The elegant 1950s Gaylord concept cars were born when the end of World War II promised prosperity unknown to Americans since before the Great Depression.
That promise was realized to a degree sufficient to encourage a good many dreamers and millionaires -- not always one and the same -- to try their hands at the car business. Most came up with pretty absurd results, confirming the view of Road & Track magazine founder John R. Bond that a little knowledge about cars can be right dangerous.
Brothers Jim and Ed Gaylord were different -- rich to be sure, but devoted enthusiasts and serious about cars. Their father, who had invented the bobby pin and been smart enough to patent it, thus assuring the family fortune, had owned Marmons, Lincolns, Packards, and Pierce-Arrows. His sons grew up hot-rodding Packards, Cadillacs, and LaSalles.
Speed engineer Andy Granatelli once built a Packard for Ed Gaylord that was the fastest thing on wheels in late-1940s Chicago, and the police had the records to prove it. The brothers were also personal friends of Ed Cole, the master General Motors engineer, and spent many hours examining that company's latest experiments.
Jim Gaylord was the more visionary of the brothers, and in 1949 he met with Alex Tremulis, then finishing up as styling chief for the troubled, short-lived Tucker Corporation in Chicago. Tremulis recalled that Gaylord had just stopped by to talk cars, but the conversation ran long into the night.
Five years later, Tremulis was working at Ford when Gaylord dropped by again. "Alex, I'm going to build the world's finest sports car," he declared, "and you're going to style it for me."
Tremulis refused, knowing his employers took a dim view of freelancing, but recommended Milwaukee designer Brooks Stevens, who would later build the Excalibur J sports cars and had ample experience with Alfa Romeo, Kaiser-Frazer, Willys-Overland, and American Motors. Jim promptly called Stevens, who immediately agreed to design the sports car.
What Gaylord wanted was a modern two-seat envelope body with classic overtones -- namely an upright radiator and big headlights -- plus a 100-inch wheelbase and even a retractable hardtop. Via several prior projects, Stevens had developed a respect for the Spohn works in Ravensburg, West Germany, and suggested that the prototype be built by that firm. Introduction was slated for the 1955 Paris Auto Salon.
Learn about the two iterations of the Gaylords' car by continuing to the next page.