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December 31, 2023

1953 Fifth-Wheel Parking System Packard Cavalier by Brooks Walker

In 1953, Brooks Walker modified a new Packard Cavalier sedan from his California business, Walker Research, and made it into one of the most famous postwar Packards. Using a series of hydraulic pumps and lines, gears, and the Packard’s left rear tire and continental spare tire, he came up with his own unique system for easing the parking procedure for car owners. Apparently nobody bit on the idea, leaving Walker’s prototype, his personal 1953 Packard Cavalier, the only known example featuring the patented system.

As late as the 1970s, Walker was still developing a parallel-parking system for cars, and his last known effort was on a Saab sedan. At that time, he still owned several 1950s cars sporting variations of his self-parking device, including an early-1950s Ford station wagon, a 1957 Oldsmobile station wagon, and a 1951 Cadillac Series Sixty Special. All of these cars were modified from beneath to allow a tire to be hidden under the car until it was lowered in the process of parking the car. Each of these devices necessitated cutting out part of the bottom of each car, and, in the case of the station wagons, mild modifications were required. For instance, the third seat was made to face rearward (which Walker boasted to be the first person to implement) and the rear fenders were extended so that the gas tank could be hidden in the driver’s side fender.

What set the Packard Cavalier apart from Walker’s other self-parking cars was the fact the Packard used the tire of the continental kit to move the car from side to side. This spark of genius brought Walker closer to his goal of making the self-parking system a bolt-on kit that could be applied to any car without changes to its basic structure.

The unique Packard has only passed into two other collections since Walker sold it in the 1980s. A friend of Willie Mehn of Berlin, Wisconsin, found the Packard in a barn while he was looking at another car and convinced Mehn he needed it. After conferring with his grandson, Michael Mehn, the pair agreed to purchase the car as a team.

Since the car remained in Walker’s personal California-based collection, it was remarkably well-preserved. The paint had suffered chips over time, and since Michael is a professional painter by trade, he and Willie decided a car as majestic as the Packard was deserving of a repaint. Not ones to do anything only partially, all of the chrome and stainless trim was removed, and only those pieces that needed buffing or rechroming were attended to. Even the weatherstripping was in excellent shape, and it was reinstalled after the car received its fresh coat of light blue paint.

Mechanically, the car was also in fine condition, with the exception of the self-parking system’s hydraulic components.

“The car would go up and down, but there wasn’t enough pressure to lift it, because the hydraulics leaked,” Willie Mehn said. “We are planning on using [the self-parking system] at car shows, so we went through the whole thing.”

In addition to rebuilding the hydraulic pumps, new belts and hoses were also installed to ensure the system would work for many years.

Today, the Packard’s unique hydraulic self-parking setup will allow the car to, literally, run in circles, just as Walker intended.

Want to see a self-parking vehicle in action? Check out this video of a self-parking Cadillac, also built by Brooks Walker.


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