Bold from the Past: Ford Gyron

The early 1960s was a time of both high hopes and high anxiety. The term “computer” was barely a household word, leading scientists to imagine a day when the average person would have their own electronic calculator. The space race with the Soviets was well under way, and men and animals were orbiting the earth. At the same time, the specter of nuclear war hung like a cloud over the thoughts of the American public. Their fears were made worse by the tensions of the Cold War. Companies were busy installing underground fallout shelters in backyards coast to coast. During this turbulent time, Ford unveiled a concept car in 1961 that was thought to represent what motorists might be driving in the years ahead. Known as the Gyron, it was part car and part motorcycle, with a body design inspired by rocket ships and flying saucers. RELATED: See More Concept Car Photos The Gyron was a two-wheeled vehicle based on the ideas of Louis Brennan (1853-1932), an engineer originally from Ireland who pioneered the use of gyroscopically-stabilized motion. In 1877, he patented a torpedo guided by gyroscopes. Later, he worked on early monorail and helicopter designs. His ideas were studied decades after his death by Alex Tremulis, an industrial designer who worked for Ford in the 1960s. Tremulis was a pioneer by nature. In the 1940s, he came up with an idea for a spacecraft that would return to earth like a giant glider (can anyone say “space shuttle?”). He also worked with the military, drawing up preliminary plans for a human-built flying saucer that never went into production – or so goes the official story. RELATED: The CAMI Terra Win is the Go Anywhere, Do Anything Amphibious RV In 1948, he designed the legendary Tucker sedan. It had futuristic features like a perimeter frame and integrated roll bar for crash protection, a rotating third headlight to see around upcoming corners, and – especially controversial at the time – seatbelts. By the latter half of the 1950s, he was working for Ford. Ever the futurist, he made repeated efforts to see what form vehicles would take in the decades ahead. The 1961 Gyron was one of the results. The design was a cross between a jet and a motor boat, with an eye-shaped front grille, swept back aerodynamic windshield, and fin-like rear. During travel, the Gyron was kept balanced by gyroscopes. Supporting legs popped out of the side when it came to a halt. The interior was relatively spartan, with both passengers seated side by side in seats that had a distinctly utilitarian appearance. Speed and direction were controlled by a central dial. The vehicle had a brief career. It was displayed at the 1961 Detroit Auto Show, where it received some attention from the press but generated little popular buzz, though it did inspire a battery-powered toy version. PHOTOS: See all the debuts from the 2014 Detroit Auto Show One might conclude that the entire project was a wasted effort. But “one” would be drastically wrong in that regard. The idea of a car/motorcycle hybrid lived on, and is found today in the German-built MonoTracer, which looks like one of the funnest rides $100,000.00 will buy these days. Monotracer UK AGM 2009  Monotracer Bedford 000 With a top speed of 155 mph and an economy rating of 50 mpg, it may well be the ultimate combination of efficiency and excitement. Brennan and Tremulis would both be proud.