Introduced at the 1961 Detroit motor show, the Ford Gyron was at its heart a concept car. It wasn’t just a chassis with bits bolted on, it was a glimpse of a wild and exotic future.
It came from the car mad 50s and 60s, where concept and show cars were designed purely around the notion of transporting people, a task considered so daunting it required a large and complex machine to do it. It was as if the idea of bringing back, lets say, a pint of milk from the shops was completely foreign to concept cars designers of these decades. Ah, wonderful.
Into this madness, Ford threw a car with a concept, and just to keep up with the automotive Jones, they made sure it was a barking mad concept.
The Gyron was a motorbike on car tires where the two occupants sat side-by-side, very un-motobikely protected from the elements. Clearly this was going to require passengers with a superhuman sense of balance. They’d have to be shuffling left and right like kids on too much benadryl, a kind of frantic two person mexican wave.
The guys at Ford had already foreseen this problem and fitted the car with (wait for it) gyroscopes (and don’t go telling me you didn’t see that one comming). The gyro kept the car balanced while it was moving, and when the car came to a stop bike stands kept it upright (again, you guessed that one, right?). In some of their promo material the Gyron was supported by two small rear wheels.
Since this was the sixties and doors were so passe, the Gyron was equipped this a canopy. In this case a canopy so large the entire interior would be soaking wet by the time you got it closed in a downpour.
And soaking the showroom-white interior would have been a shame because it was filled with all the gleeful hope of the fifties and sixties.
If that console display is to be believed, its designers imagined we’d spend a lot of time driving in tunnels. Perhaps that was to keep the rain out when you opened the canopy.
The seats were clearly designed by the same people that make chairs at the dentists office. If you can put up with the pain of sitting in them, dental work will be a breeze.
Between the seats was a dial to control speed and direction. Now I know some people who are pretty good at Gran Turismo 23 with only a couple of controller buttons, but the idea of breezing along in a gyro balanced, oversized motorbike with just a couple of dials to control “speed and direction” is a bit too much for me. I think I’d need something more substantial to hold on to.
So, why did Ford bother? What were they hoping to achieve. Hum, good question, I’m glad you asked (or at least I’m glad I assumed you would ask).
Well, believe it or not, the idea of gyro stabilized vehicles had been around a while before Ford jumped on the two-wheeled bandwagon. A guy called Louis Brennan patented the idea of a gyro stabilized monorail in 1903. He even built prototypes, working his way up to the 22 ton machine below.
Can you imagine that! 22 tons balanced on one wheel. Being balanced on one wheel it could lean into the corners, taking them faster and at higher g-forces. Brennan was clearly way ahead of his time, he built something that worked and moved, and whooped Ford by a good 50 years.
Why, oh why, didn’t Ford turn their plastic concept into a moving vehicle? No matter how mad it might be, it would have been the very thing they were looking to create in their cars, excitement. Sadly they gave up on the idea and led the company into their very (excuse me) pedestrian designs we see today.
In fact, the people who made the most money out of Ford’s idea were toy manufacturers.
They had to substitute a couple of extra wheels for the gyros, but they got it right when they said “Mystery car of the future”! Love it.
So, do you mourn the lack of two wheel cars on the roads today? Would we be hurtling round corners and crushing g-forces if only Ford had persevered? Or would the ditches be full of these things, like beached whales?
This may be the first vehicle-related post, or any literary form, I’ve enjoyed. 😉 Well-written and terrific use of photos, Nigel.
I imagine that back in those days, I would’ve stuck to walking and horse-back-riding. Safety measures have come a long way! Best of luck with all.
Wow, the first time you’ve commented on a vehicle-related post? Well, that’s two firsts, your the first Parisian runway model to ever post a comment on my blog!
I think I would have wanted to ride on the balancing train just for the experience. It’s amazing to me that they could build such a machine … a hundred years ago.
Thanks for the comment 🙂
The mind behind this concept went on to research more about the feasibility of a gyro-stabilized car. After leaving Ford, he teamed with Thomas Summers and build the Gyro-X in 1967. You can read an article published by Science & Mechanics magazine that year: http://cobbsblog.com/gyro/gyro-x-menu.html
Wow, when I wrote my post I had no idea there had been so many other attempts to create a gyro stabilized vehicle. I still wonder about the practicality and claims of efficiency. Yes, there are two less wheels for drag etc, but they’re replaced by a fairly significant mass of gyro. The Gyro-X does look kind of cool though. Thanks for the info.
Hold on to your gyroscopically stabilized seats! The concept is being researched these days by Thrust Cycle, and they have posted a convincing video about their prototype: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_E2H3obSxKw
It seems they used an electric regenerative brake (that stores energy from braking) by spinning a flywheel. Voilá! They discovered it worked as a gyroscopic stabilizer. Who knows? Maybe there’s a new Gyron in the future after all.
Wow! That is pretty amazing. They obviously have a good stabilized platform, I wonder how well it copes with going round corners? I’m still a little dubious about the benefits though.
I saw your new Les Paul on you site. Looks cool. What’s the story behind the iron cross?
Oh, the Iron Cross… The original guitar is a ’70 Les Paul owned by Metallica’s James Hetfield. The Cross motif goes hand in hand with the racing stripes to form sort of a custom/chopper bike theme. I can tell you, it´s a solid piece of metal that really adds mass & sustain. I couldn’t play that thing for more than five minutes!
When you say “owned by James Hetfield,” you mean its a copy … or is it the real thing? Either way it looks cool, even if it you can’t play it for long!
It’s a panstakinly made copy of the one owned by Hetfield. However, shortly after this edition, James decided to sign up a deal with ESP, so Gibson had to stop production of the Iron Cross. This only makes the Gibson version an even rarer specimen.