My Car Quest

June 12, 2024

The Gaylord Gladiator

It came, it went and I miss it…

by Wallace Wyss –

Like many a car aficionado, I yearn to have a car with my own nameplate. Just last week I saw Jay Leno toodling about in a Cunningham and I thought how lucky Briggs Cunningham was to be able to build a car to his own design.

But the more I look at my taste, I am wondering if it’s increasingly becoming totally out of whack with the modern world. It turns out I like cars like the Gaylord. Count me in for ostentation.

Gaylord Gladiator

Gaylord Gladiator

The 1955-1956 Gaylord Gladiator two door coupe was an American automobile that offered luxury car refinements and sports car performance. Perhaps it indulged too much in the fads of the auto industry at the time so that the result is that now it looks very dated.

Gaylord Gladiator

Gaylord Car Ltd. Of Chicago was started by two brothers, James and Edward Gaylord. Their father invented the bobby pin so let’s say if they weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouths it came along eventually.

Gaylord Gladiator

They decided they didn’t just want a Jaguar or Ferrari, no, they would design their own luxury car and did. They went to Wisconsin designer Brooks Stevens who, being a classic car collector had the same ideas about grandiose grilles and huge headlamps, recalling the features of prewar grand touring cars.

Gaylord Gladiator

The German coachbuilder Herman Spohn was selected to build the Gaylord Gladiator. One site called says Zeppelin in Germany was the production car builder. Yes, the same people that made the blimps! Spohn’s coachwork was impeccable, it’s just that he wasn’t able to dissuade them from some of what I’d have to call “Americanisms.”

Gaylord Gladiator

There were two different models of the Gaylord Gladiator, the two door with the disappearing top and a four door.

In 1955 the brothers set as their goal the production figure of 25 cars per year with a price tag of $10,000. If you think about it a three bedroom house in the ‘burbs back then was about $15,000 so it was pretty pricey. They showed the first one at the 1955 Paris auto show and the ousted Egyptian King Farouk bought one to cruise about the Cote d’Azur in and in Hollywood actor Dick Powell stepped up to the plate.

Gaylord Gladiator

Now if the Gaylord brothers had been paying much attention to patents they would have patented their retractable hardtop (though I think a French company offered that before WWII). Like the Chrysler powered Dual Ghias, the prototype Gaylord Gladiator had a Chrysler V8–a 365 cubic inch 305 horsepower unit connected to a Hydra-Matic four speed transmission. But in those days Cadillac was also thought to have a powerful engine so in 1956 the Gaylords were displayed at the 1956 New York auto show with Cadillac V8s.

The chassis, designed by Jim Gaylord, was purpose built, of chrome molybdenum, independent in front, using coil springs and tube shocks. Rear suspension was typical Detroit with a live axle, leaf springs and tube shocks. Drum brakes were on all four wheels, (discs only beginning to be used in the UK on race cars). Costs kept climbing and by 1956 they had to up the price to $17,500. Only the Spohn prototype and three production cars (those Cadillac powered) were made by 1957.

I’ve only seen one interior picture, and it was your basic slab of wood with a row of gauges, similar to Rolls Royce or even the modern day Clenet Series 2, another modern car built to recall prewar car glamor.

Gaylord Gladiator

So what do I like about it? The inset vertical grille which I think was also on the Facel Vega, but especially well done on the Facel II. I liked the big round headlamps that looked like Lucas P100 on the prototype but now think they were a bit over the top even then and I could live with the quads on later versions.

The two tone paint schemes are a fad that came and went, and I think they are a bit distracting on cars that have a nice body shape. The scooped out side is another fad, they add some character but are on the edge of being too much. The tailfins aren’t as bad (as tall) as a ’59 Caddy or some ‘50s Chrysler but definitely date the design if they bring it back (aren’t there any Gaylord grandchildren that want to revive Gramp’s designs?). The vertical chrome assemblage on the rear really isn’t needed.

So don’t worry about me rolling out a four wheeled assemblage bearing a chrome nameplate, I know the auto biz is not the same anymore. Now you can’t just build what you like, you have to deal with the “initial” agencies, the NHTSA, the DOT, the EPA and whatnot.

Gaylord Gladiator

I’m hoping some Silicon Valley entrepreneur, flush with cash and eager to enshrine himself in automotive history, builds an exotic sports car that will, in one fell swoop, challenge Rolls Royce, Bentley and the top tier. But don’t hold your breath, even the Gaylord Gladiator was obsolete in styling before the paint was dry….

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of the “Incredible Barn Finds” series of books available straight from the publisher, Enthusiast Books, at (715) 381 9755.



Gaylord Gladiator

The Gaylord Gladiator
Article Name
The Gaylord Gladiator
The Gaylord brothers decided they didn’t just want a Jaguar or Ferrari, no, they would design their own luxury car and did. It was called the Gaylord Gladiator.


  1. Wallace: If I remember correctly, in addition to being an automotive enthusiast and historian, you are also a painter. So I have a suggestion: Pour yourself your favorite relaxation beverage, set up your drawing tools and put your personal Wyss Automobile design(s) to paper, canvas or screen. I’m sure all of us “My Car Quest” readers would love to see your ideas.

    Best Regards,

  2. Wallace: Yes , it would be very interesting to see YOUR car, however it’s a long haul until the design details are worked out on paper whether it’s a production version to actually be built or as a “concept” ideation that you can take visual liberties with knowing that you don’t have to invest the time solving production problems. I am currently wrapping up a 1:5 clay model of “my” car design. It’s hard to design an “undated” design. I found that I needed to keep updating constantly, thinking about 5 years into the future and not getting caught in fad styling trends while at the same time taking note of new design directions.

  3. I think many of us Car Guys have made an attempt or two – or a thousand – to draw our dream car, even if these drawings were feeble or fabulous. It was Ed Roth who inspired me to sketch my first idea of a Hot Rod; didn’t matter that my art sucked – as long as the gear shift was ripping through the roof, the slicks were on fire and the engine was blown. My teenage buddies thought I was a great “Car Designer”.

    What I like about the Gaylord car and story is how truly ridiculous the design is – in a good way. The only thing missing is the kitchen sink (and a gear shift ripping through the roof!).

    So wouldn’t it be cool to see some ideas from Wallace and the Car Quest fans on what would be a personally cool car – even if the art were crude and amateurish. In fact, the less sophisticated the better. Let’s not worry about the practicality of the design or production realities. Let’s just have a quest for car design fun.

    What do you think Mike; might there be a way show some ideas on your site?

  4. Charles Leonard Coker says

    the 365 V8 engine in the Gadiator is a Cadillac Eldorado engine, not a Chrysler engine.

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