No, I’m not making that name up! A concept by the iconic Brooks Stevens, a famous American industrial designer, specifically in home furnishings, appliances, cars and motorbikes, the idea for the Gladiator came from a request by billionaire brothers Jim and Ed Gaylord, who desired the ultimate sports car for the late 1950’s.
The car was largely based off General Motors underpinnings, but desired a competitive edge over its contemporaries by combining the style and elegance with the reliability and build quality of BMW’s and Mercedes’. The first prototype was fitted with a 331ci Chrysler Hemi engine and GM Hydra-Matic transmission, modified so that full-throttle automatic upshifts came at peak revs. The chassis however was completely the product of Jim Gaylord, a strong chromemoly tube type with coil springs and A-arms in front and a beam axle on leaf springs at the rear, all very well damped.
The car was built to be the epiphany of style, with a long smooth body and protruding fins from the rear, a staple of the time. Most other parts of the styling were derived from Pre-war classics of the 1930’s, including a vertical grille that was slanted forward and large headlights. Front fenders were angled to match, and were also cut back around the front wheels to leave them fully exposed.
The initial prototype made its début at the 1955 Paris Auto Salon, but due to delays in construction the car was essentially hashed together at the last minute and arrived just in time. The car did attract some attention by the motoring press, and the Brothers Gaylord took this as a driving force behind creating further prototypes.
For the second prototype, it was decided to tone down the bombastic headlights and clean up the general styling. The light clusters were sized down to resemble those that would later appear on the likes of the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III. The body was made much crisper and the rear bumper had disappeared; in its place was a two-piece bumper that housed the exhaust outlets and left the entire centre section of the car vulnerable.
An innovative addition thanks to Jim was a retractable hardtop, with a recessed rear window and integral air-extractor vents, thus pioneering “flow-through” ventilation. At the touch of a button, the rear deck lifted and a chain drive pulled the top back into the trunk. In this, the Gaylord was a full year ahead of Ford’s 1957-59 Skyliner, which was considerably more complicated. The final change to the prototype was the change of the Chrysler Hemi to a Cadillac V8.
The brothers attempted to get the cars off the ground with a promotional campaign, and set a pre-order price of $17,500, equivalent today of $149,000. This price however was not particularly endearing to the customer base, especially when the more established car companies were producing models of similar quality and style with a lower price.
The brothers had set a target of at least 25 orders for new vehicles if they were to continue to forward the project, but the sheer lack of interest resulted in only three prototypes being built, the original 1955 prototype, and two 1957 prototypes. As such, the brothers conceded defeat and the Gaylord Gladiator disappeared forever.
To be honest, the design of the 1957 prototype does look very good, and would certainly turn a few heads, added to by the power of a Cadillac V8 and some fairly innovative features. However, I doubt you’d get away with a car named a Gaylord Gladiator these days, I’d change my car’s name to Chuck! :S