Development and production for Tucker: The Man and His Dream included the involvement of Tucker's children and grandchildren. Jeff Bridges was cast in the title role and, for research, studied Preston Tucker's mannerisms and movements through home movies. Tucker's descendants also granted Bridges the opportunity to sport the man's black pearl ring and cuff links for his wardrobe. Preston's son, John Tucker, said that Bridges has "got it all in the mannerisms and the look. My father was very positive, always thinking of what came next. Jeff captures that." Martin Landau was enthusiastic about accepting the pivotal role of Abe Karatz as a means to avoid typecasting. The construct of family values played a crucial role in the Tuckers' life and Coppola studiously selected Joan Allen for the part of Vera, Tucker's devoted wife while Christian Slater and Elias Koteas fill in the other central roles of eldest son and Tucker's friend and confederate, Alex Tremulis. Coppola's family was undergoing a stressful time during the production and he dedicated the film to Gio, his eldest son, who died before filming began.
Principal photography started with first unit shooting on April 13, 1987 in the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant in Richmond, California, doubling for the Dodge Chicago Plant. The majority of outdoor filming took place in Marin County, California as well as various locations including Oakland, Novato, and San Francisco. Forty-seven of the original 52 Tucker '48s still exist, and many are in excellent condition. Twenty-one of the cars were borrowed from members of the Tucker Automobile Club of America and were extensively used as both "set dressing" and in starring roles. Three cars were used to film the crash scene, a "before" version, with a fiberglass body, the car used to do the actual rollover was a Studebaker modified to look like a Tucker (this car is currently in a privately owned museum in Tallahassee, Florida), and an "after crash" version which was another fiberglass body fitted to a Ford LTD chassis. The production is notable as the first film to have audio mixing work done at Lucas's Skywalker Ranch. Production wrapped on July 17, 1987, and in the following month, Lucas convinced Paramount Pictures to distribute the film and cover the majority of the budget. He was helped by the fact that the studio was courting Coppola to direct The Godfather Part III (1990). Prior to final editing, the studio insisted on amplifying the title to Tucker: The Man and His Dream.