Car people know of Preston Tucker. They're aware of his vision, and of the incredibly innovative Tucker 48. The flat-6, rear-engined car was clearly ahead of it's time, with mechanical and safety features we take for granted today. Only 51 cars were made before the company folded in March 1949 under the weight of negative publicity, and a damaging stock fraud trial.
By January 1950, the charges were deemed baseless, and Tucker was acquitted. The demise of his 48 and the false charges did not deter Tucker. He had actually initiated a second car - the Carioca Roadster.
In 1952 he envisioned a cost-affordable driver's car - a roadster. He reached out to Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, one of the foremost designers of custom coach-built cars of the time. The two crafted the vision of the Carioca. It would be a rear-engined roadster they would build in Brazil.
Sakhnoffsky spoke once of his creative process and working with Tucker, "Although I did not agree entirely with Preston's conception of how the car should look, I prepared a number of roughs that embodied his ideas, and from these he selected the design herewith [the 1955 CAR LIFE cover car]. Close scrutiny of the concept will reveal some flaws, of course, but it is reasonable to assume that many of the inherent problems would have been solved eventually. Unfortunately, the project progressed no farther than the rough-sketch stage, which was a profound disappointment to me, for the idea of a strictly fun car is always present in the auto designer's mind. And I think this would have been a fun car to build."
The Carioca concept was featured as the cover story of CAR LIFE magazine in 1955. It featured a semi-open wheel design with cycle fenders to cover them. A headlight was mounted on the front wheels, plus one in the center, like the 48, and the rear tapered to a boat-tail point.
Unfortunately, on one of his trips to Brazil, Preston Tucker became seriously ill. He would never fully recover. Diagnosed with lung cancer, he ultimately passed away in December 1956. With his passing, the Carioca vision also ceased.
Recently, a set of photos were posted on autopuzzles.com, a site dedicated to enthusiasts, where images are posted in hopes the viewers can identify the source. In June of 2014, Wendax, a German member of the site, posted some images of sketches he'd gotten at an auction.
For the first 3 months, all indications were that the sketches were from Raymond Loewy's studio, as future Studebaker concepts. But then a Tucker aficionado chimed in, suggesting the similarities in the sketches to the Carioca. There is no real way to confirm either way. No dates. No signatures.
It's still unclear whether the sketches are Loewy's or Sakhnoffsky's, but the similarities between the sketches and the published design of the Carioca are sure striking. It illustrates, if nothing else, the impact the Carioca had, even if it was never a fully developed idea.
The discovered sketches might be giving us a whole new look at the Carioca's design process showing views from multiple angles. Or they're from the studios of designer Raymond Loewy for a possible Studebaker concept that was remarkably inspired by the Carioca, after having seen it published.
With no dates or signatures on any of the re-discovered drawings, we may never know.