Blogs at Amazon

« Comparing trucks | Main | Living the Car Lust Lifestyle: Owni »

Gordon Diamond

Diamondcrop

If you think Car Lust features a lot of weird and quirky cars, then today's car should really raise your eyebrows. If it looks a little strange, well, that's because it is.

The car illustrated here is the Gordon Diamond--built in California by H. Gordon Hanson in the mid-1940s; Hanson conceived the car in 1943 at the height of World War II. He built the prototype in 1945 and licensed it in 1947. No further Diamonds were produced, but the one prototype was enough to blow some minds. Namely, mine.

As the name implies, the Diamond's wheels were arranged in a diamond pattern. Instead of two wheels in front and two in back, the Diamond featured individual wheels at the front and rear, which steered in opposite directions to enhance maneuverability. This presaged the four-wheel-steer systems decades later, which counter-steered at low speeds. The more modern systems steered both front and rear wheels in the same directions at higher speeds to prevent twitchy high-speed handling--an innovation the Diamond did not feature.

Rather than front-, rear- or all-wheel drive, the Diamond was, well, middle-drive. The two amidships wheels were driven by a rear-mounted Ford truck V-8 generating 100 horsepower. I'm guessing that rear-mounted lump of metal did no favors to the Diamond's weight distribution.

The seating positions were similarly unorthodox; the driver sat up in the leading tip of the diamond, with two passengers sitting side-by-side across the middle and one as tail-end Charlie just ahead of the engine. So, in its own way, the Diamond offered three-row seating. This might seem like a weirdly cramped seating arrangement, and I'm sure it was, but it wasn't a small car. At 80 inches wide, the Diamond was wider than a contemporary Honda Pilot SUV. The wheelbase, measured between the front and rear individual wheels, was 156 inches--the same as a 2009 Ford F-250 Super Duty Crew Cab Styleside pickup.

Okay, so the Gordon Diamond is quirky--so what? Why is a strange one-off, produced more than 60 years ago, included among the cars after which I lust? Well, let me start by explaining that I've spent a depressing percentage of my time on Earth thinking about car handling and dynamics. Weight distribution, weight transfer under acceleration, braking, and handling, the friction circle, understanding the loads on each wheel and the impact of changing loads on handling ... I've been thinking about this stuff since I was a kid. I understand how understeer and oversteer happen, what provokes them, how you compensate with driving technique. I'm no scientist or race-car-driver--just a fascinated enthusiast.

2007214_gordondiamondweblarge Well, when I was a kid I stumbled across a short article about the Diamond in a book--and my brain immediately went into TILT mode. I had no earthly idea how the Diamond would handle; all of my internal calculations were immediately short-circuited. I spent untold hours looking at that car, trying to figure out how it would take a corner, and whether there were any intrinsic advantages to the Diamond layout--none of which did much for my popularity in fourth grade. I even talked it over with a few of my smart classmates, and they were flummoxed too. Would the middle wheels convey added stability by acting as outriggers? If the middle wheels acted as a fulcrum around which the weight would transfer under braking or acceleration, would that help or hurt their traction? I just didn't know.

For the majority of my car-loving life, the Gordon Diamond has hovered somewhere in my subconscious; every time I drove a test car, some tiny part of my brain would wonder how the car would work in a diamond configuration. Even now, while I have some guesses, I'm not sure.

Here's what I think. I think the Diamond could be aerodynamically fantastic--the shape is naturally close to a teardrop, and so it has natural advantages over brick-like cars. The trade-off of course is in packaging efficiency--for most of the car's length, it is not as wide as it could be.

Dynamically, I think the middle wheels would always have good traction, regardless of braking or accelerating attitude. While accelerating traction wouldn't be as strong as a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive car like a Porsche 911, or even a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive car, it would be much better than a front-engine, front-wheel drive car.

In corners, I'm guessing the Diamond would be quite spooky. The combination of lots of weight in the rear with not much weight at the front, and a small one-tire contact patch at the front would lead to heavy understeer. Yet ... all that engine weight sits atop a counter-steering wheel. The rear contact patch is also small, but with that much weight over the tire, it could bit pretty well. If the counter-steering rear tire has more traction than the front tire, that could lead to some incredibly twitchy tail-happy handling. And since the car isn't much wider than normal cars, the two amidships wheels wouldn't convey much more outrigger stability than a more conventional layout.

I think so, anyway. The thing is, I just don't know--and I've been grappling with this question for 20-odd years. If anybody has insight into this question, I'd love to hear it.

--Chris H.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00e54ed05fc28833010535940290970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Gordon Diamond:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

so you can make all kinds of crazy wheel layouts and suspension designs "work" or even be drivable - with enough resources and effort. the problem comes in to what lengths you must go to make that design work. and does it make sense to even try.

if you have a solid starting place then that is easy - no special control systems are needed because you have started with a design that takes into account all the issues of roll, weight distribution, controls, contact patch, slip angle etc.

on the other hand if you start with a design foundation that has inherent limitations then making that work will ultimately be driven by the need to take extraordinary measures just to make the thing stable.

stable foundation: stable good performing design. unstable foundation: efforts must be put toward stability before any other considerations may be taken into account - this usually results in heavy highly complex frankenstein designs.

in the question of how this thing would handle... let's consider the case of late braking into a corner... that's hard for most vehicles, it really puts everything into the front corner wheel. let me repeat... the front CORNER wheel. this car has no corner positioned wheels. therefore even though weight transfer is going to be the same - approximately - there wont be any supporting wheel. that's going to lead to "problems". we could predict that the handling would be "unpredictable"... probably not good.

i think if we look back at some of the cars - concepts and prototypes - that went outside the envelop of standard design, we end up seeing that designers were focused on a narrow goal or problem. parking. tight turning radius, the ability to fly, could a laundry machine become a car. these were discrete goals and challenges. as such they were interesting to see if an engineer or inventor could "do it" and make the car fly. but since these goals were so singular that other issues were forgotten in the rush to making a "flying toaster that could also be a tiny city car".

one of the best prototypes i ever saw was the GM "lean machine". this was an articulated framed 3 wheeled vehicle that had an egg shaped drivers pod with a single front wheel, and a small reag engine with 2 wheels on either side. the pod would function much like a motorcycle and lean or bank into a turn. the rear wheels would track along in normal vertical orientation. because the car counter rolled and the rear was hinged the thing could handle like mad. it was a design that was aerodynamic, stable, fast and fuel efficient. i've seen footage of this things on a track and it looked great. but who knows... here's a link to a picture:

http://www.3wheelers.com/gmlean.html

http://www.maxmatic.com/ttw_leanmachine.htm

http://www.rqriley.com/3-wheel.htm

the lean machine seems to have had a significant ability to actually handle well. it also appeared in 1993's demolition man. i'm guessing that GM just never had the guts or interest to push this along to production and find cheap ways to crank these things out. the thing i like about the lean machine is that it does seem to address a wide variety of automotive dynamics and design issues in a single vehicle. i'm guessing production could be pretty cheap... but there would inevitably be issues. one i can think of is low speed handling and turning, and wet weather handling.

i'm guessing the diamond would not do well in the wet and in moderate to high speed handling. still without these experiments and prototypes we would never really know why we have cars that largely run on the formula of 4 wheels. somebody had to try something different and see if they could make it work.

...i'm typing today with a lame hand so no capitals...

It probably had the same "delightful" handling characteristics as a three-wheel car with the single wheel up front--which is to say, not exactly a car you want to go autocrossing with.

Ever heard of the Owosso Pulse? It was a diamond-configured car from the 1980s, powered by a big motorcycle engine. I knew a guy who had two of them, and was obsessed with them. They are very reminiscent of the Diamond, with some crucial differences. The engine sat over the rear wheel, which was the powered one. The outriggers were just to stabilize what was essentially a motorcycle wtih a full fairing.

info on the owosso pulse:

http://thekneeslider.com/archives/2005/10/22/owosso-pulse-yamaha-powered-car/

electric motor for reverse - cause motorcycles typically don't have a reverse;)

Hrm. I think you should build a primitive R/C car to find out. It'd settle the debate. :)

i believe there actually is an rc model of one of these... there was a remote control motorcycle model that had out riggers and front and rear wheels. fact remains that the weight transfer under acceleration out of a turn or braking into a corner is going to fall across the line formed by two contact patches - not onto a contact patch. that's how do you say it... ummm... not good;)

this design was kind of a good idea for fixing a problem that existed back then. if you have a car the size of a house how do you make it maneuverable? how do you park something that is considerably larger than current suv's. you add 4ws just as was tried in some suvs. the single rear wheel greatly simplifies the problems of steering linkages. if you don't go very fast then you can conceivably get past the problems of stability. but lowspeed parking and maneuvering capability is a completely different design problem than highspeed cornering or stability.

Oh, and btw, the Stout Scarab ruins that thing. Superior interior, superior style, superior performance. I want one so bad. >sigh<

Oh, I definitely remember the Owosso Pulse. I spent a fair amount of time daydreaming about that little thing too.

The world doesn't have enough Isetta pictures. If you can look at that picture of the Isetta with the tiny camper behind it without smiling, then your heart is filled with coal.

I don't imagine to have a handle on the handling prowess, real or imagined, of the Gordon Diamond. I have dozed off thinking of the problems of how it would handle under todays real world traffic. I believe that any shortcomings of a modern diamond car could be adjusted to be neglegible. I am certainly glad to see some web space devoted to this extroadinary car.

I can say with some authority though, however any of you imagine the Gordon Diamond to handle under certain circumstances, that it handles quite well considering its advanced age. It has high mileage on the components, and makes plenty of old car sounds. It scoots about like a compact, yet it sounds like an old ferris wheel. It can pull up to a wall within 2 feet, and pull away without backing up, just turn the wheel. It's manners in an urban setting are above any average for new cars. It does have the largest blind spot in the world. I rode in it in the late 80's and saw it just a few years ago, sitting proud and dusty in a Missoula showroom. When riding in the GD, I couldn't stop laughing and be astounded at the flexibility of it's steering performance.

Gordon Hanson was reunited with his creation for a while, and was designing a new GD powered by dual Honda Gold Wing engines. One front and one back. Gordon was quite a gentleman. He was then sidelined with a crippling stroke. I don't know any other details about this.

I worked as a draftsman for Gordon Hanson when he was an engineer at Philco Ford in Palo Alto CA in the late Sixties. He once caught me sketching cars at my desk and was intrigued with my imagination. He then told me the story of his Diamond car, saying he was planing a newer version and did I think could style it for him? I had to retain the diamond shape and include a full wraparound bumper, while mainly updating it to a more contemporary look and reducing or eliminating its strange appearance, which he mentioned was its main failure.

I wanted badly to become a part of his new adventure as I highly respected the man, yet no matter how I drew it, the car was still very strange looking. I sure wish I had kept those drawings, but after going over all possible solutions, we both agreed the car buying public would reject it. I tossed a whole folder of stuff that would be incredible today. I did eventually see the Diamond at Harra's Automobile Collection and remember thinking it was better looking in pictures!

Here are a few facts and features of the car I've never read elsewhere, but remember from Gordon's conversations. The most impressive of all is the fact he designed and built the car himself, and drove it many many miles as his every day car, until it was virtually worn out. His initial effort was to design a safer automobile, which in theory, he did. Fortunately he never got to test it. With the car coming to a point at both ends, anything less than a dead center head on or rear end collision was less likely to be as serious, especially if the other car were also diamond shaped. Even a side hit would tend to rotate the Diamond, reducing the impact. Hitting a pole or tree with fatal results would also require a dead center hit. He also mentioned going over railroad tracks was smoother (though I imagine dodging a pot hole would be challenging). The car could turn around in its own length, and could parallel park head first without reversing. There were many more advantages but they were based on all cars being diamond shaped.

I think the Gordon Diamond was once featured in Special Interest Automobiles magazine. If so it wouldn't be too hard to find, and had many more facts and photos.
Dave Hill
Pueblo Colorado

I have been dreaming of this diamond shape concept for years not knowing it had already been tried some sixty odd years ago. I came accross this site just googling for a diamond shaped car. I not only found this site that had been most helpful but also found out that this concept was worked on by a group of four students in Europe and was even awarded in Paris Motor Show. A citing from that article says: "With its four wheels positioned in a diamond shape around the car’s chassis – the design is completely new and unique".

http://www.finalsense.com/news/vehicles/dscar.htm

Apparently there's very few people that know the history of this concept. After reading all the comments on your site however, I still think there's a lot of room for improvement for this concept. The weight of the V8 in the GD together with the poor aesthetics seem to have undermined the concept and brought it to an early death. If todays better technology and design are put behind it, its pluses may overcome its minuses.

I want to thank you Chris for starting this page and everyone else who contributed.

jeez,what a joy to see your name here greg; i gotta call you sometime. i also gotta find the t-shirt you made for me with the gordon diamond being eyeballed by alley oop. so that evey one understands, the diamond is alive and still has it's, well, patina. as for the railroad track test, it is unnaturally smooth,despite the fact that it was handmade, by gordon,in his backyard, and has 100k on it. it a testament to the intrinsic stability of the diamond configuation. we will stay in touch

Philippe Charbonneaux produced 6 different diamond prototype cars in France. They are all in the Reims Motor Museum today. Prototype 6 had an all enveloping platsic body and was very high performance due to low cofficient of drag.

Front and rear steer. Centre drive.

Hey....On the Gordon Diamond, I have seen the car, it is still a running and driving car, currently in a private collection in missoula montana! The current owner got it from the Harras auto museum years ago when they started selling out. he also got one of the original Tuckers. What a find!

Oh, another tidbit, that Gordon, the front and rear wheels stear, you can reach out the window and touch a pole while doing circles around it.

Carlos,

Did the owner of the Gorden Diamond buy his Tucker from Harrahs as well or did he buy it from someone else? Do you know dates and details?

Thanks !

It's amazing to read all this interest in my Grandpa's car. I decided to do some googling after I found his name and the car mentioned in an old Popular Science. I wish I was older and had spent more time with him before his stroke. He was a pretty amazing engineer.

Also the name is "Hansen" with an e.

This is so cool. I never met Gordon Hansen, but just found out this past weekend that he is my great uncle. My father, Gordon, remembers riding in this car on his first trip out to CA in the early 1950s.

Thanks for the post. My family has enjoyed it. (Luke - I guess we are distant relatives?)

Kelly

I, too, am related to Gordon Hansen. His sister, Helen, was my grandmother. I have some pictures from way back when of my mom (his cousin) and he riding around in it. Kelly & Luke - you're welcome to reach out to me on FB. Always happy to connect with new family. :)

Did you know before he became ill, he was working with the collector, Tom, to update it to create a modern line for production? Last time I visited him & Edna in California, they had a new prototype half-way built, and were talking about seeking private funding to put the car into production.

One of the cool details I remember about the original was that at 18' feet, it could turn a circle in a 25' radius. The unique wheelbase was what allowed for that.

Oh, one of the other funny things. When he went to register it, the state of California originally demanded he register it as a Chevrolet, because it had a Chevy engine. Gordon stood his ground until they finally relented and allowed him to register it as a Diamond car.

What a thrill to read these comments. I used to live in Palo Alto and belonged to an inventor's organization named ILMA (if my memory serves me right). Gordon was a member of the same organization, and I have actually sat next to him and talked to him! I remember him telling me that one day the three car companies would decide that his idea would be better after all. What a man!

No lie, I got to examine the Diamond today. I was at the high-end auto repair place in town (Missoula) and asked the guy what the most interesting and unique vehicle they ever had was. He said "Cmon down to the basement and Ill show you". There in the middle of the garage was the Gordon Diamond, complete with a handwritten cardbaord placard on the windshield giving it's history. The wraparound bumper on this thing was stout and very pronounced. The car was in good shape but needs paint. It's an institutional battleship-grey color at the moment. The guy who owns it collects cars and he apparently bought this thing a while back and has just been sitting on it. I told the guy who was showing it to me that I'd try to find data about it on the internet and he doubted thered be much since it was a one-of-a-kind...and thats how I found this post.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

Powered by Rollyo

Car Lust™ Contributors

October 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31