There’s a story over at Bloomberg today that highlights the work of an engineer named Zhu Lingyun who believes, if all goes according to plan, he’ll have a two-wheeled electric pod thing on the road in two years. Always two years! Anyway, Zhu’s idea is interesting because it’s actually based off an old Ford concept, the 1961 Gyron. This makes me think it’s a great time to look back at the Blue Oval’s funky idea from a half-century ago.
First, a quick word on Zhu. Based on what Bloomberg writes, he’s definitely inspired by the Gyron:
Inspired by a Ford Motor Co. concept car from 1961 that used gyroscopes to stay upright, Zhu built a streamlined version that resembles an escape pod from a science-fiction movie. Beijing Lingyun Intelligent Technology Co. plans to build the gyrocar itself and may pick a domestic location for its factory this month, with a goal to start sales in 2020.
There’s a lot of ifs and maybes hanging on that proposition of a 2020 launch date, but at the very least, Zhu comes off humble and knows it’s a long shot.
“I was told by a potential investor that I have zero chance to make the idea work,’’ Zhu, 40, said after a test drive of a prototype called the 1703. “But I firmly believe this is the future of urban transportation because it is exquisite, energy-saving and easy to manage. I have to make it.’’
Zhu told Bloomberg he first saw the Gyron on the internet about five years ago. As he put it, he was “hooked immediately,” Bloomberg says.
How could you not be? Look at this:
The two-wheel Gyron was never meant to be a production car, just a study of sorts. The occupants sit side-by-side, and gyroscopes keep it upright while it is moving. Hemmings wrote about it a while back, and said it was the brainchild of Ford Advanced Studio boss Alex Tremulis with design work by the great futurist Syd Mead:
Nevertheless, work began in earnest on the Gyron in 1959, with designers McKinley Thompson, Syd Mead, Bill Dayton, and John Najjar contributing to the final shape of the concept car. Tremulis intended for the Gyron to be fully functional, but after getting a $60,000 quote for a two-foot-diameter gyroscope and figuring it would cost another $75,000 to complete the Gyron as a functioning car (totaling more than $1 million in today’s money), he and Najjar decided to use two outrigger wheels to keep the concept car upright.
Electric motors powered the full-size fiberglass concept car to a maximum speed of 5 MPH, and Dayton’s interior featured a center-mounted dial that controlled both speed and direction, theoretically allowing either of the two passengers to drive the car. Ford debuted the Gyron at the New York International Auto Show on April 1, 1961, then the following month moved it to the Ford Rotunda in Dearborn, where it remained until the November 1962 fire that destroyed it and the Rotunda.
It’s like a two-seater spaceship, and there’s no way it could tolerate any sort of minor collision. But goddamn does it look cool.
From the top, it’s like a weird remote control shaped thing. Here, it’s like a boat—a flimsy machine that, by the looks of it, could be tipped over if someone went up and flicked it with their index finger.
I have no idea how the public would receive Zhu’s car, but, remarkably, Bloomberg says his company has raised $60 million so far. The prototype is about 10 feet long and seats one person.
The car, per Bloomberg, can drive autonomously, or be controlled through a computer mouse and a 24-inch screen. That’s why I’m holding my breath and looking back to the goofy idea Ford pushed out more than a half-century ago. If I had to guess, we’re as likely to see the Gyron revived and put into production as we are to see Zhu’s car come to fruition.