The legendary father of the Geodesic dome house, Buckminster Fuller, made automobiles too. If you don’t know about “Bucky” he was a real maverick. Billing himself as “a gentle revolutionist, a loveable genius, an anti-academician, doctor of science-arts- design,” among many other roles, “Bucky” changed the way the world viewed consumer products. He used the word Dymaxion to describe many of his futuristic creations. Bucky had designs for Dymaxion houses, Dymaxion appliances, entire Dymaxion communities and Dymaxion cars. His line of Dymaxion automobiles were revolutionary and were designed to be the most fuel-efficient and practical cars on the road.
Bucky’s Dymaxion cars were built in 1932 in Bridgeport, CT. There were only three built and it would be quite an understatement to say they unique. They had two front wheels, just one in the rear and a wide-expansive windshield made up of facets of flat glass. The body was built of aluminum and constructed like a boat with internal rib-like wooden framework. All three utilized frames, transmissions and V8 engines from 1932 Ford Sedans but mounted in the rear. Although being nearly 20 feet long, it offered extraordinary maneuverability and it could turn in its own length. Fuller claimed that the Dymaxion was capable of over 120 MPH, a speed that was only obtainable in dedicated racecars in the 1930s.
Unfortunately, the rear-wheel steering of the Dymaxion cars proved counterintuitively tricky, especially in a crosswind. A spectacular crash in 1933 killed the driver of the first Dymaxion. The cause of the crash was blamed on the Dymaxion but subsequent investigation revealed that the other car involved with the crash was at fault. Unfortunately, this soured the Dymaxion cars in the viewpoint of investors and the project eventually failed.
Ten years later, Bucky put what he'd learned from the first three prototypes into a much handier five-seater with a tiny engine at each wheel. This time, the front wheels steered, but all three could be steered for tight city turns and crabbing sideways into parking spaces. High speed stability was enhanced by extending the rear wheel on a boom to lengthen the wheelbase. By then the automotive investment community wasn’t interested in the Dymaxion project.
Of the three Dymaxion cars ever made, the first survived the 1933 crash. Its whereabouts are unknown. The second ferried H.G. Wells around Manhattan before it too spectacularly crashed. Somehow it made its way to Arizona where it was discovered and restored by local engineering students. The third Dymaxion was driven around the United States in 1944 to promote the Allied war efforts and then was sold for scrap. Today, Dymaxion Number 2 is the only original Dymaxion that exists and it survives in the Harrah Collection of the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.
Today, the Dymaxion concept is as alive as ever but as an example of “retro-technology”. Bucky never did change “the entire face of the automotive industry” as he wished but with his Dymaxion cars but he certainly gave it a try – and almost made it.
Source: Fort Dodge Ford