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Reconstructing a Car That Never Existed

Rob Ida is attempting the impossible: trying to recreate a car that never existed from only a handful of 60 year old sketches and a 1/4 scale plaster model. In doing so, he’s also attempting to fulfill a family legacy.

Do you recall the line in the classic holiday film “Christmas Story” when the narrator refers to his father as an “Oldsmobile man”? Well, the Ida men are Tucker men, three generations of them. It began with Rob’s grandfather, Joe Ida, who in 1948 Joe opened a Tucker dealership in Yonkers, NY three days before the Tucker Car Corporation folded.  In that short time Joe Ida collected deposits for 130 cars which he then refunded. Nor was he able to acquire a Tucker for himself and for the rest of his life wished he had.

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Artists rendering of the Tucker Torpedo

The brainchild of auto executive Preston Tucker, the Tucker 48, as the production model was called, incorporated within its aerodynamic shape unique features such as disc brakes, rear mounted engine, fuel injection, four-wheel independent suspension, safety windshield and a third headlight that pointed into a turn.  Only 51 of the Tucker 48 automobiles were produced before the company collapsed (too complicated to go into here, go rent Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tucker: The Man and His Dream”).

Back to 2015: Rob and his father Bob (Joe’s son) produce 1948 Tucker replicas with composite bodies and modern drive trains out of their Morganville, NJ shops.

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1/4 scale styling model of the Tucker Torpedo from 1946 on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

But on the side, the two are building a full-size, working replica of a Tucker Torpedo, the original concept for the Tucker car.  The problem is that the Tucker Torpedo existed only as artists renderings  and a 1/4 scale styling model from 1946 found ten years ago in a barn belonging to the car’s original designer, George Lawson.

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Aluminum panels being formed over the CNC machined wood buck

The 1/4 scale model was scanned in 3D, a process unimaginable in Tucker’s time, and the data used to CNC a full scale wooden form of the car. The form is used in to provide a pattern for the aluminum exterior. “We shape each piece of metal using old-world techniques,” Rob told WIRED, “english wheel and hammers.”

Ida’s choice to use aluminum was born out of a desire to embody the spirit of a true coach built vehicle. “The alternative would be to do it in fiberglass, or hammer it out of steel, but doing it with aluminum, and the wooden buck, and everything, is really at the higher end of coachbuilding,” he told Yahoo. ”We are trying to use the best materials possible.”

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The three seats spin on a turntable to provide easy access to the rear

In creating an actual Torpedo the Ida’s are facing many engineering challenges the Tucker team never had to, such as executing the two butterfly doors, the two front fenders that turn with the steering wheel, three steerable headlights, and how to configure the seating to match the designer’s one driver-two passenger concept, much like in the McLaren F1.

When completed, instead of being powered by a flat six helicopter engine like the Tucker 48s, Rob Ida is considering installing the engine from a Porsche 993, the last of the air-cooled Porsche 911 engines, which somehow seems fitting. I’d guess Frank would have loved it.

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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. GearHeads.org gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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