ParcCar – Innovation as Useful as a Fifth Wheel - Café with Mario
Monday, June 8, 2015

ParcCar – Innovation as Useful as a Fifth Wheel

For many drivers the thought of parallel parking or just the whole parking experience in general is something to dread.  Automakers are very much aware of the need to provide parking assistance to alleviate these worries and are readily working on innovative technology to address this market opportunity.

The first generation of self-parking cars are already available today.  While this first generation technology needs a little help from the driver, next generation cars may not even need a driver to park as demonstrated at CES 2015 by BMW with their Remote Valet Parking Assistant solution.

According to BMW, this next generation parking technology could be on the market in about five years, yet a Piedmont, California inventor came up with an innovation that can help a driver parallel park in nine seconds flat.  Brooks Walker’s invention is called ParcCar and has been featured in Life Magazine, Popular Science, and even in the National Automobile Dealers Association journal…63 years ago!

The same November 17, 1952 issue of Life Magazine whose cover features a photograph of American President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife First Lady Mamie Eisenhower dedicates a section to Walker and his ParCar.  The article reads “Walker has a solution for the most perplexing, irksome and fender-denting maneuver facing today’s motorist: how to get a car 12 feet long up against the curb between two parked cars only 13 feet apart.  He does it quite easily by putting his front wheels into the curb and then swinging the back end of his car in on a fifth wheel.” 

The Popular Science Monthly Volume 162 (1953) wrote that this innovation threatened an age old idiom, “Parking Wheel Rolls Car Sideways into Tight Spots.  The old saw about a ‘fifth wheel’ may soon lose its punch.”

Walker’s ParcCar fifth wheel sat in the trunk and was set at a 90o angle to the other wheels so that it could be lowered to the road and then used as a hydraulic jack to get rear wheels off the ground.  Riding on this fifth wheel, the rear of the car could pivot right or left on the front wheels.  This action was controlled by a lever under the front panel.

Walker, figuring that at mass production the ParcCar technology would only add about $175 to the cost of a car, took his invention to Detroit.  Harry F. Kraus, Sr. recalls in his book “Fun at Work, Hudson Style: Tales from the Hudson Motor Car Company” that “around 1952, a man brought a Packard to Hudson Motor with his unusual invention providing easy parking in small spaces.  He intended to sell it as a late Step-Down Hudson feature. It was so unusual that many people were invited to view this inventor’s wonder-child.”

Seeing the ParcCar sliding into a curb was indeed a big attraction, so much so that at a demonstration in San Francisco the police had to reroute traffic due to the large crowds.  Even news reels of the day gave special film coverage to the ParcCar as shown in the video clip below.

While there was no doubt that Walker’s five-wheel car, unlike ordinary Cadillacs, could slip quickly into small spaces the ParcCar technology had several downsides.  One big trouble was that the wheel and its machinery took up almost all the trunk space. The gas tank, normally under trunk, had to be put in front of the rear axle.  Another shortcoming was that if the driver miscalculated distances, the car could pivot with such force into another car or obstacle causing significant damage as there was no “pivot bumper”.  In addition, the hole through which the fifth-tire emerged and exited was not tightly closed leaving ample room for items to fall out or water and dirt to get in.  Finally the additional cost of $175 was not that insignificant considering a base model 1951 Cadillac Series 61 Coupe sold for $2,810 at the time.

Kraus sums up what happened to Walker and his ParcCar by writing “as we viewed the demonstration of this monster, the thought of losing almost all of your luggage space occurred to most of us.  If Hudson management wanted him to be laughed off the property, they came close to getting their desire.”

In the end ParcCar was not to be and while we await the next generation of self-parking cars the idiom “as useless as a fifth tire” can still ring true.

Watch the video below to see ParcCar in action.

No comments:

Item Reviewed: ParcCar – Innovation as Useful as a Fifth Wheel Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Mario Larach