Tucker refused to cede creative control to businessmen who could have made the Tucker ’48 commercially viable. Instead, he attempted to raise money through unconventional means, including selling dealership rights for a car that didn’t exist yet. The Securities and Exchange Commission investigated, he was tried for fraud, and although acquitted in 1950, went bankrupt. Tucker also believed that opponents in the auto industry had orchestrated his downfall. He died a few years after he went broke, still working on new designs. Some regarded him as a scam artist, others as a tragic visionary. (When a Tucker went up for sale this year, it fetched $2.9 million.)
“If someone has a beautiful dream, but doesn’t know how to achieve it, is he a great man or not?” White asks. “Whether Tucker was a great man or not, he was a quintessential American.”
Coppola, who is currently living in China working on a new project, believes that “We are a country of innovators, but we don’t always welcome them or aid them in their work.” A sometimes thwarted visionary in his own right, Coppola says that he has been involved in Hollywood versions of a “Tucker enterprise,” where worldly concerns triumph and great ideas litter the cutting-room floor.
Whether Tucker would really have jump-started automotive history will never be known. Test drives of his inventions have yielded mixed reviews. Coppola today owns two restored Tuckers. Although the cars “drive like boats,” he reports, they are “fast and fun.”