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The Turn-Auto – There is Nothing New Under the Sun

When the first rotisserie was used for supporting automobiles while working on them is not known, although by 1921, the Turn-Auto Corporation of New York City had perfected their version of the device and placed it on the market. It allowed for auto repairs to be performed quicker and easier than the traditional method of working from the underside of a vehicle.

To use the device, a car was first driven or pushed up a set of ramps onto the pair of parallel channel iron supports. Next, the vehicle was chained or tied down and then could be rotated up to one-hundred and eighty degrees by the use of a hand-cranked curved version of the rack and pinion gear set visible on the far left bottom of the image.

This particular Turn-Auto was used in a repair garage in one of the New York City boroughs before it ended up at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. An advertisement for the device in the May 12, 1921 issue of “Motor Age” can be seen under the enlargeable version of the lead image (below.)

Please share with us what you find of interest in the photograph of the Auto-Turn and a 1926 or ’27 Model “T” Ford roadster courtesy of the Smithsonian Institute.

24 responses to “The Turn-Auto – There is Nothing New Under the Sun

  1. Interesting article.

    The lead picture [& its expandable version] don’t appear the have the vehicle either chained or tied down. The illustration in the advertisement show the front tire chained to the frame

  2. I don’t know…it’s the chaining and tying down part that I question. Might do more harm to the car than the increased access could ever provide the mechanic.

  3. The major drawback must’ve been they’d have to drain the gas, oil, and water first. Those will flow back out the filler holes when the car is tilted because none of those are tightly sealed on cars of that era.

  4. Aside from the obvious comparison with today’s restoration rotisserie, it reminds me of the garage in the old Green Hornet TV series.

    The star’s car, a 1966 Chrysler 300, would be clamped down and the floor would rotate and the similarly restrained Black Beauty would appear.

    There is a clip of it on youtube.

  5. There must be more adjustments to this device than easily seen. For instance if the front and rear tracks of the vehicle are different widths, then the channels the wheels roll into must be able to expand or contract as the car moves into/off of the device.

  6. Seems like the print ad shows a slightly improved version especially as respects the vertical bar at the front end of the cylinder. Although I’d be more worried about the location of the elevating crank being closer to the car, as opposed to being ‘outside’ the cage on the museum model.

    Thanks David for a fascinating look at a new contraption!

    • Looks like the center crank turned a winch to pull the car onto the unit, and the lower “outer” crank was for tilting it.

  7. Per American Machinist (July 1, 1920), they were manufactured by the Wm. J. Oliver Manufacturing Company in Knoxville, TN for Turn-Auto. The contract cost was $1.8 million for 4,000 devices and the contract was expected to employ 400 workers for the rest of that year.

  8. As to your title about nothing new on one my many trips to AACA library I was looking at an old magazine, maybe Motor Age. In it was an advertisement for a heated steering wheel in 1911. There was a wrap for the wheel with wires going under the dash with alligator clips to hook up for power.

  9. Though this thing predates them,it just reeks of some of the crazy contraptions and schemes J.C. Whitney has been responsible for over the years.
    NOW!..Service your car…Quickly!…Easily!
    Just $19.95!

  10. This apparatus reminds me of rail car tipper they had for transferring ore from small gauge gondolas from the mountains, to larger cars. They’d secure the rail car in this fashion, and huge counter weights and a tipping device like this was used, only much more heavy duty, with a larger rail car below it. Previous to that invention, it was shoveled by hand.

    • Car-dumpers are not unusual even today, on full size cars. Australia has several. Huge machines.

      California’s Oroville Dam original construction used a dual-car unit in the early 60s that dumped 45 cars per hour with out uncoupling. (>10,000 per hour) The Contractor also processed the material for gold.

      [I think the dumper is still up there, for sale]

  11. The “test” car is a $260 Ford (with balloon tires/demountables upgrade). This was probably the cheapest car in 1926, so if anything goes wrong……

    • The $260 Model T Runabout also still carried kerosene side lamps, since no starter also meant no generator.

  12. I could see this earning its keep in a fleet or service context fluids out for change roll her over… grease etc …roll back top up…

  13. The Ford has demountable rims indicating it has starter and generator also cannot turn car 180 degrees only 90 degrees as ring has no top on rear .

  14. Especially during this time, The Old Motor brings lots of joy, learning and humor. As someone who has loved books and newspapers – remember getting ink of your fingers and paper routes? – your work and everyone’s comments are so welcomed and appreciated.

  15. My understanding during this Era, typical shop lifts were a chainfall mounted to a beam in the rafters with a dual hook arrangement on the other end that would grab the front axle. Front end gets lifted as high as possible; more than 45 degrees. Rear wheels stay on the ground. First glance it seems strange, but then you realize how cheap, simple, safe, and ingenious that was. Perhaps same issue with fluids, but at that point you probably are into deep engine surgery anyway.

  16. In Europe Car Tilters are still in use for Car Restorations. If you can walk around your Car you can install a Tilter which is either Hand cracked or with an electric Drill.


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