Recreating Classic Cars with CAD: Tucker Torpedo Project Update

Welcome to part eight of a blog series covering how a group of car and engineering enthusiasts are bringing the Tucker Torpedo concept car to life. If you haven’t read the other Tucker Blog entries, you can get caught up here:

Part 1    Part 2    Part 3    Part 4    Part 5    Part 6    Part 7

Rob Ida has made significant progress on the Torpedo since the last blog. The majority of the body support structure is in place and some of the body panels are being assembled. For me this is a really exciting time because the Torpedo structure and form are coming together.

As we have seen in many pictures in past blogs the major body panels have been made and re-made (more on that in a bit). Rob is now focusing his efforts on the support framework to mount the aluminum body panels to as seen in these 2 photos.

Just like everything else on the Torpedo each piece is hand formed and welded into place with precision. When Rob feels his earlier work doesn’t meet his quality level, he’ll remake panels such as the rear fenders as seen below. He initially formed them in multiple pieces and welded them together. Since the welding process induces warping, especially in thin material, he had to reform the welded fenders back into shape. The single piece fenders are more uniform in their appearance without the weld bead running through the middle it and are much smoother. This is just one example of Rob’s uncompromising quest for the highest quality.

TIG or Tungsten Inert Gas welding is used for the body panels and supports. TIG welding is used on a variety of materials including difficult to weld thin-wall aluminum. TIG is preferred because the heat generated during the welding process can be controlled by varying the current input using a foot control much like the gas pedal in your car. Here’s a simple diagram showing how TIG welding works.

Rob has expanded his tool set at the shop by acquiring a large Power Hammer to help form the large body panels. In an earlier Torpedo blog the English Wheel was introduced which Rob used on the rounded body panels. The Power Hammer is used on the flatter body panels that have a slight curvature to them like the door panels as seen below.

To give you an idea how the Hammers work here’s Rob operating the large and small Power Hammers he uses extensively to form body panels for specific customer requirements. Just like the English Wheel, Hammers require experience and craftsmanship in order to work with a piece of metal that large and form it exactly the way you want it. Working with the Hammers and English Wheel is a process where you initially form the panel then check it against the buck. Repeat this process until the panel conforms exactly the way you want it. Then repeat the process on the next panel.

So why use 2 hammers? They each do a specific job. The large hammer is used to rough out the form or shape desired. During this process the shape comes into form through maneuvering the panel around and repeated hammer blows. The smaller hammer is used for its short stroke and fast hammering which tweaks the metal to make subtle adjustments and smooth it out.

As Rob creates parts and bringing them together, he’s also looking ahead to understand what’s needed in the next steps of the fabrication and build process. Some steps might have to be done over like the fenders but this is how you build a car from scratch and do it right. Especially with a car that was never made and has the stature of the Tucker name. Rob will do this right or not at all.

Rob’s attention to detail and quality is beyond compare. His artist “eye” is evident in the beauty of the “40 Merc“ and here too. In my opinion, the craftsmanship he and his team exhibit producing the highest quality custom cars is second to none. They make metal do beautiful things.

To finish this blog, the next challenge Rob is looking at involves the doors. The shape of the doors and surrounding body panels opening the doors as we know won’t work. And there aren’t many options to pursue either. “Gull Wing or Scissor Opening” doors are the only options. An example of “Scissor Doors” is shown below in the image of the Lamborghini. The door almost stays within the footprint of the chassis.

“Gull Wing” style doors operate by pivoting at the top and the door rotates straight up. Using Gull Wing Doors by Preston Tucker back in the 1940’s would have been very forward thinking but, not out of the question. Gull Wing doors were used on the 1939 Bugatti Type 64 Coupe and Mercedes Benz, pictured below, pioneered the Gull Wing Door in the early ‘50’s with the 300SL as seen here. Another famous Gull Wing door car is the “Delorean Time Machine” car from the movie “Back to the Future”.

An important ergonomic consideration must be taken into consideration when using Gull Wing doors; how to close the door once the passenger is seated. Can the driver or passenger reach up and pull the door closed? A simple solution would be to add a strap to the bottom of the door (I can see these things flapping outside the door much like the guys who forgot to replace his gas cap after a fill-up) so you can pull the door closed while seated. Depending on who’s sitting in the seat will they be able to pull the door down easily? Keep in mind the doors will need to be counterbalanced to keep them open and that will make it harder to pull the door to close it. So that’s not going to work. I wonder how Preston Tucker would have solved this. For Rob using linear actuators to open and close the doors will solve this design dilemma much like Preston Tucker would have because of his aircraft and combat vehicle design background. Linear actuators are everywhere these days opening and closing doors on all types of cars and SUV’s. You probably use one to open/close the back lid on your SUV or the side door on a mini-van. To get an idea how the Torpedo Gull Wing doors will open here’s a short video captured in SOLIDWORKS. Click the image to start the video.

There’s a lot more work to be done on the Torpedo. A lot more time to be spent creating a car that wouldn’t have been created until Rob Ida, Sean Tucker and Rob’s customer came along. For a car guy like me this is as dream come true as it gets! 🙂


Mike Sabocheck
Mike Sabocheck is a Technical Sales Director with Dassault Systemes SOLIDWORKS. Mike has been with DS SOLIDWORKS for 21 years. Prior to SOLIDWORKS he worked for Xerox for 17 years and then for Intergraph. His specialties are applying SOLIDWORKS to different design and manufacturing processes.