In Honor Of James Garner, Here's How To Pull A J-Turn

Whether he was sharking cards as Bret Maverick, driving race cars, or outwitting the bad guys as Jim Rockford, James Garner was one of those Hollywood actors who always seemed impossibly cool. And to those who grew up watching him on The Rockford Files, he also helped make the driving technique known as a "J-turn" famous.

A few years back our own Mike Spinelli demonstrated how to do a 180 degree reverse spin just like Rockford in a snowy parking lot. That's not much help to most of us in late July, but the fundamentals are all still there.



So go out today, get yourself a rental car, find an empty parking lot, pretend you're in a Pontiac Firebird, and do your own 180 degree salute to Mr. Garner.

How to Do a J-Turn in the Snow

Among stunt-driving moves, none is as satisfying (and relatively safe) as a J-turn. Doing a J-turn on pavement takes some skill, but a snowy parking lot? That’s like training wheels for J-turns. Here’s how to do it.


This story originally ran on Jan. 1, 2011 and is being featured again for the Jalopnik Christmas Evergreen Bonanza.

A J-turn is merely a quick way to rotate a car by 180 degrees (also called pulling a Rockford). Starting out backward (in reverse) and ending up forward is the easiest to learn and execute. More experienced stunt drivers can start forward and end up in reverse, but this is an advanced move, as you’re going from a stable driving state to an inherently unstable one. Learning the move in low-traction conditions is not only more fun, but it also means less wear and tear on the car.


1.) Get a rental. J-turns, even those executed in the snow, can be rough on a car’s transmission—especially when you’re just starting out. Why risk a trip to Aamco for a rebuild? Rent a car — we choose a 2011 Cadillac DTS — and remember to get the insurance.

2.) FInd a parking lot. The bigger, snowier and emptier the better. Make sure the distance between light poles is sufficient should things go awry. We choose the parking lot outside of Ford’s Wayne Assembly Plant — the home of the new (and old) Ford Focus.

3.) Accelerate (backward). 15-20 mph should do the trick.


4.) Turn the wheel. Sharply, to lock. Clockwise for a counter-clockwise rotation, or vice-versa. The nose of the car will swing to the left like Natalie Portman in “The Black Swan.”

5.) Neutral, or clutch in. Midway into the turn, press in the clutch or use the funny handle to select the letter “N.”



5.) Turn the wheel back. Smoothly steer back to on-center from lock.

7.) Grab and go. When the car’s just about done rotating, put it in gear and accelerate as if the Syndicate heavies are on your tail.

8.) Enjoy. Drive back to where the guy with the video camera is standing. Offer an amusing quip.

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