Brendan Edgerton poses with a 1948 Tucker at The Henry Ford in Dearborn. He’s filming a documentary about his search for the cars. (David Coates / The Detroit News)
On an extended drive-about from Australia, Brendan Edgerton parked his $150 right-hand drive 1989 Holden Commodore at the entrance to the Henry Ford Museum. He had come to see Tucker automobile #16, one of the world’s 47 existing Tuckers built by automotive dreamer Preston Tucker in 1948.
“I’m an Aussie surfing the world,” he said, offering a shorthand description to explain his ’round-the-world pilgrimage from Melbourne to the U.S. to Europe, with a stop in Vladivostok, before heading back to Australia.
He’s been a soldier, race car driver, police dispatcher and garage mechanic. But at heart, Edgerton, 56, is a classic adventurer, Crocodile Dundee minus the crocs, an Indiana Jones whose quarry is the “lost Tuckers,” created in Ypsilanti. Now, only 47 of the 51 vehicles produced from a single production run remain and they are scattered from Seattle to London to Australia.
Not having “a loose $2 million” of his own, Edgerton is driving his dusty “Bullet,” as he’s named it, a machine that’s bobbed through floods, survived road hazards from sheep to missing pavement, the perils of an international sea voyage and a recent 11 days of quarantine in San Francisco. The Bullet’s as quirky as its owner: an Aussie car painted to look like the Dodge police car driven by Dan Ackroyd in “The Blues Brothers.” (He’s a Blues Brothers enthusiast too.)
While most of the Tuckers aren’t so much lost as scattered around the world and hard to find, Michigan has two. The second is #15 in Chesterfield’s Stahls Automotive Museum, which was also on Edgerton’s schedule.
John Tucker, the Ann Arbor-based grandson of Preston Tucker, who knows every Tucker’s location, was another stop. A visit to the Preston Tucker home in Ypsilanti, which is now vacant, was unexpectedly moving to the seasoned Edgerton. “Very strange, my eyes were watering,” he says of the experience. He also popped in the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum’s collection of Tucker memorabilia.
The Tucker’s cultist following appreciates the car’s advanced styling, unique six-exhaust pipes and a central headlight that swivels with the steering wheel. Francis Ford Coppola, by the way, has two (Edgerton saw both at Coppola’s winery). He tells his story on Facebook and on the Web, as Blokes in Sheds, no spaces, which translates to “guys in garages” in American. He also sports sponsorships and signatures of notables on his car hood. (Hood is “bonnet” in Australian.)
Edgerton lives in Wowan, pronounced “Wow-n,” a town of 100 people in Queensland where he owns a mechanic “workshop,” fixing trucks and tractors. But he heads out often, and has reinvented himself as a maker of documentary films.
He sold “30 Pubs in 30 Days” to a distributor, he says, and hopes there’ll be an appetite for “Around the World in 300 Days In Search of the Lost Tuckers.”
Married? “No, divorced.”
Too much traveling?
“I’m single, actually because of this trip. But it’s OK.”
Asked about the dangers of driving from Moscow to Vladivostok, he points out that Australians warned him about the U.S.: “People say lots of people with guns, you’ll get shot.”
So far, he’s fine, although he took a bad fall in Los Angeles (“tripped and fell and photographed myself crying”) and had a wallet lifted in a Bourbon Street bar in New Orleans (“my own fault, entirely”).
Edgerton took a good look at Tucker #16, black, similar to every Tucker he’s seen, each being somehow special in its own way.
“I have lots of pictures of me in Tuckers, behind the wheel, giving the Preston Tucker wave,” he said, demonstrating a 1948-style pose leaning out of an imaginary window with a wide grin and a hearty wave.
He was heading to Toledo, where there’s a bloke building a new Tucker from old parts and whatnot. Then he would stop in Niagara Falls, not on account of any Tucker, but just because it’s there.
Laura Berman/Detroit News