Back in 1967, California-based Gyro Transport Systems built a car unlike any ever built. It was a vehicle with a single seat and just two wheels.
No, it was not a motorcycle but rather a car called the Gyro-X. With one wheel in the front and one in the back, the vehicle was stabilized with a large internal gyroscope. Although it’s inventors hoped to mass produce Gyro-X, the company went bankrupt before that could happen. Only one prototype vehicle was actually made but it did demonstrate that the two-wheel, gyroscopically-stabilized automobile concept worked. Here’s the story.
The Gyro-X was created by renowned automotive designer Alex Tremulis. Tremulis was a Detroit design heavyweight, a famous stylist and an Automobile Hall of Fame inductee. He had a long list of automotive achievements under his belt, having previously designed vehicles for Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, and Tucker.
Although his projects dealt with traditional four-wheel vehicles, Tremulis became fascinated with the idea of two-wheel gyro-stabilized vehicles later in his career. When Gyro Transport Systems came calling in the mid-1960s, he didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity.
Why Two Wheels?
The people at Gyro Transport Systems insisted that two-wheel vehicles had significant advantages. First and foremost, they would have a thin profile. In fact, the Gyro-X prototype that Gyro built took up less than half the room of an ordinary car. Conceivably, a two-vehicle lane on today’s roads could comfortably fit three Gyro-X vehicles side by side.
In addition, they would be much more fuel efficient than ordinary cars. This would be because of the aerodynamic front profile and the rolling resistance of just 2 thin tires. Plus, the whole affair would weigh far less than standard cars, perhaps just 40% of the weight.
The prototype Gyro-X was a single-seater with a tubular frame and an aluminum body. The rear wheel was driven by a chain coupled to a 1,275cc four-cylinder engine from a Mini Cooper. The vehicle could reach a top speed of 125 mph and swoop through a remarkable 40-degree banked turn. It weighed in at 1,850 pounds, measured 47 inches in height, just 42 inches in width, and 15 feet 5 inches in length.
Its single 20-inch hydraulically-powered gyroscope was developed by Thomas O. Summers Jr, a famous gyrodynamist and manufacturer of gyroscopes. It spun at a rate of 6,000 rpm creating 1,300 feet pounds of torque. It did take approximately three minutes to build up to operational speed, meaning that drivers couldn’t just hop in and go. A set of small, retractable outrigger wheels held the car up when it wasn’t in motion.
The prototype was shown in 1967, garnering attention and mentions from Road & Track and Sports Cars Illustrated magazines. According to our subject matter expert at Atlantic Toyota of Amityville, a local Toyota dealer in Amityville, NY, an old magazine, Science and Mechanics, was enamored enough of the Gyro-X that it put it on the cover of its September 1967 issue. In spite of all this coverage, in 1970 Gyro Transport Systems went out of business due to a lack of funding.
Want To See It?
The one and only Gyro-X wound up at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, TN. Known around the world as the foremost home for unusual vehicles; it has more than 330 cars and motorcycles in its collection. The Gyro-X prototype is fully restored and if you are in the area, definitely worth stopping in.