Engineers, scientists and various ambitious creators have been flirting with the concept of a two-wheeled car since 1914, and they’re still at it to this day. In 1967 such a project gathered momentum and seemed for a while to promise great things. But it ended up going only one way – the wrong way.
It seems to have been lost in history, whether it was considerations revolving around traffic congestion or maybe the yet-to-come fuel crisis, which led to the development of the Gyro-X. Regardless, the small team behind it seemed committed to becoming the first to crack the many technical – and even physical – challenges which were invariably related to the concept.
Alex Tremulis was found to be the right man for the job, and he was duly given full responsibility for the design and the development work. He had previous experience as a designer with Cord, Duesenberg, General Motors, Tucker and Ford. Especially at Tucker had he gained valuable insight in avant-garde constructions, so his qualifications seemed suited for the Head of Development role with the Gyro-X project.
Numerous attempts have been made since 1914 at utilising a gyroscope to keep a two-wheeled vehicle upright. The issue with having only two wheels is obvious when the vehicle is at standstill. How does the vehicle remain upright when forward momentum isn’t contributing towards its balance? This is where the gyroscope and its rotating wheel comes into play.
A gyroscope is a mechanical device consisting of a wheel or disk mounted so that it can spin rapidly about an axis that is itself free to alter in direction. The orientation of the axis is not affected by tilting of the mounting; so gyroscopes can be used to provide stability or maintain a reference direction in navigation systems, automatic pilots, and stabilizers.
In simpler terms, it is precisely this gyro effect which makes it easier to hold your balance on a bicycle once up to speed.
Gyro-X was equipped with a hydraulically driven gyroscope. The gyro measured 22 inches across and would reach 6,000 revolutions per minute equating in 1,700 NM of torque. It would take almost three minutes for the gyro to accelerate to full effect, so you were forced to wait before driving off. But the Gyro-X was also equipped with a small pair of stabilizer wheels, which could be forced into action from within the cabin.
According to an article in Science & Mechanics from September 1967 the Gyro-X could reach a topspeed of 125 mph equating to just above 200 km/h. It weighed in at 839 kg and external dimensions were a very restrained 119 cm tall, only 107 cm wide and 470 cm in length. It rolled on two 15 inch wheels, and was powered by a 80 horsepower BMC A-series engine from a Mini Cooper S.
Tremulis would have turned 100 years of age back in January 2014. For the occasion, Lane Motor Museum in Nashville managed to purchase the only Gyro-X ever built, and spent three years restoring it back to its original state. It had clearly lived a rather rough life for a fair while and was in awful condition. Among other things, the big gyro wheel had gone missing at some point, so a new one had to be manufactured. As it had been used without a gyroscope for a number of years, a set up with an extra rear wheel had been grafted onto the car instead. This modification clearly had to go as well so the original and correct two-wheeled concept could be reinstated. In 2014 the fully restored Gyro-X was even displayed at the famous Pebble Beach concours.
I struggle to imagine what it would have been like to drive the Gyro-X. What would the handling have been like with that powerful gyroscope doing its best to keep the vehicle perfectly upright? Surely, cornering with the Gyro-X can’t have been much fun. I would have also dreaded stalling the engine at a red light or in front of your local café. Toppling over in your very smart 4.7 meter long car because you’ve lost your balance is never going to do your image any favours. Trying to save the situation by using extractable stabilizer wheels similar to those on a child’s bicycle probably isn’t going to help on that account either.
Yet, this video does seem to suggest that it was a well-developed concept which actually did work. Although I’m not too sure about speeding along at 200 km/h in it – it certainly won’t be with me at the controls.