The following letters, accounts and photos come directly from Alex Tremulis' archives and show rare glimpses behind the scenes on two different but inter-related facets to the Gyroanut story. The first part illustrates how the Gyronaut was initially to be powered by one of Carroll Shelby's race engines. The second part, shows Tremulis' efforts to create a rear spoiler for his wife Chrissie's 1965 Ford Mustang and how it may have influenced the design of one of the most iconic muscle cars of all time: Carroll Shelby's Mustang GT350's and GT500's. The Gyronaut reigned king as the World's Fastest Motorcycle throughout much of the production runs of the Shelby Mustangs...
Part 1: The Shelby Cobra-Powered Gyronaut
A quick note from Tremulis who already saw that in order for the little Cobra to make full use of its potential, it was going to have to be seriously streamlined. Peter Brock's stunning Cobra "Daytona" Coupe was a full 20mph faster than its roadster counterpart, enabling it to finally beat its Ferrari competition the following year.
Between Frank Zimmerman and Don Frey, Ford had already placed their "go-to" guys for the project. A high-horsepowered Christmas present from Santa was in the works. These were the days when a man's word and a handshake were the only things required to begin a major project.
Gaining support for the gyros, however, was not going to be easy. Two companies, Lear and Sperry, were both approached, but neither was yet convinced that getting a speed record with the risks involved was going to be a worthy project.
Part 2: The First Rear Spoiler for the 1965 Shelby GT350?
The man sculpting the spoiler looks to be Vince Gardner, who had also worked with Tremulis at Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg in the 1930's. Gardner would also go on to build the Gyronaut's fiberglass body as well!
Chrissie Tremulis with her pristine-looking Mustang 2+2. She had no idea what was in store for her new ride.
The spinner hubcaps seem to be the only non-stock exterior addition at this point.
Chrissie's bespoilered pony car makes an appearance at Walt Arfons' place where the Wingfoot Express II is being readied for a trial run at an airstrip in Ohio. By September 1965, the Wingfoot Express was at Bonneville undergoing its final land speed record attempts.
In a special arrangement with Goodyear, Tremulis helped with the design of Arfons' record car in exchange for private salt time at Bonneville for the Gyronaut runs.
Above and left, Chrissie's car alongside Bob and Bill Summers' Goldenrod streamliner during what looks like a preliminary trial run. Except for the spoiler and the stripes, the 2+2 still appears stock.
The final runs for the Goldenrod were made in November 1965, but these photos appear to pre-date their final record-setting run.
In trying to solve the suspension problems of the Gyronaut X-I, it was necessary to make a number of trips to the shops and experts in the Los Angeles area. Tremulis was driving a 1965 Mustang that belonged to his wife, Chrissie, who was driving his Thunderbird at her job in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Tremulis was experimenting with a spoiler, a horizontal air foil at the rear of the car, which he hoped would serve to hold down the tail at high speed. He had run it at 125mph on the salt and it handled beautifully, but that's not fast enough for the real test.
While he was in the Los Angeles area he decided to show the spoiler-equipped Mustang to Carroll Shelby, designer of the famed Shelby American, a really fine racing car. Shelby and Tremulis disagreed over the effect the spoiler would have on the Mustang. Shelby felt it might tend to push the tail down and confound the already bad habit of Mustangs to get airborne in the front at about 130mph. Tremulis theorized his spoiler would create a new, high velocity vortex that would tend to suck air underneath the car and hold the nose down. It was a theory at this point and to test it required greater speed.
First, he got some big tires to step his gear ratio up from 3 1/2 to 3. Then he went to see Joe Granatelli, one of the big forces in developing fast cars. He asked Granatelli to supercharge the Mustang. Granatelli suggested as a friend: "Look, Alex, you're 52. Why go out there on the salt flats and kill yourself?" But he agreed to supercharge the Mustang and did. Three days later, Tremulis is back at Bonneville.
"Wow, the Mustang had zap! I take it out on the 10-mile circle and it can move. I do the last five miles coming in at 145mph and it handled like a dream. I begin thinking about a speed run for it."
In the meantime, Tremulis uses the Mustang as an observing chase car as Leppan puts the Gyronaut X-I through experimental runs. He easily glides along the salt at 145mph in this Mustang that is still a streetable car. The Gyronaut is having problems, now mostly transmission difficulties in trying to harness two Triumph engines, but also continued breaking of chains. Leppan has had runs of 227mph and on this particular day it appeared that maybe everything is ready for a run that will put it over 230mph, but Leppan has spent about all the time in a hot fire suit he can stand for the time being and decides to call it a day, try again tomorrow.
"I'm down at the 10-mile markers and I wanted to salvage something out of the day, so I called into the timers and tell them to get ready, I'm coming through for a shot at the class B record. I've had runs of 152 and 154mph and I'm confident that this 271 hp Mustang, now supercharged to 420 hp will do it. If I hadn't been such an amateur, it would have, too."
What happened was he started too fast, poured too much coal to it, revved the engine to 6,800 rpm on the tachometer. At 155 mph the aerodynamic drag hit its maximum for the body design. The engine was now turning 7500 in 3rd gear and Tremulis wasn't into his speed trap yet. Smoke trails poured out of the exhausts, tbe temperature gauge climbed.
"By this time there are two jet trails of smoke pouring out and I throw everything into neutral and coast to a stop. I've punched two holes in pistons." He was pushed back into the pits, Chrissie's Mustang, all super-charged and spoiled, is now also burned out.
So, according to Tremulis' account, this would have followed his meeting with Shelby about the spoiler. It would appear that Tremulis did some shopping at Shelby's plant.
In any case, after stable runs in the mid-150's, the Mustang's spoiler concept was finally proven to be of use at high speeds.
The height of the little streamliner is deceptively low: Most of the car sits just above the axle height of the Mustang.
Where this car is today is unknown, but the Bonneville salt combined with Detroit's harsh winter probably didn't bode well for its survival...
More research is certainly warranted to determine which spoiler was, in fact, the very first and if Tremulis' had any influence whatsoever on the Shelby Mustang prototype that incorporated the first factory-installed rear spoiler. Or was it just another attempt to provide customization at the very start of the pony car wars? Has there been any new information that's been found in the historical record that sheds new light on these designs?
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