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A Short Lived Spin in the Short Lived 1948 Tucker Torpedo

I've had the chance to ride in many neat automobiles, but I literally jumped at the chance to take a spin in this pristine 1948 Tucker 'Torpedo' this afternoon. Sadly, like the Tucker's history, the ride was painfully short-lived.

With only 51 cars ever manufactured and approximately 47 still in existence, a Tucker certainly isn't a common sight. Nor was it in its day; the triclops-like front fascia, gentle fastback and rear-mounted engine were considered radical in the post-war automotive market, and shaky funding prevented the company from starting series production.

So when RM Auctions offered up rides in car #38, a beautiful sedan finished in a metallic moss green paint, I threw my hat in the ring. Although it won't be up for grabs this weekend, the car may make an appearance at the 2008 Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance -- which is how I stumbled into an opportunity for a quick spin.

After waiting my place in line, the 'Torpedo' rolled up; I popped open the suicide-style rear door and jumped into the backseat. My driver fired up the Franklin-sourced 166-hp, 5.5-liter flat-six, shifted the Cord-based transmission into first gear, and we were....not moving. We were, however, sampling the scent of hot brake pads.

It so happens that, when left in sweltering July heat, the Tucker's parking brake isn't easily released. We were able to limp the car around in reverse, but the car could barely crawl away when left in a forward gear.

RM's mechanics swarmed upon the car to fix the problem, but I took my time sampling its interior. You've got to wonder if Preston Tucker's brainchild could have been a contender: wide, comfortable bench seats could easily fit four across in back, while passengers in front, due to a miniscule dashboard, have acres of legroom -- more, perhaps, than a contemporary Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Sadly, it was never to be. That said, this particular car (with a well-sorted parking brake) will appear at RM's Sports & Classics auction in Monterrey, California, on August 15 and 16. If you've got a $700,000 lying around, heed the advice of the car's ad campaign: don't let this Tucker pass you by.