Brooks Walker won a patent for his fifth wheel in 1938. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

How Brooks Walker solved parallel parking (and never sold his idea)

Believe it or not, the hassle of parallel parking was solved more than 80 years ago. In 1938, an energetic Bay Area lumberman named Brooks Walker patented a device that would drop a wheel perpendicular to the others from the trunk of a car, allowing it to swivel in and out of tight parking spaces.

A gif created from a newsreel clip highlighting Brooks Walker’s fifth wheel.
Vintage Everyday

The “fifth wheel” drew significant buzz during the car customization craze after World War II. Walker’s prototypes wowed audiences at car shows. LIFE magazine ran a spread in 1952. Rolls Royce, Duesenberg, and Packard were said to show interest.

Yet no one bit. “I guess I’m not a very good salesman,” Walker told the San Francisco Examiner years later. There were notable drawbacks too: the hydraulic contraption required fuel tanks to be repositioned and all but eliminated a car’s trunk space.

Even if the fifth wheel didn’t catch on, it did ease Walker’s own parking headaches. He drove his own modified Cadillac Sixty Special more than 100,000 miles.

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