Great Scams in History

Unfulfilled Promises

In the world of consumer goods, the practice of pre-announcing is fairly common. A company will announce a product months or even years ahead of its completion with a list of features that fires up the press and potential consumers. It’s a marketing move, and puts the competition on notice. It can also lead to heartbreak.

One of the most legendary stories of pre-announcing that didn’t quite pan out is the story of Preston Tucker and his automobile. Originally dubbed the Tucker Torpedo, Tucker’s idea was to beat the Big 3 to market with a new car. In post-war America that was a big deal since Ford, GM and Chrysler were still selling warmed over 1941 model year cars in 1945.

Oh, but it was to be much more! It was to be a safe car with a center headlight that would turn with the steering wheel, seat belts, controls laid out within easy reach of the steering wheel to reduce driver distraction, a roll bar integrated into the roof, a perimeter frame to protect the passengers, and disc brakes at all four corners. Even more, it was to have a 589 cubic inch flat six engine sporting fuel injection and oil-operated valves rather than a camshaft. The engine would mate to torque converters at each of the rear wheels meaning no transmission was needed. The engine would be mounted on its own subframe that could be quickly removed and “loaner engines” would be provided so the customer could keep their car on the road.

Now, we all know the story of how this panned out. Tucker had problems with engine suppliers and the high tech wizardry he was relying on. Eventually, the flat six engine was dropped and a Franklin air-cooled flat six aircraft engine was sourced. Converted to water cooling, the 334 cubic inch engine made 166 hp, a bit more than Tucker had promised for his engine. Fuel injection was abandoned, as well.

The torque converter in each wheel idea also didn’t quite work as well as Tucker had hoped. They tried the front drive manual from the Cord 810/812, but it couldn’t handle the torque of the aircraft engine. Tucker then worked with Warren Rice, who had designed the Buick Dynaflow transmission, for the Tuckermatic. It wound up being a fairly simple affair with two torque converters providing a continuously variable transmission.

Disc brakes and magnesium wheels also didn’t make it to production.

Tucker is just a glaring example. Home automation has not yet lived up to its promise. That big breakthrough in battery technology for automobiles is still being promised. What else?

[Image Credit: Thomas]

  • P161911

    The 1993 Chrysler Patriot WSC/LeMans turbine powered, hybrid race car.

    i remember they got in trouble for showing a video of it on the track and not disclosing that it had been towed up to speed and never ran under its own power.

  • The Professor

    Hmph. Where do I start? Videophones still aren't here yet. I'm still waiting for break-even fusion, much less a regular fusion power plant. Mechanical organs to replace ours when they give out. Right now, I could use a new pancreas, two new inner ears and two eyes. I don't want a flying car or a rocket belt, thank you very much. That's all I can think of right now.

    • I thought about video phones. There were some around in the early 2000s, but I don't know if you can buy one any more. I think Skype has pretty much taken over, and done pretty well.

      • The Professor

        I have to look into Skype some more. I looked at its website and they really don't tell you much of anything except how wonderful Skype is. Not enough info.

        • It's basically VOIP, but you can use video along with it. I use it a lot to talk to my parents in California.

    • Google talk also does video chat pretty well…

      • The Professor

        Hmph. I guess I haven't been paying sufficient attention lately. I suppose I need to spend more time away from the compound, and start talking to people a bit more. I suppose that I'll have to make sure that I'm wearing pants, too.

    • pj134

      There is also that Persimmon Facedime thingamwhosawhatsit.

      • The Professor

        That sounds like an old golf club.

  • P161911

    Hologram projectors.

    • skitter

      Or any sort of immersive virtual reality.

      • BlackIce_GTS

        I remember Descent II (maybe it was the first one even?) was compatible with VR headsets.
        <img src=""&gt;
        (img from, oddly enough)

        Not sure how many mass-market games since then have been, but I haven't heard anything about it.
        I remember playing a very basic VR FPS with Money for Nothing-grade graphics sometime in the early (mid?) 90s at the PNE. I was sure one of my friends would have a setup like that within a year or two.
        Speaking of things that didn't happen, I'm sitting here in front of a TV with no knobs operating some sort of miniature typewriter. I was assured cyberspace would be navigated with Powergloves and nifty looking sunglasses.

  • Where is my rotary engine powered flying car?

    • McQueen

      Where is my teleporter ?

      • They said they'd send one immediately.

  • OA5599
  • texlenin

    Vid-phones, I believe will never truly take off. Way too many
    instances where wants/needs/has to to talk to the other person, but has no desire to actually look at them. I'm sure ya'll can
    think of many instances of this being true.
    Where's my damn Moon/Space colonies!!!