1957: A car that looks like a tuxedo – hello Gaylord Gladiator!

Did you know? The Zeppelin Group once manufactured a car that looked like it was made for a Hollywood movie. It appears similar to Batman’s Batmobile or a tuxedo out of the 1920s. It has 305 horsepower and measures more than 4 meters in length. The Zeppelin Group made history with that one of a kind automobile. We proudly present: the Gaylord Gladiator made in 1957!

How it began: Two wealthy brothers and a dream

Jim and Ed Gaylord were two American brothers that had a soft spot for cars and everything that was fast and expensive. Their father made the family rich by inventing the famous “Bobby Pin”, a hair needle that would rescue many woman around the world from bad hair days ever since. In the early 1950s the brothers were looking for a new toy: a truly exceptional sports car built for them. That would if built successful – become the dream car of many Americans. The design of the car hailed from the famous Brooks Stevens, an American design legend and true expert on his field. The realization of the car was meant to come from Germany – because the brothers already knew the quality label of  “made in Germany” back then.

The Gaylord brothers with their Gaylord Gladiator. ©Archive of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH

Quality made in Germany

After failing with the first bodywork the brothers decided to give the task to the so-called “FIF”, a vehicle repair facility at Friedrichshafen. Building the car took more than a year, lots of sleepless nights, many transatlantic calls and frequent travels of the brothers between America and Friedrichshafen. But they never gave up, believed in their dream end kept on working on the spectacular car. And in the end the FIF delivered. In 1957 the car was finally ready. And in 1960, the FIF would go on to become part of the Zeppelin Group.

Ahead of its time: technical sophistication meets German workmanship

Looking at the features of the car, one could tell that the Gaylord brothers did not only have a fine taste. They also had a sense of what modern cars of today would be equipped with. The car had convenient features such as electrically adjustable seats, electric windows, power steering, brake servos and air conditioning. The Gaylord Gladiator also came with a convertible roof that could be folded down completely into the trunk at the touch of a button. It had spare wheel that could be conveniently slided out by just tipping a finger and an interior space equipped with fine dark wood. The signature element, a sword, was not only integrated into armatures like the clock or the speedometer. Also the key of the Gaylord Gladiator was a sword, again proving the exquisite and luxurious approach of the car. 

The price was high – and the Gaylord way too expensive

Despite the sophisticated overall concept the plan to produce a small batch of 25 vehicles for sale at a price of USD 10,000 each never saw the light of day. The car was simply too expensive in production. Only one of the 25 cars was ever built, marking the Gaylord Gladiator a true one of its kind on this earth.

After finishing the car, it soon became apparent that the calculated sales price was unrealistic. To remain economically viable, the price was first raised to USD 15,000 before being revised upward again to USD 17,500. Assuming an exchange rate of DM 4.20 to the dollar in 1957, the Gaylord Gladiator cost more than DM 73,500 in 1957. By way of comparison, a Mercedes 300 SL cost around 32,000 Deutschmarks back then! The unique Gaylord Gladiator therefore was never replicated, it stayed the only automobile of its type in the world. And an unique specimen in the classic car industry. Looking at the exquisite and extraordinary craft, the car is also a true gem of Friedrichshafen’s industrial heritage.

How the story of the Gaylord continued

In total, only three chassis of the Gaylord Gladiator were produced in all, with the bodywork only being completed on one of them. So besides the finished Gaylord Gladiator, there existed two more chassis. One of them got completely lost and was never found again, the other one was in the possession of the Gaylord family (together with lots of spare parts). As time went by, the Gaylord Gladiator and the single remaining chassis were part of the Gaylord family and therefore preserved very well. In the mid-90’s, the Gaylords decided to put the Gaylord Gladiator in restoration so that the car would be preserved for many more years to come. After the death of Jim Gaylord, his wife and widow became owner of the Gaylord Gladiator and the single remaining chassis in 1999. She then sold both items (including the spare parts, design drawings and other historical documents) to an elderly automobile collector from Arizona in 2015. The collector had a heart for the car and began researching its origins. He then stumbled upon the engraving “Zeppelin” in the engine compartment of the car and contacted the Zeppelin Museum in early 2017.

How the Gaylord found its way back to Zeppelin

From then on, pure chance led to the Zeppelin Group reclaiming this unique specimen. In early 2017, the Zeppelin Group received an invitation via the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen to buy the classic car – a stroke of luck for the Group, as the vehicle had lain under the radar for many years and was believed to be lost. The Zeppelin Group decided to buy the car, the remaining chassis and all belonging documents, to honor and preserve the Groups history. It is now permanently on display in the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen as a loan from the Zeppelin Group. Together with the chassis, the Gaylord Gladiator is a major attraction for the city of Friedrichshafen and at the same time historical evidence of the city’s great innovative strength.

Visit the Gaylord Gladiator in Friedrichshafen!

Drop by the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen to have a glance at the historical and unique Gaylord Gladiator and the single remaining chassis!

The opening hours of the Zeppelin Museum list as follows:

Mai – October: daily from 9 am until 5 pm (last entry to the museum at 4.30 pm).

November – April: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm (last entry to the museum at 4.30 pm).

Find more information on the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen here.

For more information on the glorious Gaylord Gladiator, click here.

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