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The real history behind the fake turboencabulator (VIDEO)

by | Apr 1, 2022

I forget when I first saw the turbo encabulator video, but it was a long time ago, early in my life as a wrench. I came to understand most mechanics had seen it and was a bit of an in-joke, but had no idea it neither originated in the automotive industry nor was the original concept even created for gearheads. I loved it immediately. I’ve long wanted to spoof this video, and if you’re reading this, I got my wish. But in making this video, I am also compelled to share a bit of the history behind it.

The turboencabulator videos I’d seen as a kid were both automotive in nature. One was a video shot around 1977 with an actor named Bud Haggart, and it was made after an industrial training film about GM trucks. The other was clearly shot on a set for a Chrysler product, and that one was filmed around 1988. Little did I know that the same fella stars in both films. Here’s ol’ Bud in action.


But this long-running joke is much older than that. It began in 1944. Written by John Hellins Quick, the British Institution of Electrical Engineers published the technical description in their Students’ Quarterly Journal. It gained steam in America, however, when Time picked up on the joke and ran excerpts from Quick’s article in 1946. There was quite a bit of hubbub from readers writing in. In 1962, General Electric published a data specification sheet for the whimsical product.

GE Turboencabulator

Fifteen years after that, Bud made it famous for a new generation of viewers. This time around the block I must wonder if it was perhaps funnier; instead of the audience being the nerd engineers themselves, now it was aimed at the victims of those nerds, those of us who suffer at the hands of these people who seem to delight in complicating things. And due in no small part to that, the joke keeps going, with all sorts of people putting their own little spin on it. It’s been enough of a running gag that there’s a Wikipedia page with a list of various versions.

The joke’s influence is even evident without mentioning the turboencabulator specifically. A few years ago, I began watching an Amazon Prime series called The Patriot at the urging of a good friend. The main character (played by a fella named Michael Dorman, how ‘bout them apples?) is stuck giving a highly technical talk regarding the piping industry, and he’s not educated in the field.

A Turboencabulator

The archetypal turboencabulator. Illustration by Josh Seasholtz.

His boss advises him, “Keep it simple, John. Little something like this. Let me walk you through our Donnelly nut spacing and cracked system rim-riding grip configuration. Using a field of half-seized sprats and brass-fitted nickel slits, our bracketed caps and splay-flexed brace columns vent dampers to dampening hatch depths of one half meter from the damper crown to the spurv plinth. How? Well, we bolster 12 husk nuts to each girdle jerry, while flex tandems press a task apparatus of ten vertically composited patch hamplers, then pin flam-fastened pan traps at both maiden apexes of the jimjoints.”

I watched that the first time and rewound it and watched it a few more times, thinking of old Bud the whole time. And now, of course, I’ve gotten to have my own crack at keeping the joke going in the Dorman studio.

It’s an honor to participate in such a long-running gag. If you’d like to join me, feel free to tack one of these babies onto a few estimates today!

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