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Dymaxion : The Car for a Future That Never Happened

Dymaxion No.3  somewhere in the America during World War II

Architect, author and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller’s name is probably one of the most recognized in both the field of design and the popular culture. Starting with the widespread publicity surrounding his geodesic domes in the 1960’s, and continuing to the appellation of a newly discovered form of carbon (Buckminsterfullerenes or “buckyballs”), few advanced thinkers have maintained such high visibility over the years. But while some his unique ideas about static structures and systems gained widespread acceptance, his solo venture into automotive design didn’t fare as well.

                  

Fuller coined the word “Dymaxion” to describe a global concept of design by combining the words dynamic, maximum, and tension. When he applied the concept to the “modern” motorcar, the result is seen here. Visitors to the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago (thumbnails, left and center, above) were undoubtedly very impressed, but Fuller was not alone in exploring aerodynamics as means of increasing automotive efficiency. The (third thumbnail above) shows his second design which was never built. Indeed, there was a mini-movement of teardroppers and streamliners at the time, but his was, without a doubt, the most radical. Patent drawings (thumbnails, below) show the unusual rear engine-front wheel drive arrangement.

Three were eventually built, beginning in 1932, with a fourth one planned (see right thumbnail, above). But the very radicalism that drew fair goer’s (and later War Bond buyer’s) attention proved to be it’s downfall. Virtually all the others used conventional front wheel steering. The Dymaxion steered from the single rear wheel, and while it’s close to 180 degree rotation made it very maneuverable (watch the video below), as you might expect it became increasingly unstable and difficult to drive as speed increased and thus impractical for use as daily transportation.

               

Many more photos of this very famous automobile can be found at Future Car, along with another short film. You can read about and also see the patents  in more detail and learn more about this man himself at the Buckminster Fuller Institute.

10 responses to “Dymaxion : The Car for a Future That Never Happened

  1. I have heard that it was very unstable and I’ve always wondered if anyone got hurt (or worse) in one. Does anyone know? If there were three, how many are left?

  2. Car 2 still survives at the National Auto Museum in Reno and recently was restored, but needs mechanicals. Dan Strohl wrote about it in December. In 1982 or 83, I attended a lecture he gave at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg. He gave his standard talk which was interesting, but he really came alive when he took questions and discussion from the audience. He went on for about two hours before his wife, Annie, stopped him. He then stood and greeted those of us willing to stand in line to thank him and shake his hand. It was one of the best evenings of my life.

    In the early 1990’s, while in San Jose on business, I drove over to Reno to see the Dymaxion. Unfortunately it had been taken off the floor, but a lucky conversation with a docent got me invited into the shop to look at it. It was in pretty poor shape and the windows were covered with brown paper or something because the interior was a mess. I was asked if I’d like to sit in it and of course did. What an incredible experience! I wrote it all up in the comments on Dan’s post. http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2012/12/20/dymaxion-returns-to-national-automobile-museum-after-restoration/

  3. Which is older in concept: Stout Scarab or Dymaxion? Do they have nothing more in common than Flathead Ford V8 power and a similar wind-tunnel look?

  4. Great photo of #3. I got to poke around # 2 when it was in the back lot of Harrah’s Museum back in the late 1960’s. Always think of the Dymaxions when I’m on our rear steer John Deere lawn mower. Thanks for including the video clip. STAN

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