the prosecutors said did not exist!
Tucker’s genius once again came through for him. Near the end of the trial, he surrounded the courthouse with his “Tucker Torpedos,” the name of his flagship car. These were the very cars that the federal government said that he never intended to build, nor could ever build.
The corrupt prosecutor (who was later jailed for securities fraud in a different case) even tried to prevent the jury from looking out the window to see the cars the government said could not be built.
Tucker’s Team Pulls a Surprise
The government spent almost three months throwing every piece of dirt against Preston Tucker it could find. When it came time for Tucker’s side to present their case, they did something rather surprising. Tucker’s lawyers simply told the jury that the government had not presented any evidence that a crime had ever been committed. Therefore, his attorneys argued, Preston Tucker and his associates had no reason to present a defense.
If convicted on all counts, Preston Tucker could have faced more than 100 years in jail. Within 17 hours, however, the jury returned and announced “not guilty” to all the charges leveled against Preston Tucker and his associates.2
Government Still Succeeded in Destroying Tucker
Tucker won a legal battle against overwhelming odds, but he had already lost the war. His business was in bankruptcy and his production plant was long gone.
Assembly lines, finished cars, parts, materials, and tooling were still there, ready to roll. The problem was that they were all under the complete control of government-appointed bankruptcy “trustees” who eventually auctioned them to pay the debts that had accumulated during the time the government seized the plant (and prosecuted Preston Tucker). Years later, it was proven that the Tucker Corporation had far more assets than debts, but at the time, the government was determined to make sure that no more Tucker automobiles were ever produced.
A total of 51 Tucker Torpedos were eventually produced. Tucker’s “car of tomorrow” was so well constructed that 47 of those 51 cars still remain operational to this day, more than a half century later.
After being driven out of the United States by the US government’s strangulation of his business, Tucker started over again in Brazil. Like most American men of that era, Tucker was a heavy smoker, and died of lung cancer before he could mass produce his superior automobile in South America.
How Many American Lives Lost?
Preston Tucker figured out how to build safer cars a generation ahead of his time. Not only did Tucker design a safer car, but he had the unique personal ability to promote and market safety, possibly better than any automaker in history. Tucker was so successful in convincing Americans about his superior automobile that he had waiting lists to buy his first cars.
The question begs, if Preston Tucker were not illegally shut down by the federal government in the late 1940s, how many American lives would have been saved in the ensuing years? According to a report published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “vehicle safety technologies saved an estimated 328,551 lives from 1960 through 2002.”11
In preparing this report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated that it “evaluated the effectiveness of virtually all the lifesaving technologies introduced in passenger cars, pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles . . . from 1960 to 2002.” 11
Preston Tucker stands between two models of his car, one front view, one rear view.
Most of these “lifesaving technologies” the government now glorifies, however, were first developed by Preston Tucker, the same guy the federal government in 1949 illegally prosecuted (using perjured testimony), bankrupted, and eventually ran out of the country.
Today, the federal government states that “lifesaving technologies” (many first conceived of by Preston Tucker) prevented 24,000 Americans from dying in 2002.11
By destroying the Tucker Automobile Corporation, the federal government caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans who otherwise could have been saved by the safety features Preston Tucker built into his cars.