A LOT of people will never have heard of a Tucker 48, also known as the Tucker Torpedo – because only 51 of them were built.

But the most valuable of the futuristic cars was the one owned by Preston Tucker himself, and it’s going on auction in the US on January 18.

Tucker was a flamboyant American entrepreneur who worked on a variety of machinery for the US Army, Navy and Air Force in WWII before launching his radically different car in 1947.

The sleek car was a stunner in looks had a flat-six 5.5litre boxer rear-mounted engine designed for a Bell helicopter, a Tuckermatic (modified Cord) transmission, four-wheel independent torsion-tube suspension and a swiveling central light connected to the steering that lit up the road as the car turned.

There was nothing else anything like it on the market and products of the ‘big three’ : GM, Ford and Chrysler, looked positively antiquated by comparison.

It was way ahead of its time and interest in it was enormous.

There was such demand that Tucker sold accessories such as radios, seat covers and suitcases for it before the first car was produced, promising that people who bought the accessories would be first in line when the cars came off the production line.

How good a car it was can be judged from the fact that 47 of the 51 ever made are still on the road. Or in museums.

He also set up dealerships throughout the US and even as far as South America and South Africa.

But bureaucracy intervened – and ultimately sunk the Torpedo.

The US Securities Commission, wary of government and private investment in a car company after it had been stiffed big-time by Kaiser-Frazer (remember those?) which had squandered more than US$200million in various grants and investments, never producing the wonderful products it promised.

So things at Tucker slowed dramatically while the government went about making America less than great in current Trump-speak, and it all ended up in very lengthy court proceedings.

By the time a jury delivered its ’not guilty’ verdict in 1950, Tucker was without a factory or stock and faced a mountain of lawsuits from dealers who had ‘sold’ cars but were unable to deliver them.

He died in 1956.

He drove his car, chassis number 1029, for seven years before selling it to the governor of Arkansas, and it later changed hands several times before heading for RM Sotheby’s auction in Arizona, where it will go under the hammer on January 18.

It’s still virtually ‘new’ in that it has just a fraction over 19,000 miles (about 30,000km) on its odometer and it’s expected to fetch around US$1.5m.

It also featured in a Hollywood movie about Preston, which might add to its value.

It’s a piece of mobile automotive history, bound to soar in value, maybe even reach great financial heights with its helicopter motor.