Frank Calandra’s Tucker Story

Mr. Higday, I read your “Update” at the bottom of Steve Laubly’s web site and the article on the Ferreria’s at

I met Bev at the one and only Tucker Club convention I attended back in the 80s. My recollection of that fantastic time is pasted below. Sorry to hear Bev is gone. I remember him as such a nice guy who loved talking cars and welcoming those who wanted to see, smell and touch the yellow Tucker. I am reminded of him whenever I watch the movie and see his car on-screen. I’m happy for him the car fetched such a high price.

Anyway, here’s the “report” of my Tucker Club adventure:

I’ve been fascinated with Tuckers since I was a youngster. I remember my father getting all excited when he spotted a Tucker at a Syracuse, NY gas station. All I knew was it looked cool. He explained all its odd features and how the engines were built in Syracuse at a plant Tucker owned. (Aircooled Motors “Franklin”) I was in that plant once looking for a summer job, and my interviewer pointed to the several brand-new Tucker engines sitting on racks. At that time, it was only 10 years since Tucker shut down and the plant was still tied up in bankruptcy stuff. Everyone knew Franklin airplane engines were the best, but no one would spec them because of the uncertain financial situation. They finally settled it all in the late 70s, and some company in Poland bought it all for peanuts. I’m sure the Tucker engines ended up with collectors; at least I hope so.

I’ve been collecting Tucker memorabilia for a long time. In ’84 or so, I saw an ad for a Tucker Club convention in Michigan and decided to join and go. It was held in Ann Arbor with side trips to Greenfield Village, Ypsilanti and Kalamazoo. It was great! I had a couple rides in cars that showed up. They sounded nice, and rode better than I remember even 1950s cars riding. It was quiet inside, lots of room. It had good pick-up, but nothing like modern cars. Very smooth, except sometimes jerky when it shifted itself.

The newly restored Tucker prototype was there. I do remember hearing the legendary convertible mentioned, but the club now denies it ever existed. I’m sure the people I met then are long gone. It is too bad, because their memories go back to when it was all happening. Among the Tucker luminaries I was thrilled to meet was Alex Tremulis, who signed my book in gold ink! He’s one I’ll never forget chatting with. I also got to meet Dorothy Hodge, who designed the car’s interior.

There was lots of talk about Coppola making a movie about Preston Tucker, and his name was on the membership list. He owned 2 of them, which are now on display at his winery in Napa. I met several legendary people involved in the story. On the bus ride to Kalamazoo (to see the Tucker at the Gilmore Museum) I sat with William Kirby, who was Tucker’s defense lawyer, and we had a great 2-hour BS session. We talked about his days with Tucker and life in general. Fascinating guy. When it came time to go back to Ann Arbor, he sought me out and we continued our chat. I snapped his photo standing next to the Tucker prototype, and when I sent him the picture, he was thrilled. I had it blown up to a 20 x 30 poster, which he hung on his office wall. It wasn’t until he wrote to thank me that I found out he was the president of the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago. He invited me to call him if I was ever in his town, but regrettably I never did. He’s gone now. The famous MacArthur “genius grants” was his idea, I later learned.

At the club banquet that weekend, I arrived a bit late, and everyone was seated waiting for dinner. The club organizer looked frantically for an empty seat for me and said,” The only space left is at the Tucker Family table. Would you mind sitting there?” I thought, “Are you kidding?” So I got to spend the evening with Mrs. Tucker and her children. Luckily I had my Automobile Quarterlies with
Tucker articles in them and got everyone to sign them. Great fun. Those at other tables looked over at me and wondered how I managed to get seated there, where all of them wanted to be.

The movie was pretty accurate, based on what I know about the whole deal. Coppola paid to have all the owners’ cars shipped to California and had them all there as extras or just to watch the filming. I was visiting a friend in Sonoma and we drove around so he could point out the various locations in the film. The house they used for the Tucker home was an existing home, which a developer later bought, and built similarly styled houses all around it.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Tucker club invites the guys to bring the ragtop to their next convention. I left the club a couple years after the convention. I didn’t think anything could top that one weekend.

Frank Calandra, Webster, NY