From here, the
investigations become nonstop obstacles in Tucker's
progress. He discovers from Abe Karatz that rooms have been
wired and forty "G-men" are following him around the clock.
In his frustration, Tucker asks, "What did I do wrong?" Abe
responds, "It's what you did right. You made that car too
good. They can't afford to have competition like that. It'll
cost them millions, maybe billions."
A court case seemed
inevitable, and the time had come. Tucker finds himself
charged with twenty-five counts of using the mails to
defraud, five counts of Securities and Exchange violations,
and one count of conspiracy to defraud. But although Tucker
loses his plant and his company, he saves himself by
delivering an exceptionally heroic and profound speech in
defense of the American free enterprise system. This speech
is truly capitalism at its best.
All in all, Tucker's
story is that of a man who might have revolutionized the
automobile industry had the established Big Three
corporations lived up to the challenge. Instead, Tucker
becomes a victim of their fear and self-interest. In a
system whose rules can be summed up in a phrase – let the
better man win – it seems a harsh injustice that the better
man did not.
"Isn't that the point? To build a
better mousetrap?" "Not if you're the mouse."
Despite how much we admire Tucker, we also cannot forget
that he does not always play the game as cleanly as one
might expect from the "honest" businessman persona that he
likes to portray. In a way, he takes advantage of the
public's trust by publishing a boastful advertisement
promising many things that he cannot deliver. He also
misleads stockholders by making them believe that his
prototype is ready for presentation, when the truth is that
it barely exists. No matter how good his intentions, these
are risky moves that may have helped propagate his problems.
If he were a little less naïve and a little more seasoned in
the psychology of the established corporations' motives, one
wonders if Tucker may have been more successful.
However, no matter the reason, or reasons, behind Tucker's
failure, there is certainly no excuse for the behavior of
the Big Three and the SEC.
According to Gregory
Rehmke in his article "Preston
Tucker: A Generation Too Late," "firms can only head off
new competition by producing quality products efficiently,
and keeping prices down. Had the Tucker Corporation
survived, the Big Three automakers would probably have,
decades earlier, adopted many of the Tucker '48's new
technological and safety features."
knows that his introduction of seatbelts implies to the
buying public that cars without them are unsafe. He
emphasizes this selling point at a lunch with the War Assets
Administration, where he shows slides of accidents and
people who were injured. Tuckers intrinsic understanding of
what "sells" the American public is his most valuable asset,
and it's also what makes the Big Three so afraid of him. If
they are to survive this "Torpedo," then they either have to
"produce quality products efficiently…keeping prices down"
or resort to unethical activities that will snuff out their
competition. Unfortunately, their choice says a lot about
"Don't get too close to people.
You'll catch their dreams."
There are many things about Preston Tucker that are
contagious, but the most "catchy" is his sky's-the-limit
attitude. He's a true dreamer, a man with extreme vision.
But more than that, he's a man who can make a stranger
believe. Karatz caught the bug, and so did Jimmy and Alex,
and a huge percentage of the American public. Tucker also
has the stamina and follow-through to turn his dream into
something real – in fact, something extraordinary. It seems
a crime that something this good might possibly fail,
especially by the machinations of others who have been the
beneficiaries of this same free enterprise system.
True free enterprise is
very akin to natural selection: only the fittest survive.
Businesses that efficiently produce quality products for the
most affordable cost will endure. However, unlike the amoral
nature of Darwinian principles, the institution of free
enterprise is inherently moral. Under the system, everyone
gets a fair chance. Equal opportunity for all means equal
chance to succeed or fail. It is when this freedom is
intentionally violated that the system breaks down and
injustice is done. Tucker is an unfortunate victim of this
In Tucker's own words,
We invented the free enterprise system where anybody, no
matter who he was, where he came from, what class he
belonged to, if he came up with a better idea about
anything, there was no limit to how far he could go. I
grew up a generation too late I guess because now the
way the system works, the loner, the dreamer, the
crackpot who comes up with some crazy idea that
everybody laughs at that later turns out to
revolutionize the world, he's squashed from above before
he even gets his head out of the water because the
bureaucrats, they'd rather kill a new idea than let it
rock the boat. If Benjamin Franklin were alive today,
he'd be thrown in jail for sailing a kite without a
license…if big business closes the door on the little
guy with the new idea, we're not only closing the door
on progress but we're sabotaging everything we fought
for, everything the country stands for.
Nothing can stymie Tucker's idealism and his faith in the
system he has been so proud of his entire life. His feelings
are reminiscent of those expressed by Ayn Rand's Objectivist
heroine, Dagny Taggart. In Rand's famous novel, Atlas
Shrugged, Dagny says, "The sight of an achievement was
the greatest gift a human being can offer to others." Tucker
echoes this same sentiment. To him, it doesn't matter what
he lost while playing the game, because his achievement is
the ultimate victory: he faced all odds and built the car.
At the end of his court hearing, he literally has nothing
left but his freedom. But his freedom is all he needs: on
his way home he begins to outline a new idea to improve
refrigeration. Tucker's resilience is a silent shot at those
who call him a failure, and his reprisal is his unfaltering
faith in the belief that "it's the idea that counts, and the