The 1955-1957 Gaylord, one of the most intriguing vehicles in auto history, was designed by an unlikely duo. Jim and Ed Gaylord were heirs to a fortune: their father had invented the bobby pin, an inoffensive little piece of metal that proved to be worth a couple dozen oil wells on the world market.
Growing up in the late 1930s, the brothers Gaylord could have anything they wanted. Most often this turned out to be a fast car, anything from the 1949 V-8 Cadillac which Ed claimed would lose a Jaguar on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, to the cream of European exotica.
But Jim and Ed were not your run-of-the-mill rich kids; they were natural engineers, who made it their business to learn everything they could about cars. When in 1954 they decided to build the ultimate production sports car, those who knew them actually thought they might succeed.
The concept of the 1955-1957 Gaylord was world-class performance combined with luxury-car refinement: total isolation from noise and vibration. To achieve these seeming self-canceling goals, the Gaylords decided to spend whatever it took, hence the 1955-1957 Gaylord's estimated retail price of $10,000. (Jim soon decided this was not enough to cover costs, so he blithely raised the tab to $17,500.)
The frame was constructed of chrome-moly tubing, to which were attached channel steel perimeters and a strong steel platform. The insides of the tubes were rustproofed and all were sealed, making condensation impossible.
The suspension of the 1955-1957 Gaylord looked conventional, but wasn't. The independent front wishbones used oversized rubber bushings and had "maximum triangulation," in Jim Gaylord's words. This gave enormous wheel travel, but relatively little movement at the mounting points. The suspension was lubed with permanent molybdenum disulfide; ten years before the no-grease chassis, the Gaylords put one on the street.
Detail features on the 1955-1957 Gaylord included variable-ratio power steering (controlled manually with a dashboard knob); modified Hydra-Matic (no shift occurred until peak rpm was reached in any gear, unless it was shifted manually); a "no-creep" feature; double-safe instruments featuring both needle gauges and warning lights. The engine was initially a 331 Chrysler hemi, but Ed Cole convinced the brothers that the 1956 Cadillac 365 was lighter and quieter.
To learn more about the development and design of the 1955-1957 Gaylord, keep reading.
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The styling of the 1955, 1956, 1957 Gaylord, by Brooks Stevens Associates, wasn't up to the engineering, mainly because of a contradictory goal: "a modern car with classic overtones."
For example, the Gaylords had wanted P-100 headlamps -- but they made the car look like a malevolent four-foot owl, and had to be scrubbed. They also wanted to revive the classic "open wheel" look. This was tried on the prototype, but proved impractical -- it allowed road grit to pepper the bodywork.
Conventional wheel wells were then used, the wheels decorated with Eldorado Sabre Spoke wheel covers bearing special "double G" emblems. The door design of the 1955-1957 Gaylord, which Stevens called the "Washington coach door," looked terrific -- a sleek upward cut, opening along the line of the ivory two-tone color panel, itself inspired by the classics.
Final touches of novelty on the 1955-1957 Gaylord were a retractable hardtop which disappeared into the deck, and a spare tire that slid out from a rear panel and flopped upright on the road, where it could easily be rolled into position.
The retractable top on the 1955-1957 Gaylord -- much simpler than the later Ford Skyliner's -- required only one motor for the whole operation, and the sequence could be reversed at any point. When GM's chairman saw the Gaylord top retract at the Paris Auto Salon in 1955, he remarked to his cadre of engineers, "You bastards told me this couldn't be done. So how did these idiots do it?"
Shown widely in America and Europe during 1955-1956, the Gaylord was ordered by everybody from Dick Powell to King Farouk, but the project lingered, withered, and fell apart -- in the end only a show chassis and three complete cars were built.
Tremendous problems of fit and finish occurred with the bodies on the 1955-1957 Gaylord, built by Spohn (prototype) and Luftschiffbau Zeppelin (later models). In the midst of a lawsuit against Zeppelin for failing to perform, the strain got to Jim Gaylord and he had a nervous breakdown. His family prevailed on him to let the project die.
The prototype 1955-1957 Gaylord with open wheel wells was broken up, and one "production" car disappeared in Europe -- it may still exist. The third car, along with a magnificently crafted show chassis, is on display at the Early American Museum in Silver Springs, Florida, to which it was donated by the Gaylords. It remains a monument to two bright guys, a benchmark in automotive history.
See the specifications of the 1955-1957 Gaylord on the next page.
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1955, 1956, 1957 Gaylord Specifications
Despite major buzz at the Paris Auto Salon and pre-orders from celebrities and royalty, production problems and Jim Gaylord's personal problems led to the cessation of the line before it even started. Check out the specifications of the 1955-1957 Gaylord below to see what could have been.
Engine: ohv V-8, 365.0 cid (4.00 × 3.63), 305 bhp
Transmission: modified 4-speed Hydra-Matic with anti-creep feature
Suspension, front: independent, coil springs, tube shocks
Suspension, rear: live axle, leaf springs, tube shocks
Brakes: front/rear drums
Wheelbase (in.): 100
Weight (lbs): 3,985
Top speed (mph): 125
0-60 mph (sec): 9.0
Production: 2, plus one prototype