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Tuckers, Blazers, and Scouts, Oh My!

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In reading and researching automotive history, I’ve taken an interest in car safety, especially with the upcoming revolution of self-driving cars. Innovations in safety have frequently become standard features and then ultimately been required by law, such as seat belts and airbags. There are quite a few of us car folks who have the very real worry that self-driving and automated vehicles will eventually become the standard, and traditional, human-operated cars will be obsolete or even outlawed. The likelihood of this happening in any of our lifetimes is probably very slim since it has historically been extremely difficult to legally disrupt people’s freedoms.

I remember riding around in my grandfather’s black Chevy Blazer with red leather interior back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. He called her “Black Beauty” after the literary stallion of the same name. He also maintained two International Harvester Scouts, both fully trimmed out for extreme off-road conditions, including a snorkel for deep-water obstacles. My father and grandfather were both big-game hunters and valued any vehicle that could give them access to remote or treacherous locations.

However, the main thing that I remember about the Scouts was that Grandpa had the seatbelts removed because he hated feeling restricted, and he didn’t like that the government had started requiring them by law. He also ignored the seatbelt in Black Beauty and disconnected the warning chime that sounded if the driver’s seatbelts was disengaged once the truck was in motion. Several times, I recall him insisting that I didn’t need a seatbelt, a point with which I took serious issue and actually complained to my parents about.

Fortunately for Grandpa, he never was involved in a serious automobile accident. He only ever seemed to wreck his Harley Davidson when he pushed it beyond his limits as a rider.

My original intention with this post was to discuss the Tucker 48, which was a major innovator in automobile safety. The reason I connected my grandfather with the Tucker is that his next-door neighbor, a retired Army general, owned one of only 51 that were ever built. I remember the distinct purple paint job and the weird, cyclops third headlight in the center of the hood. Even by ‘80s car standards, the 40-year-old Tucker looked like something straight out of the future, with its Jetsons-esque body lines and chrome trim.

The 48 was famous for its safety innovations, including a roll bar and a front crash chamber that removed any dangerous obstructions from the driver and front passenger in case of a head-on collision. The steering box was positioned behind the front axle to prevent intrusion into the cabin in a crash. I remember these features because when the General would drive all of us to the sporting goods store or the Kroger, Grandpa would begin spouting his diatribe against seatbelts and citing the Tucker’s safety features as making the obsolete. Indeed, many of the 48’s features would become standard on production vehicles from every major US automaker and were the basis for much of how unibody vehicles are designed even today.

Despite his rants, Grandpa eventually got one seatbelt citation too many and finally started to comply with the law. After all, it has been proven time and again that the seatbelt is the number-one safety feature that saves lives in accidents. So whether we continue to operate our own vehicles in the future, or Elon Musk has his way and gives all of the control to AI, remember to please buckle up.

-Trey Fennell

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