Malcolm Bricklin and John DeLorean are well known to this audience, but do the names James and Edward Gaylord ring a bell? Probably not. Even so, the brothers Gaylord built one of the more interesting cars of its time–or more specifically, three of them.
The story starts with the brothers themselves, who had the good sense to be born into money. Their father was the inventor of the bobby pin, which made him an extremely wealthy man. His son Edward eventually stepped in to run their Chicago-based family business, known as Gayla, quite successfully. Both he and his brother, James, who operated out of Scottsdale, Arizona, had been lifelong car fanatics, having grown up with Packards, Pierce-Arrows, Stutzes and Duesenbergs gracing the family driveway.
As with many a car guy, the desire to design and bring to production a namesake vehicle (which will, of course be revolutionary) was overwhelming, but these brothers actually had the wherewithal to pursue their dream. According to the designer Alex Tremulis, he was working as chief designer at Tucker when Jim Gaylord visited him one day, proclaiming his desire to build “the ultimate sports car” and stating his intention to have Tremulis design it. Over the next five years, nothing happened as far as the car was concerned as Tremulis moved on to Kaiser-Frazer and then to Ford. There, Jim Gaylord visited him a second time, promising to build his car before mid-1955 and seeking Tremulis’s help. Because Ford took a dim view of its designers taking on freelance projects, Tremulis refused; however, he referred Gaylord to a talented freelance designer, Brooks Stevens of Milwaukee, who accepted the design assignment.
We’ll address the…well, controversial, styling a bit later, in order to concentrate on the real story here, the Gaylord’s engineering. Given the technology available in the mid-1950s, the car’s mechanicals are nothing short of amazing. The brothers wanted a high-performance chassis, but one refined enough to totally isolate noise and vibration. Jim proceeded to construct a center chassis frame of chrome and molybdenum tubes, then attached steel channel perimeters and a rigid steel platform. The interior portions of the channels were rustproofed, and all tubes and channels sealed, thus making the whole affair condensation-resistant. By comparison, the suspension looked dead conventional: coils/wishbone in front, leaf springs and a live axle in back. Even here, the brothers took things a step further; the front suspension featured rubber bushings twice the size of any other car’s, while the rear springs boasted permanent moly-disulfide lubrication and leather covers–a full decade before other manufacturers would offer no-lube chassis.
Initially, power came from a 331 cid Chrysler hemi fitted with two four-barrel carbs. Later, GM’s Ed Cole convinced Jim Gaylord that the 365 cid, 305 hp Cadillac V8 was lighter and quieter, and the Caddy engine powered the second and third Gaylords. Jim also planned to offer an optional supercharger, but the project never reached that point. Other mechanicals included a GM Hydra-Matic transmission and power steering whose feel could be regulated via a hydraaulic servo controlled by a dash-mounted knob. Specially designed VDO gauges were set into a Siamese-wood instrument panel, and a Heuer chronometer was mounted on the console.
As for the styling, the Gaylords wanted “a modern car with classic overtones”, in Jim’s words, which necessitated compromises. The first (Paris show) car, for instance, featured gigantic Lucas P-100 headlights that gave the front end the countenance of an angry insect; production models used conventional quad headlights.
It’s fair to surmise that Stevens went out of his way to keep the brothers happy despite his own judgment. The finished design shows a hint of clamshell front fenders; concave side panels;squared-off wheel wells; and freestanding wheels and tires.
Of course, there was the de rigueur wraparound windshield, and in back were tailfins, beneath which was a bright ribbed panel that concealed a slide-out spare tire.
The piece-de-resistance, however, was the Gaylord’s retractable hardtop. Pushing a dashboard-mounted button set into motion a sole electric motor that lifted then deck lid on two struts. The top then lifted and slid into the trunk via a chain drive. It was a model of simplicity compared with Ford’s seven-motor-setup for the Skyliner.
Public showings encouraged the Gaylords, who had started taking orders from such luminaries as actors Dick Powell and Bill Holden, auto magnate Edgar Kaiser, and former Egyptian King Farouk. In the end, however, only three complete cars were built: the first show car, and two subsequent revised models.
With seemingly bright prospects, what did the Gaylord in? Production problems presented a major hurdle. For instance, Luftschiffbau Zeppelin of Fredricksburg, Germany, which had won the contract to build the cars, failed to deliver specified designs. The brothers sued L-Z, and the lawsuit caused Jim Gaylord to suffer a nervous breakdown; citing health reasons, his family eventually persuaded him to abandon the idea of building a car.
Then there was pricing. Originally projected to cost $10,000–the same as a contemporary Continental Mark II–the projected price rose quickly to $15,000, then to $17,500. That’s a lot to gamble on an unknown quantity.
Of the three Gaylord cars, the first was destroyed; the second disappeared somewhere in Europe, where it still might exist; and the third was donated to the Early American Museum in Florida, its last known home.
I’ve never heard of a Gaylord Gladiator before, but I knew at a glance that Brooks Stevens was involved in the project. He really had his own signature style!
The lead- in picture (presumably the third car?) and most of the supporting pictures don’t look too bad for the times, other than the front wheel opening.
The original Gaylord… WHOA!
That “thing” looks like it rolled out of an Exner nightmare! In a weird way, I was relieved to hear of its demise.
Imagine seeing those twin searchlights coming at you in the opposite lane at night.
How could they have given the chassis contract to the Zeppelin company? Too weird. There’s a lot more to make a car than there is to make a bobby pin.
C-1 Corvette called — wants its side cove back.
Actually the C1 didn’t get those side coves until 1956MY.
I read a similar write-up in some collector car magazine a few months ago, but this is a great read about a very interesting car.
Considering Alex Tremulis wasn’t able to work on this car, there does seem to be quite a bit of Ford in the details. From the “waistline” up, this looks similar to the 57 Ford…they both have those same fins and if you didn’t know better you might even think this was a 57 Thunderbird based “show car”.
I thing I don’t remember reading anywhere was the general dimensions. How much bigger/smaller than a 57 Chevy was the Gaylord?
I’ve been seeing this car spottily in magazines and books since I was a kid in the late ’60s. A ford-door open-front town car was also proposed and built as a scale model. It looks to be better balanced than the coupe, at least to my eyes. I would imagine that keeping the white cove area clean would be a challenge.
An excellent (and mysterious) read, Tony! As much as I try, I still have trouble with Brooks Stevens’ design aesthetic, at least as it showed up on cars of the 1950s and 60s. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to “get it”, but it just doesn’t mesh with my idea of something attractive.
I had recalled something about these from the dimmest recesses of my memory, but had forgotten about how ambitious the chassis was.
This sad tale reminds us that the small scale custom automobile became a suckers game after the early 1930s. Not only did the cost of entry become simply astronomical (to the point that many established manufacturers couldn’t hack it) but the tax structure ushered in by FDR constricted the market to the relative handful of ultra rich who viewed a car as a fashion accessory. Even if the Gaylords had gotten it into production, they would not have been able to restyle it when those rich customers were ready for the next new thing.
I thought you rather liked what he did for Studebaker in their later years, like the GT Hawk, and the other later res-styles. And then there’s the Jeep Wagoneer.
But yes, some of his stuff was a bit odd….
The GT Hawk was quite nice, but then he didn’t have much freedom. You are right that the Wagoneer was quite nice.
But the 62 Lark with that odd upsweep on the rear quarter? And the Sceptre? They don’t work for me. Then there’s the Valkyrie.
Speaking of swords, did not Brooks Stevens produce the similarly interesting yet aesthetically challenged Excalibur sports racer?
He did, but this is a surprisingly unflattering photo. Looked much better with the top off in racing form.
There’s a flatness & panelized feel to a lot of his automotive designs, which curiously you don’t find in his other product designs – and not in the cars he collected for his private museum, which I had a chance to visit before it was dispersed.
You want to see odd ? Feast your eyes on this…
Spohn cars were all strange. Once he saw the LeSabre 1951 gm experimental he seemed to fixate on it for his styling. I remember a 50 or 51 Chrysler New Yorker Spohn left stock in the passenger area and replica of the LeSabre front and rear, truely weird.
Too bad only three were made .
It looks like the Gaylord did the advance market work for the Ford squarebird. Obviously there was a a market for a smaller plush “sporty job.” That open wheel concept was used on many concept cars of the ’50s, worldwide. If you shave off the fins and ditch that rear chrome panel it doesn’t look too bad. How could you keep that front wheel area clean? Maybe some Plymouth Prowler wheel fenders? Here’s Raymond Loewy’s take on a custom Jaguar.
New one on me Jose. Fun pic!
Good comment about the Squarebird.
Hard to believe this is the work of the man who designed the ground breaking ’53 Studebaker.
I like to believe he wasn’t responsible for those cartoonish air horns.
Hopefully they were added on later.
The rear qtrs. sure look like the-coming Avanti! Nice lines there at least.
Now we know where Ford stole the side body lines for the ‘64.5 Mustang.
And that shiny “targa” band accros the roof is very Ghia-like.
Actually, Brooks Stevens didn’t design the ’53 Studebaker Starliner – that was Bob Bourke,working for Raymond Lowey. He did re-skin it to create the ’62 GT Hawk.
Mechanix Illustrated had pics of the Jag but it looked better from other angles.
I love the Gaylord, it looks better in person, saw it at a museum in Florida years ago. First time I saw it new was in a magazine with the giant headlights, ten years later wanted to put some on a Mark V Jag sedan, but wouldn’t have been able to see past them where they could be mounted. Brooks Stevens has done a lot of interesting cars, the Valkeries are stunning. I had the fortune and pleasure of meeting Alex Tremulis through my friends Gene and Coleen who have had their Tucker since 1964. They also have a Cord sedan and they used to put on a Cord-Auburn-Duesenberg meet at Morro Bay, inviting me to the meet.(I was in my 20’s then) I wandered through the cars and started talking with a nattily dressed man about the car designs, it turned out to be Alex Tremulis. He was there each year and we were able to talk each time. The one year, we left around the same time and ended up in a mock race going up Highway 101. I enjoy unusual cars, and the Gaylord was very unusual, but had good running gear and build quality was impressive. including a pic of a Tucker Gene was repairing and test driving, his is black
When I mention the Valkarie, I was thinking of the Scimitar series of Brooks Stevens cars.
The Paris showcar with the huge Lucas headlights would have been in the nightmares of every small child that ever saw one. It might have given Mom and Dad a bad dream or two also.
Since several folks here have commented on the nightmarish looks of Gaylord #1, I wonder if it had any effect/influence on the Disney artists that penned the original 101 Dalmatians movie?
Cruella would have liked the first Gaylord.
Why am I not surprised that King Farouk would have liked this?
Indeed. Nothing subtle about King Farouk. Only question is whether he would have fit in.
Seen pix in a book I have.
Ya gotta love it, but many things are out a wack proportionally.
It’s like they try to cram “Classic” car elements that would only work on a much larger car.
For instance, I love the giant headlights in the one pic, but the missing bodywork, i.e., front fenders, puts the lights way too far inboard.
Then, the awkward bumper jutting out further serves to hinder the design.
The rear bumpers are a real hindrance on one of the cars eas well.
Thanks for the write-up and everyone else pix. Very fun stuff!!!
Going down a Tucker wormhole after reading this article found me on Petrolicious, where I saw this Vignale-bodied Ferrari, that bears a striking resemblance to the Paris car. https://petrolicious.com/articles/would-you-drive-this-custom-ferrari-from-the-jet-age
Now THAT’S how it’s done! Italian style never fails.
To me the black and white photo of the Paris show car looks like something a villain would drive in a movie parody from MAD magazine
Gotta be Eldorado wheels, don’t they?
Good thought Jim, but pretty sure they’re not Cadillac Sabre wheels.
Lummox, I’m curious what makes you think not Edlorado? Or what else the wheels might might be?
Sure look like Eldorado from here. Would they have had the money and/or tech for anything else?
As long as they were shopping for powertrains at Cadillac Upstart Automaker Supply, why not toss in a few of the latest and greatest in wheels? shrug
They are very close Jim, but the center hub cap area of the Sabre wheels are much bigger.
These appear to have the spin-on “Knock-off” center type attachment, making the center a lot smaller.
Look at pix of a Sabre wheel with the hub cap off, and you’ll see a large area for the 5 lugs.
Edit; I was looking at the pic that Tonyola posted above. The centers look too small there, but I re-looked at the Imperialist’s pix, and I’d have to agree they very well could be Sabres. Good call!
According to articles, they are indeed Sabre wheels, with fake knock off centers done by the Gaylords.
They sure did a nice job at bringing the lines of the spokes into the center cap/fake spin-offs.
Fooled me at first.
Um-unique styling, indeed. The front view-at least of the car with the quad headlights-isn’t too bad, the back is relatively tied together. But the side view? I think I have seen that in too many Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the 60’s. Maybe this was the inspiration?
I have seen this car several times back in the 70’s. The Early American Museum was in Silver Springs Florida, across the street from the Silver Springs Attraction. Silver Springs was a small village just east of Ocala, on Rt. 40 It has grown in size over the years. Last time I was down that way, in the mid 2000’s after moving away in 1994, The Museum no longer exists. And it appeared that the Silver Springs attraction was closed also. It was known for being the site of the “glass bottom boats” And the filming site of the Johnny Weismiller era Tarzan Movies. Always wondered where the car ended up.
Thanks for this – I was pretty sure I saw this car in the metal once and you nailed where it was. I was at that museum near Ocala in December, 1981. My Dad and I were there reliving some Silver Springs memories from the 1950’s. That museum had some rare cars IIRC. I’m out of town but will go through some old photos and try to find it. I also have the December 1955 Motor Trend at home somewhere – the Gaylord was on the cover.
I think that was the magazine I saw it in. A lot of “Sea Hunt” was filmed in Silver Springs.
Yeah, that show too. But just the underwater scenes. Very tropical surroundings. Didn’t fit in a lot of Sea Hunts story lines. I lived in Ocala back in the 70’s and raising a family. At that time Silver Springs was free to walk around and shop the shops and eat. But you paid for the boat rides. So it was a nice “day in the park” experience, and cheap. Then ABC television network bought it and started charging general admission. Think possibly the springs clouded up, yea pollution 🙁 and that may have contributed to its demise as an attraction. But not sure.
Fascinating Imperialist. Never knew about the retractable hood. The Gaylord marks a curious dimension in US styling; highly idiosyncratic shapes by individuals who it would seem should have known better – the Stutz revival by Exner, the Loewy Jag (and others) that Jose posted above and the Phantom by Bill Mitchell. Even Tremulis is guilty of this sort of excess with his mid-60s Sarantos – two 289s inline powering a car conceived for his wife.
Along with many other contributors, thanks Mya for that side trip. A “Gentleman’s sports tourer” ? And how many low-slung vehicles have you found which have a view straight through the body just ahead of the rear axle ?
Not much interest here for open-wheeled cars — in the second half of the century, anyway ? Recall that even the boys at GM were having these kinds of fantasies — for a little while, anyway ?
There were lots of concept cars that featured open wheel designs at this time. Both front and rear. Come to think of it, this was also the era of the fenderless hot rod! Maybe it was the desire to emulate the Indy 500 race car look. Those cars had completely freestanding wheels, just like later Formula One cars. There is a book by Bruce Berghoff that covers all the GM Motorama show cars. I was lucky enough to attend the last Motorama in 1961 in San Francisco. I was seven years old at the time. I was impressed!
It looks like the kind of vehicle car obsessed 8th graders drew in the back of their notebooks in math class back in the day. I`m not really wild about the heavily chromed rear clip,but I`m liking the one with the BIG headlights. Definately looks like a car the villian would drive in a movie, but that`s what makes it cool. This car has presence.
When I was a kid there was a local gang called the Gaylords in the neighborhood. If they are still around I assume these days they have a recruiting problem.
Or maybe they just changed their name to “Lords”?
No, they would probably just sing and dance like the gangs in West Side Story.
What amazes me is that they made three working prototypes plus at least one scale model (the town car), and they all seem to have been black over white rather than showing a couple different color possiblilties – light-over-dark and maybe a metallic solid color for starters – and make it seem like more of a real car.
It’s funny how certain things imprint on your memory when you are a kid. The first car magazine I ever read was when I was 10, my grandfather gave me a Motor Trend in 1981. The cover story was the Cadillac Cimarron. They also had a review of the “bandit” TransAm, which was an aftermarket company taking new TransAms and dropping in a massaged 455. The final article I remember was their monthly Retrospective classic car feature, which was on the Gaylord. Some of the pictures above look like they may have come from that feature. I’ve since read and forgotten thousands of magazine articles, on new and classic cars, but that issue I remember 36 years later!
That front end…shades of Lady Penelope and her Rolls Royce on Thunderbirds. I could just imagine Parker piloting this car around.
From some article on eBay right now:
Thanks for posting the pictures, Ferencz.
I was wondering how the spare tire, its access panel, and the retractable roof would all interact.
Looks like the friendly local industrial steamfitter was consulted on exhaust pipe routing. 🙂
You’re welcome, JimD—–what’s below may be redundant, but it’s the rest of that 1958 writeup on eBay, if useful. (+1 for the pipefitter quip—good for a nice chuckle here!)
Brooks Stevens created some good work for W-O, Kaiser-Jeep and Studebaker but his occasional foray into one-off customs weren’t always an aesthetic success, witness “Die Valkyrie” too! Its hideous, heavy-handed and boring all at the same time. It was for sale at Hershey this year by Hyman, ltd.
I had heard of the Gaylord. Automobile Quarterly had an article on it in their Vol 12 (fourth quarter).
Forgot the photo, sorry. Brooks was having a bad design day….
I woulnd’t call it my favorite car in the World, but I kind of like it.
Like many cars, it probably looks better in person.
I can see more Cadillac parts on this one too – the Eldorado wheel covers.
Y’know, if the fins were removed, and that godawful chrome rear end re-done – in my opinion, this wouldn’t be a bad-looking car at all. Especially when compared to some of the chrome-encrusted gook wagons that GM saw fit to release for 1958.
Another Gaylord photo (chrome-moly frame):
Brooks Stevens behind the wheel: