Is It Real Baby Seal? Tucker #52 Gets First Public Showing

Some automotive production figures are etched in cast iron, if you will. There are only six Bugatti Royales and likewise only a half dozen real Shelby Daytona Coupes. Read any history of the Tucker car written in the last three decades and you’ll find that there have been 51 Tuckers, of which 47 have survived in one form or another. Now not all of those 51 were assembled by Preston Tucker’s company. History says 37 production Tuckers were completed, more or less, before the company was shut down with 13  cars left unfinished on the assembly line.
Shortly after the Tucker firm closed, a dozen of those cars were completed, with a final car being assembled from remaining parts many years later. Add the “Tin Goose” prototype and you get 51. Now that a well-known pile of Tucker parts has finally been assembled into a completed car, it will be interesting to see if historians and Tucker enthusiasts change that number to 52.
I’m not talking about the controversial Tucker convertible. That will always have a question mark over its head because of lacunae in its provenance. In contrast, the parts that went into making Tucker #1052 are well documented and for decades Tucker fans have hoped that someone might put them together.
Is It Real Baby Seal? Tucker #52 Gets First Public Showing
In 1950, Ezra Schlipf bought many of the Tucker factory’s assets at its bankruptcy auction. He later sold, to a collector named Stan Gilliland, most of the components needed to assemble an entire car. Gilliland was co-founder of the Tucker Automobile Club of America. Chassis #1052 is well documented as being used by the Tucker factory to test a proposed automatic transmission that they hoped would replace the preselector transmission in the production cars. Tucker #1018 hit a tree broadside in 1948, totaling the car but leaving the entire front end undamaged. That front clip ended up with chassis #1052. The body parts also included new-old-stock bumpers, front doors, cowl, hood, quarter panels and a rear decklid. A Tucker engine and transmission, plus lots of small parts, completed the lot.
Gilliland, though, never got around to putting things together and sold the lot at auction to noted Detroit area collector Dick Kughn in 2002. Kughn subsequently sold the yet-to-be Tucker to Wayne Lensing, who wanted to make an exhibit depicting the Tucker factory’s assembly line.
Is It Real Baby Seal? Tucker #52 Gets First Public Showing
Tucker enthusiasts are an interesting lot and to say they are passionate and opinionated is an understatement. With so few cars available, they collect just about everything associated with the Tucker company, the Tucker car or with Preston Tucker. Two different car museums in Michigan alone have Tucker archives and artifacts.
Bumpers and body parts aren’t the only NOS Tucker parts that have surfaced. You can’t start production of a car without having at least as many engines on hand as cars you are planning on building. In fact, Tucker bought an entire company — Air Cooled Engines, the corporate heir to the Franklin air-cooled car company (there is a Franklin logo on Tucker engines) — just so he could reliably source engines in the still-production-controlled postwar era. The flat-six engines, originally used in helicopters, were reengineered to be water cooled, and Tucker ordered 98 powerplants. As a result, Tucker crate (or rather pallet) engines do surface from time to time.
Is It Real Baby Seal? Tucker #52 Gets First Public Showing
John Schuler of Aurora, Indiana, is a Tucker enthusiast and he had been trying to buy a Tucker for years.
“I have been fascinated with buying a Tucker since I was a kid,” he told Old Car Weekly. “I saw their ads in the newspaper and they were neat. I wish I had gotten involved in the Tucker earlier. I would have had a car years ago.”
He’d hear of private sales after they were transacted and he got outbid at auctions. Tuckers typically sell for about $1.1 million plus or minus 10 percent. Eventually, he did acquire a Tucker motor that had been swapped out for a replacement. He knew about the components that Lensing owned, but — like many vintage car owners with persistent “someday I’ll restore it, not for sale” dreams — for a long time Lensing wouldn’t part with the parts. Eventually, though, Schuler prevailed.
Is It Real Baby Seal? Tucker #52 Gets First Public Showing
In 2010, the project was begun with Tucker expert Martyn Donaldson cataloging what was in the lot. Since it had been used as a test mule, #1052 was a rolling chassis, complete with suspension and firewall, though lacking a drivetrain. In the lot there were many hard-to-find parts, including items like door handles, the speedometer, and windshield wiper motors.
While some small parts needed to be fabricated, the only major sheetmetal parts not included were the rear doors, the Tucker’s fastback roof, and the floor pan.
Once everything was inventoried, the partially assembled car and the rest of the parts were shipped to Classic and Exotic Service, a highly respected restoration shop run by Brian Joseph in Troy, Michigan. Borrowing the Gilmore Car Museum’s Tucker #1047 to use as a template, Joseph fabricated the remaining body parts. Schuler had Gilliland rebuild a Tucker Y-1 transmission and, where necessary, other previously used parts were restored and installed.
Is It Real Baby Seal? Tucker #52 Gets First Public Showing
Preston Tucker, as alluded to above, hoped to sell the Tucker car with a novel automatic transmission that used two variable-vane torque converters, one mounted at each end of a transverse engine’s crankshaft. Not only would that eliminate the need for a differential and individual gears, the vanes could swing past center, providing reverse.
Not able to develop that drivetrain in time, Tucker switched to the Y-1, based on the Cord front-wheel drive transmission.
Joseph’s shop finished the car in maroon to match the Tin Goose prototype.
“The reason for painting it that color is the singer Sofie Tucker, who was [known as] the last of the Red Hot Mommas,” Schuler said. “So my wife thought we should call our car ‘Sofie’ because she will be the last of the red hot Tuckers.”
You can see photos of the restoration while it was in progress at Old Car Weekly.
It’s possible that some Tucker fanatics may not accept Schuler’s #52 as authentic, but he’s being completely transparent about the car, whose history is now very well documented. Whether or not it’s embraced by the Tucker community, it’s likely to be the last Tucker built from original parts. Unless some unknown trove of NOS Tucker parts surfaces, there just aren’t enough surviving original components known to exist for such a project to be possible.
The completed Tucker #1052 had its first public showing at the 2015 Concours of America at St. John’s. From the way it turned heads as it drove onto the show field — even if a few Tucker diehards don’t think it’s real, and Schuler has received some criticism — I don’t think very many people will do anything other than admire number 52. At least part of the establishment Tucker enthusiast community seems to have embraced the project, perhaps because of Gilliland’s involvement or because of how well documented the provenance is, unlike with the Tucker convertible.
Jay Follis runs the Tucker Historical Collection and Library at the Gilmore Car Museum, which, as indicated above, owns Tucker #47. He’s also a former president of the Tucker Automobile Club of America and he’s all for the project.
“I think it’s pretty great that somebody is taking the effort 65 years after the fact.”
I suppose the ultimate measure of its acceptance will be how much it sells for when Schuler or his family decide to part with it. A Duesenberg enthusiast explained to me that there are three kinds of Duesenbergs. There are the numbers matching (or with documented, period replaced components) chassis and engine combinations that still carry their original bodywork. Those sell for millions of dollars and have investment potential. Next there are original chassis with period or modern rebodies. Some of those may have reproduction components like superchargers. Those are worth about a million, plus or minus, and might keep up with inflation. Then there are the “bitsa” Duesenbergs. They may have authentic Duesenberg engines and chassis, but they are modern assemblages. Those are worth in the mid-six figures. Cars to be driven, when you drive them, and people will notice; but they won’t win any ribbons at high end car shows, and they don’t have much upside as investments, though they are welcome at Duesenberg club events.
The Duesenberg brothers and E.L. Cord made hundreds of Model Js, but Preston Tucker and his associates only managed to make a bit more than three dozen cars before the factory shut down. Tucker enthusiasts necessarily have to be less choosy than Duesenberg fans. Few of the 47 — now 48 — surviving cars are completely original in terms of being all-Tucker, let alone factory original. Many have been modified to keep them driving. While some have quibbled over #51 built in the 1980s, that’s the number I usually see mentioned in today’s sources. Serial numbers 1038 thruogh 1050 were all finished after the fact from vehicles whose assembly were started at the Tucker factory. Since #1052’s chassis was indeed assembled and in fact driven at the factory, I don’t think that #1052 should be treated any differently than they are.
By the way, if you want to ride in Tucker style without having to worry about degrading a million dollar artifact, respected hot rod fabricator Rob Ida, whose family owned a Tucker dealership, has made four examples of what he calls the Tucker 48. It’s a dimensionally accurate Tucker body on a modern mid-engine chassis (proving the point I’ve often made about the original rear engined Tucker being a technological dead end). Unfortunately, like the original Tucker’s current status, you can’t order one new from the factory. Rob builds them as a labor of love when the spirit moves him and originally planned to limit them to 51 examples. I suppose now he’ll have to make that 52.
Photos by the author. The full gallery can be seen here.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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