The 1955-57 Gaylord "Gladiator" is one of
the rarest and most unique of the 1950's cars. Developed by the
super-rich Gaylord Brothers
of Chicago to compete with the
world's best vehicles, including Rolls-Royce, the captivating shape
of this ultra-luxury sports car was penned by
, who later went on to create the "neo-claissical"
cars of the 60's and 70's. The Gladiator featured a retractable hardtop, a tire that slid
out on a tray from the back of the vehicle and was to be
manufactured by Zeppelin in Germany, for ultimate quality! It made its world
appearance at the 1955 salon de Paris. Unfortunately, 25 orders
were needed to keep the project afloat, but they never came.
There were actually two versions of the Gladiator. The
prototypes, handcrafted by Spohn Company in Ravensburg, Germany
(shown above), came in two versions, a 2 door and a 4 door, both
with exposed front wheels and huge headlights.
The "production" version, shown in the photos below was made by
Lufschiffbau Zeppelin in Freidreichshaven, Germany (yes,
had enclosed front wheels and "quad" headlights. I much prefer
the prototypes, however, that fender/headlight style was dropped
apparently because of roadway debris. The enclosed wheel wells
featured illumination. (Jim Gaylord was such a perfections that
he is rumored to have had a nervous breakdown as the project
As for performance, the original Gladiator was powered by a
Hemi V-8 (also used in the gorgeous
Chrysler C-300) but the production versions were to have a
305 hp Cadillac V-8. The Gaylord weighed over 4,000 pounds, yet
could hit 120 mph easily and accelerate from 0-60 mph in 8
seconds, which was pretty spectacular for the day. So was the
price: $17,500! That was almost twice as much as the most
expensive Cadillac of the time, the stunning
El Dorado Brougham.
The Gaylord's retractable roof was particularly ingenious. With
the push of a button, the rear decklid lifted on a pair of
electric supports, then the top was pulled back into the trunk
by a chain drive. The roof itself contained a recessed rear
window and extractor vents for stale cabin air. Ford stylists
took many photos of this system, but the later Ford retractable
system, which first appeared in the
Skyliner, was a much more complicated affair than that in
Jim Gaylord had designed a very strong
chrome-molybdenum tubular chassis, using coil springs and
A-arms for the front suspension and a beam axle with leaf
springs for the rear. The suspension make extensive use of
rubber and the passenger compartment was virtually impervious to
shock from rough road surfaces.
Unfortunately, only the Spohn prototype and three Zeppelin-made Gladiators ever saw the light
of day and the Gladiator is now just an interesting footnote in automotive
history. Two of the Gaylords were last seen at the
Early American Museum in Silver Springs, Florida, although
it appears to have shut down. One is supposedly in Germany.
Rumors abound. Unfortunately, other attempts to locate the Gaylords have met only with
You can watch a Gladiator in
The Gladiator was the recipient of a
full review in 1981 in Special Interest Autos.