It is often said that nothing under the sun is new and that most modern advances are simply later attempts at making something work. This is true for self-parking cars, which most of us consider a modern feature of some of the most advanced cars on the market. But what if we told you that the self-parking technology, although in a different form, actually dates back to the 1930s?
That may sound surprising since self-parking cars are still a relatively new thing, but it’s true. Of course, no cars were ever mass-produced with this technology, which was limited to the vehicles belonging to the inventor, but it’s pretty fascinating that someone could make this idea work so early in automotive history (via Hagerty). There were limitations to the technology back then and no one wanted to invest in it. Fast-forward to today and self-parking technology is being added to more cars at various price points, including Teslas with FSD and Autopilot.
The self-parking system involved a fifth wheel
The first self-parking technology wasn’t a complete vehicle, but rather was a device that could be added to an existing car so that drivers could easily parallel park in cramped spaces. This historic piece of technology was invented by Brooks Walker from California. To make this possible, Walker had installed a fifth wheel at the rear of the car that would lower to the ground and raise the back tires. This rear wheel was then used to swivel the rear of the car in order to fit into tight spaces. Walker first tried this innovation on a four-door Packard vehicle, which is featured in an old film about the “fifth wheel” on YouTube. Brooks filed a patent for the invention in December 1938.
By the 1950s, Brooks Walker was still working on his self-parking invention. He now had a name for it, as well: the Park Car. Also, at this point, he had installed the invention on a Cadillac. Brooks was interviewed by Life Magazine in 1952, and he’d said the device would cost about $175 to install — that would be around $1,840 in 2022. Around this time, he met with car companies in Detroit but none of them were interested in investing money into the Park Car. Brooks Walker worked on this automotive innovation until he died in the 1970s, and the idea eventually faded away.