Gyro-X

Troutman and Barnes, the legendary Culver City, California race shop responsible for the road racing Scarab and Chaparral I designs, must have looked at Gyro Transport Systems a bit funny when they explained what they had in mind.

"Guys, so here's the deal: we'd like you to make a car with just two wheels that's held upright thanks to the force of a 20-inch gyroscopic disc that spins at 6,000 rpm. Alex Tremulis will do the design."

Tremulis has been mentioned here as the Allstate's stylist, and apparently the first choice for tackling the Gaylord Gladiator project—but as a partner in the project with gyroscope expert Thomas Summers, he was significantly more invested in making the Gyro-X a success.

It may sound silly these days, but the men knew what they were doing: they'd recently captured the motorcycle record at Bonneville using gyroscope technology, and Tremulis himself had been noodling around with the idea for years—the 1961 Ford Gyron show car was his idea.

Most efforts in space-saving car design smush vehicle length, bringing the front and rear wheels together while making everything in between start to resemble a deformed muffin, like the smart fortwo. The Gyro X was the opposite: long, low, and narrow like a canoe, I have a feeling if anything went wrong it'd be like stabbing the scenery with a letter opener.

Gyroscopes have been around for years, and were first popularized for naval navigation and are commonly used as part of a suite of tools in order to maintain heading. An aircraft's directional indicator works using a gyroscope, as did the first factory fit in-car navigation system—the Electro Gyrocator—on the Honda Legend.

Basically: get a flywheel spinning with sufficient mass and it will resist the tilt of a two-wheeled car, behaving instead like there are four tires underneath the driver, not two.

For the Gyro-X, the hydraulically-driven flywheel spun at 6,000 rpm and was sufficient to create 1,300 ft-lbs (1,763 Nm) of torque—making the car as stable as a rock, so long as the gyro was spinning…which took three full minutes to get going. There were small outriggers fitted for low-speed maneuvers and parking.

Science & Mechanics magazine claimed, in 1967—on their cover, no less—that the car was capable of banking at 40 degrees, had a top speed of 200 km/h (125 mph), and was "Impossible to skid or flip!" While fantastic, the claims had merit: significantly reducing the frontal area on any vehicle will allow it to go faster, and reducing the rolling resistance by half that of a conventional vehicle would have enabled its small 80 horsepower engine from a Mini Cooper to return sports car-like performance. It was chain driven rear-drive, just like a motorcycle. 

All of the gee-whiz bits were mounted in a tubular space frame and topped with an aluminum body. It weighed just 839 kg (1,850 pounds), had two 15-inch wheels, and was 4.7 metres (15.5 feet) long—imagine if the DeltaWing was all Delta and no Wing.

Where is it now? Undergoing restoration at the Lane Motor Museum. (Where else?!)