1967 Gyro-X Self-Balancing Car To Be Restored | Edmunds

1967 Gyro-X Self-Balancing Car To Be Restored

Just the Facts:
  • The 1967 Gyro-X, a two-wheeled car stabilized by a gyroscope, has been acquired by a Nashville museum and is undergoing restoration.
  • The plan is for the car to be driven on the 100th anniversary of the birth of its creator, noted automotive designer Alex Tremulis.
  • Tremulis was responsible for the design of the Cord 810 and 812 series, a Duesenberg roadster, the 1948 Tucker, and the 1961 Ford Gyron concept car.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — The 1967 Gyro-X, a two-wheeled car stabilized by a gyroscope, has been acquired by the Lane Motor Museum and will undergo a complete restoration to working condition. The museum contracted with Honolulu-based Thrustcycle Enterprises, which specializes in gyroscopic stabilization technology, to re-create the car's gyroscope.

The restoration of the Gyro-X celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of its creator, noted automobile designer Alex Tremulis. Inducted into the Automobile Hall of Fame in 1982, Tremulis held positions with Cord, Duesenberg, Chrysler, General Motors, Tucker, and Ford from the 1930s until 1963, when he left to start his own consulting firm. His designs included a custom Duesenberg roadster and the Chrysler Thunderbolt concept car, as well as the 1948 Tucker.

The plan is to have the restoration completed and ready to drive on January 23, 2014, when Alex Tremulis would have turned 100 years old. Although Tremulis died in 1991, getting the Gyro-X on the road will serve as a fitting tribute to his innovation and perseverance.

One of Tremulis's projects for Ford was the 1961 Gyron concept car. Tremulis designed it to be fully gyro-balanced, but a gyroscope of that size would've been too expensive for a one-off vehicle. Instead, Ford built the car with outrigger wheels, needed to stabilize it at low speeds. Although that was not exactly what the designer had in mind, the Gyron got a lot of attention and prompted Tremulis to continue refining his concept.

The gyroscope, invented in 1852, consists of a spinning disc or wheel mounted on an axis that can turn freely in any direction while maintaining its orientation, regardless of any movement of the base on which it is mounted. This ability to resist moving with its base makes the gyroscope ideal for stabilizing control systems in missiles, airplanes, ships, and — it turns out — cars.

The advantages of gyrocars, according to their proponents, are reduced weight, narrow profile, low energy consumption, more speed with a smaller engine, and safer cornering. There's also the cool factor, banking into turns and balancing on two wheels while standing still. Quite a few prototypes have been built through the years, although none have gone into production for a number of reasons. Among others, they're expensive to build, have a large turning radius, and spooling up a gyroscope large enough to stabilize a car can take several minutes.

Still, fascinated by the technology, Tremulis plunged ahead with the Gyro-X. The car was unveiled in 1967 and appeared on the cover of the September issue of Science and Mechanics that year. The single-seat Gyro-X was 15.5 feet long, balanced on two 15-inch wheels, weighed 1,850 pounds and was powered by a BMC 1,275cc, 80-horsepower engine. According to the magazine, the car could reach speeds up to 125 mph, bank at 40 degrees, and was "impossible to skid or flip."

The Gyro-X was designed by Tremulis and built by racecar specialists Troutman and Barnes. The gyro system was developed by Thomas O. Summers Jr., an aircraft inventor and founder of the Summers Gyroscope Co., which primarily manufactured navigation instruments. The gyro for the Tremulis car was hydraulically powered, 20 inches in diameter, spun at 6,000 rpm, and developed 1,300 pound-feet of torque. Summers's work on the stabilization system for the Gyro-X was innovative enough to earn him a U.S. patent in 1969.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with such projects, ideas outpaced financing, and the Gyro-X never made it into production. The prototype went through many hands, deteriorating badly and losing its original gyroscope, before ending up with the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, known for its collection of unusual cars, including many foreign models rarely seen in the United States.

Lane's experts will handle the bulk of the restoration, while the specialists at Thrustcycle will re-create the gyroscope and its control system from scratch. The company is uniquely qualified to take on the project, having developed its own prototype gyroscopically stabilized two-wheeled vehicles.

"The Gyro-X used a hydraulic control system in its gyroscopic system, which is not what we normally use," Thrustcycle CEO Clyde Igarashi told Edmunds. "But it does present certain advantages, and we have already learned a few things."

Igarashi noted that "Thomas Summers, the man who developed the gyroscopic system for the Gyro-X, was a mentor to our technical director, David Ryker. David is reconstructing the system based on his knowledge of it through conversations with Mr. Summers."

Edmunds says: Gyrocars may or may not be a viable option for future transportation, but they are fascinating, and the Gyro-X is an important part of automotive history.

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