Finding Your Worth: The Story of a Tucker Car

When I speak, I share analogies to help people understand deeper truths. This is the one I use to help people understand trauma and the survivor:

The Tucker Car

In 1948, Preston Tucker developed fifty prototypes of a car. Each model looked the same from the outside, but they were individually loaded with out-of-the-box concepts on the inside, making each one of the cars unique. The car’s exterior blended in with the era, except it had a center headlight that attached to the steering wheel. There were two normal headlights, but the third—the cyclops light—would look around corners for the driver as they turned. It is the defining feature of a Tucker car.

Tucker launched items in his cars that ran from seatbelts to fuel injection, disc brakes to four-wheel independent suspension, and even allowed for cruising at 100 mph. It had a feature that allowed the driver to drop their drive train at the mechanic, swap it out with a rental, and drive away with their own car and pick up their engine later. Some of these features we have today; some we do not and are still waiting for.

Trouble for Tucker

But in 1948, the big car companies were FURIOUS with Tucker. If he released ALL this glory in one year in one car, what would they release next year? In ten years? In thirty? In a fit of tantrum, they took him to court—with what appears to be no real intended purpose, other than to bankrupt him so he could not continue.

They succeeded. There were only ever FIFTY Tucker cars completed. There are another forty or so that had some parts, but weren’t finished. Immediately, people began to monitor where the Tucker cars ended up. One was bought, put on a trailer, taken to a ship, sailed across the ocean, and its owner died before he could claim it—and that car is STILL in probate. It has never been driven. Another was purchased and driven off the lot at cruising speed (100 mph). It didn’t make the turn onto the road and was totaled.

Collectors’ Dream

Throughout the years, collectors gained greater interest on all the Tucker cars and their locations. One was lost to fire. One sank to the bottom of the ocean. One disappeared without a trace. One is in a private collection. One is in the Smithsonian. One went up for auction at $1.2M in 2012.

I was able to see the Tucker car in the Smithsonian when they brought it to Phoenix one year. I stood outside the stanchions and red-velvet ropes, pondering how much trouble I would be in if I flailed myself toward the car JUST to say I touched a Tucker car. Apparently, my face betrayed me, because immediately two guards flanked me and said, “Do NOT touch the Tucker car. Stay behind the line.” They told me NO ONE touches the Tucker car except a man whose job is to be flown in to drive the car off the trailer, and then flown in to drive the car onto the trailer. He alone can touch the car. Their actions proved they understood its value.

Mystery and the Search for Car #1010

But what about the car that disappeared and no one knew what happened to it? Car #1010. There is a clear record of it for a few years, and then it falls off the planet. Nothing. This ignited not only collectors to start a hunt, but geocachers were on the prowl as well. It was a mystery worth thousands of human hours, plenty of websites devoted to its loss, and forum upon forum of fake sightings.

Tucker Car #1019 on display at the William E. Swigart Jr. Automobile Museum in PA

In 2010, over sixty years since the car was lost, a rep from Gooding and Co in Scottsdale, AZ was traveling in Tacoma, Washington. He drove past a farm, did a double take, and slammed on his brakes. A cyclops headlight. Sticking out the bottom of a manure pile. He bailed out of his car and ran to the pile, immediately shifting manure to see if he was right. I can only imagine the thoughts the farmer had as he joined him to find out why a man just dove head first into his manure pile.

The business man stood up, covered in filth, pointed at the pile and asked, “Would you be willing to sell this to me?” The farmer stared at him, glanced at the manure, glanced past the rotted-out frame of a car, and looked back at the filth-covered city-man from Arizona.

The farmer nodded, “How’s about $750, and you’re responsible for getting it out of here?” The businessman had shaking hands as he wrote the check, handed it to the farmer, and immediately was on the phone with his office back home. The farmer folded the check and put it in his pocket, staring at the entire odd situation as he walked away.

The businessman didn’t tell his team what he found. He simply ordered an excavation crew ASAP. He allowed each team member to arrive and make the discovery fresh on their own. Some fell on their knees at the side of the decaying vehicle as they caressed its rusted form. The interior was destroyed, gone under the years of manure and filth. Some pieces had broken off, the flooring had rotted through, and the exterior held the evidence of being under large amounts of manure. But. It. Was. The. Missing. Tucker. Car. Car #1010 had been found.

True Value

That night, the farmer was setting his stuff out for the next day when he remembered the check, unfolding it to put with his wallet, frustrated and still in awe at the weird situation. Only then did he realize the businessman had written the check out for $750,000. The businessman KNEW the value of the Tucker car—even one that had been nearly destroyed.

My question is this: the day before that businessman showed up, if someone had taken a baseball bat to that manure pile, do you think the farmer would have cared? If someone dumped more manure and urine on the pile, would he have been worried? If someone spit on the manure pile, would he have had them hauled off his property?

Now, let’s move those three scenario questions to the car in the Smithsonian. Baseball bat. Urine. Spit. I only thought about touching the car and I was flanked by two guards. Why? Because they KNEW the value of the Tucker car. The farmer did not.

See the Survivor

A person who has never experienced trauma can easily identify it when it shows up. They can see the manure and know it doesn’t belong. They protect themselves and their loved ones from baseball bats, urine, and spitting. They point at others who have manure on them, assuming they should know it doesn’t belong.

But when a person has lived a life of compounded trauma, and we ask them why they didn’t deal with or report “this piece,” they are looking at a tiny piece of manure in a larger pile of manure. They have no idea the value they have, and have no idea anyone would care about helping them with that piece of manure, or spit, or urine, or a baseball bat.

Car #1010 was brought to auction “as is.” I can only assume they sprayed it down, but it was presented fully and wholly destroyed. A frame of what it had been. It started at auction at $750k. The owner who won knew they STILL had at least $400K they would need to put into it to fix it.

And no one cares that it spent sixty years under a manure pile. They care that it was found.


  • There are a lot of stories about Tucker car #1010 and how it was found; I choose to love this version because it makes the most potent impact about survivors
  • Featured image of Tucker Car used with permission

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s