Tucker Restoration Shop Holds Open House

For a vehicle which reached a production count of only 51, the “Tucker 48” automobile has fascinated auto enthusiasts, historians, collectors, and conspiracy theorists ever since the Tucker Corporation ceased operating in 1949.

On Sunday January 28, 2018, I had an opportunity to visit a shop which is in the process of performing a complete restoration on Tucker #1044. Via my membership in the NJ Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA), the word went out that Ida Automotive, a shop in Morganville NJ, was hosting an Open House, allowing invitees to see this Tucker in its disassembled state.

Arriving shortly after the announced start time of 11 a.m., the lot surrounding the building was already so crowded that finding a parking spot took a few minutes. By the time I worked my way inside, I would estimate that I was one of at least 100 people in attendance.

This is one of three shop rooms

There is no need to delve into the detailed history of Preston Tucker and his eponymous cars here. If interested, the author invites the reader to visit this Wikipedia page, or this page from the AACA Museum website. Indeed, Richard’s Car Blog briefly highlighted the Tuckers at the Museum when we visited in early 2017.

Back to Ida Automotive: the shop building is set back from busy Texas Rd. by about 100 yards. With no identifying signage out front, those driving by on this busy street would have no idea it existed. Entering the front door, one passes through a small but neatly painted and carpeted front room and then into the shop area itself. There are multiple rooms, and each room is jammed with cars-in-process, tools, supplies, machine equipment, lifts, parts, and most notably, sheet metal, both in ‘stock’ and ‘formed’ shapes. The mob on hand made it so crowded that moving about took time and patience.

Having visited my share of automotive repair shops, there was an immediate sense that this operation is different. The primary work product here is sheet metal fabrication. The car collection within was eclectic, and included a ’50 Mercury convertible, an unidentifiable ‘40s-era pickup truck under cover, a Ferrari 365 GT “Queen Mother”, and a ’58 Cadillac custom (covered and on a lift, exposing its rack-and-pinion steering!).

’50 Mercury convertible, almost done (but I found green over red colors odd)

A FERRARI IN A FABRICATION SHOP?
The question was answered once I spotted the “before” photo: something had crushed its roof, and the skilled metal workers at Ida Automotive had beautifully repaired it:

That brings us to the Tuckers. One was immediately drawn to a brilliant blue Tucker, appearing to be a perfectly restored car – until one noticed the twin-turbo engine out back, sitting in a chassis that looked about 4 inches lower than stock. This Tucker otherwise appeared ‘normal’, but the blank VIN plate caused me to conclude that this was a replicar, albeit an extremely well-done one.

Behind it was a wooden buck (upon which sheet metal is formed into shape), and again, first glances proved deceiving. While the overall form looked Tuckerish (if that’s not a word, it should be), certain shapes on the buck deviated from the blue car next to it.

Moving into the next room, the shiny object in front of me was some sort of car, but what? Again, the word “Tuckerish” came to mind. But there were enough hints lying around in the form of printed images to solve the riddle. Ida Automotive is in the process of recreating the original Tucker Torpedo, the design study shown to the public in two-dimensional form, but never built. It’s an odd-looking thing, especially without glass and doors installed, preventing you from seeing the whole shape. But the more one stared, the more one could see the familial resemblance. Oh, and that buck behind it is for this Torpedo.


THE TUCKER TORPEDO
The “Torpedo” was the name given to the illustration of the prototype. Many mistakenly called the production car the “Torpedo ’48”, but that was not its name. The efforts by Ida Automotive to create a vehicle which never existed is fanatical.
Minus doors and glass, Torpedo looks awkward from this angle
Its most unique feature (so far) is the seating arrangement. There are 3 seats, arranged on an electrically-powered carousel disc. There is one seat in the front for the driver, who sits behind the centrally-mounted wheel; in the rear are two passengers. However, the carousel rotates, which means any one of the 3 seats can be the driver’s seat. This might also assist with ingress and egress. One can only hope that the carousel’s rotational ability is disabled while the Torpedo is in motion.
The Torpedo’s 3 seats, mounted on a carousel (note magazine illustration)

The final room held the star of the show, Tucker #1044 (its serial number). Interestingly, this very car was recently featured in Hemmings’ Classic Car magazine. The gentleman who owns it bought it last year, and must have decided that, although a decent driver, it deserved a complete do-over, and he concluded that Ida Automotive was the best place for it.

Spacious interior looks even more so here

 

Front suspension detail. Originally car had rubber suspension.
There was always a crowd around #1044 (note wall posters)

 

It was very generous for the proprietors to open their doors on a Sunday to those of us interested in Tuckers. Our hosts went so far as to provide coffee, water, and breakfast treats. There were no formal presentations, so we were left to figure things out by snooping around the place.  A poster on the wall was a big giveaway: a man named Joseph Ida was the dealer principal of a Tucker dealership in New York, so it’s not a far stretch to conclude that a descendant owns Ida Automotive. Another poster proclaims: “Ida Automotive Est. 1959”, so they’ve been at it for a while.

Wall poster shows Joseph Ida in front of his Tucker dealership in NY

MACHINE  AND SHEET METAL TOOLS


The business’ associated websites offer little in the way of clues as to what actually transpires within these walls. Based on the quality of work I observed, it’s fair to say that Ida Automotive excels at what they do. It’s also refreshing for this collector to see some things still done the old-fashioned way. We in the hobby can only hope that workers with these skill sets continue to be around so that our automotive treasures can continue to be maintained and enjoyed.

Please don’t be alarmed: Chapter Four of the Isetta Saga will return next week, promise.  

All photographs copyright © 2018 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

FUN FACT OF THE WEEK:

Tucker #1029, the car personally owned and driven by Preston Tucker, was sold by RM Sotheby’s at their January 2018 Arizona auction for $1,792,500.

 

 

A Late Winter Visit To the AACA Museum

A 1958 Chevrolet Impala “on Route 66” inside the AACA Museum

 

On March 18, 2017, seven intrepid souls, expecting a delightful early spring day, ventured instead into the dreary dampness to visit the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) Museum in Hershey PA.

One of our rides for the day

The trip was planned weeks ago as a “rain or shine” event, and our travels were assuaged by riding in modern chariots, that is, two brand new Volvo XC90 SUVs. After an obligatory Dunkin’ Donuts stop, we were at the Museum by 11 a.m. Once there, Museum employees informed us that the basement had been emptied of many of its cars in preparation for an afternoon private event, so the daily admission fee was discounted. (AACA members are granted free entry.) But with the main floor fully stocked, there was plenty to see.

Hybrids are allowed to park up front, and recharge for free at the same time

In addition to the permanent exhibits, two temporary exhibits were in the house. “Amore della Strade” features cars and motorcycles of Italian heritage, and “Mopar Midsize Muscle” delivers big block excitement from the Chrysler Corporation.

A 1967 Plymouth GTX

Certainly, the most extraordinary permanent display is the “Cammack Collection”, a grand showing of Tucker automobiles, engines, artifacts, and history. The late David Cammack had begun collecting all things Tucker in the early 1970s. Before his passing in 2013, he willed his entire collection to the AACA Museum. The Museum in turn has done a marvelous job in setting up an interactive display to teach the public about this enigmatic automobile.

A Tucker in front of a reproduction Tucker dealership

Three hours or so after entering, we were on our way out. More importantly, we were hungry, and our stop at The Manor Restaurant & Bar up the street (thanks, Ted!) satisfied everyone’s hunger and thirst. To cap off a wonderful day, in spite of the cold, we made it (almost) all the way back without hitting any of the promised rain and snow. We each declared the day a success, and promised to make return visits.

 

Some of the oldest cars on display; the vehicles are arranged by decade

 

A 1932 Studebaker

 

The Italian motorcycles were in their own display room

 

Several of our group stand near the author’s ’67 Alfa, on loan as part of the Italian car display

 

The Tucker exhibit includes prototype engines against a photo of the engine manufacturing plant

 

Colleagues pose next to one of three Tuckers in the museum (out of 51 built)

 

 

First- and second-generation Dodge Chargers

 

1970 Dodge Charger

 

The basement includes buses and a reproduction 1950’s diner

 

A mid-60s Corvette is the centerpiece display of numerous Chevrolets

 

A wall mural pays tribute to Milton Hershey, whose businesses still dominate his namesake town

 

All photographs copyright © 2017 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.