Tucker is one of the great stories in American history. Over the years bits and pieces of what really happened have come out. This movie was made at a time when we knew just about everything we could. It’s even rated PG so you can share it with the kids. Been a while since I watched this movie. Having said that I have watched it at least three times. It’s one you want to own if you find it somewhere. You need to understand a bit about the period of this movie.
To really understand this movie, you have to understand the period. World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945. During that time all steel, aluminum, rubber, etc. was diverted for war time manufacturing. Not the entire time, certainly, but pretty much after the signing of the Lend-Lease policy in 1941.
That’s a Tucker 48 linked from Wikipedia. Even today that is a hot looking car. Tucker was forced into bankruptcy on March 3, 1949 after making only 51 cars. The movie is about how the big three automakers and the government conspired to put Tucker out of business.
The vehicles actually sold for about $4000. If you had the car above on July 26, 2011 it’s value was said to be $1.2 Million. These cars were light years ahead of their time. That head lamp in the center was directional. It moved with the steering wheel. It had a perimeter frame for crash protection and an integrated roll bar. There was a steel box behind the front axel to protect the driver in the event of a head on crash. Shatter proof windshield. Padded dash for safety. (Dashes used to be steel.) Too many to list here. Follow the link.
Designed features that were dropped due to cost are just as impressive:
- Magnesium wheels
- disk brakes
- fuel injection
- self-sealing tubeless tires
- direct drive torque converter transmission
- A flat-6 hemispherical combustion chamber engine using fuel injection and overhead valves
If you aren’t into cars, you probably don’t realize, the big three automakers were still building their pre-war vehicles. All of their production capacity had been consumed by the war. The only designs and assembly lines they had were for the pre-war models. It was going to take years before idea went from drawing to showroom.
Some claim corruption. Others claim guilt. Another group claims “just doing the right thing.” All of these features originally designed by Tucker’s company you take for granted today. The big three didn’t have them and most likely hadn’t thought about them. Pre-war cars looked like this.
Even if you are not into cars these are basically boxes on wheels. Tucker was a sexy looking 4-door sedan with a rear engine over the rear wheel drive. This put the bulk of your weight over the drive wheels for better drivability in snow. You’ve all been driving front or all wheel drive cars so long you probably cannot related to trying to accelerate just a tiny bit on snow only to have the rear bumper suddenly try to pass the front. When you see pickup trucks driving around all winter with a bed full of sand it is because they are rear wheel drive and that is the only way to get traction.
Soviet Union’s Role in Tucker Demise
The Cold War with the Soviet Union started less than ten seconds after the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945. Many of the people in Washington had now seen two world wars. World War I was 1914 through 1918 and World War II was 1939 to 1945. Most likely some veterans from World War I were serving in Congress at this time. There had been roughly 21 years between two world wars and we had he makings of yet another shooting war brewing only moments after taking out the German Nazis regime.
If Tucker was allowed to go into production his company would put at least two of the big three automakers out of business. That much was obvious to everyone involved. If he could price his vehicles near the big three price range the big three simply wouldn’t sell many vehicles. His factory was in the Chicago area. (Actually read that link. Real journalism there.) Detroit workers couldn’t commute, but they could “weekday relocate” easy enough given it was less than a five hour drive.
Congress understood the War Powers Act was the reason the big three were in this situation. America needed massive quantities of things for the war effort and it pressed these three incredibly large manufacturers to build them. America might need massive quantities of those same things any minute now to use against the Soviet Union.
The federal government simply couldn’t allow this upstart auto maker to put two huge industrial companies out of business. There would be a chaotic stumbling period as two aging giants died and one infant struggled towards adolescence. Odds were high the Soviets would wait until creative destruction was at its peak before taking military action. There would be a mad scramble to bring these dying giants back to life to fight yet another war.
People forget just how much GM made for the war effort. Chrysler also had huge contributions including making 96 percent of the military’s .45 caliber cartridges with a reject rate of less than .1 percent in Evansville, Indiana. Yes, Ford also went to war.
Congress had an undeniable national security interest in keeping these three hale and whole.
Tucker the Movie
Jeff Bridges is just awesome in this movie. The writing is fantastic. Even Silicon valley startups can relate to the story line. This movie is more relevant today than it was when it was first released in 1988. If you want to understand why Francis Ford Coppola is so revered in the world of film it is because he could make movies like this, consistently.
How to get the most out of Tucker
Watch The Hoax first assuming you don’t watch with young children. It has an R rating but I seem to think it is just for language. I don’t remember any nudity or sex scenes. Tucker has a rather pivotal scene involving aluminum you won’t understand.
You might want to watch The Aviator (2004) [PG-13]. Naturally I didn’t see The Aviator first because I saw things when they came out the first time.
Definitely watch Rules Don’t Apply (2016) [PG-13].
Most people watching Tucker think the Howard Hughes thing was just dropped in for ratings. Most young people watching The Hoax don’t understand how a fraudulent book deal could get all the way through to printing the books.
People don’t understand what a larger than life going insane enigma Howard Hughes was. They don’t understand how many stories of the day, including all the way through to the election of Richard M. Nixon as President of the United states, are connected to him. There were oh so many stories of him plucking up ordinary people and pulling them into his orbit to use for a while before they either left or he set them adrift.
You can’t really understand just how much he hated the Truman Committee. So much that he gave all his stock in Hughes Aircraft Company to The Howard Hughes Medical Institute turning a defense contractor into a tax-exempt charity. The charity sold the company in 1985 for $5 Billion, creating “the largest private charitable industry in this country.” Why? To screw that committee and the Congress that both created it and wanted to tax him to high heaven.
When this war of words started Howard Hughes looked around for weapons he could wield. One of those weapons was Tucker. He could thwart Congress by helping Tucker from the Shadows.
If you know absolutely nothing about Tucker, Howard Hughes, or the time of the movie you can still enjoy a fabulous movie. If you take the time to gather the background first you can then understand just how amazing Tucker really is. You can then also understand why they had to wait until 1988 to release it.