Dymaxion Car

dymaxion car

fuller by todd st john

The Dymaxion [dahy-mak-see-uhn] car was a concept car designed by U.S. inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller in 1933. The word Dymaxion is a brand name that Fuller gave to several of his inventions, to emphasize that he considered them part of a more general project to improve humanity’s living conditions. The car had a fuel efficiency of 30 mpg, and could transport 11 passengers.

While Fuller claimed it could reach speeds of 120 miles per hour, the fastest documented speed was 90 miles per hour. Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi was involved with the development of the Dymaxion car, creating plaster wind tunnel models that were a factor in determining its shape, and during 1934 drove it for an extended road trip through Connecticut with congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce and actress Dorothy Hale.

The 1929 automobile of German inventor and helicopter pioneer Engelbert Zaschka exhibited features that were important to Buckminster Fuller. Zaschka’s three wheeled car could also easily be folded, disassembled and re-assembled as could Fuller’s Dymaxion House and many geodesic domes. The Dymaxion car was a three wheeler, steered by a single rear wheel, and could do a U-turn in its own length. However, the rear-wheel steering made the car somewhat counter-intuitive to operate, especially in crosswind situations. The body was teardrop-shaped, and naturally aerodynamically efficient. The car was twice as long as a conventional automobile, at 20 feet long. Drive power was provided by a rear-mounted Ford V8 engine, which produced 85 brake horsepower through the front wheels. The front axle was also a Ford component, being the rear axle of a contemporary Ford roadster turned upside-down.

An accident at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair damaged the first prototype badly, killing the driver, and seriously injuring the two passengers. The Dymaxion had rolled over, and although the driver was wearing a seatbelt, the prototype’s canvas roof had not offered sufficient crash protection. The cause of the accident was not determined, although Buckminster Fuller reported that the accident was due to the actions of another vehicle that had been following the Dymaxion closely. The crash prompted investors to abandon the project, blaming the accident on deficiencies of the vehicle’s steering. In his 1988 book ‘The Age of Heretics,’ author Art Kleiner maintained the real reason Chrysler refused to produce the car was because bankers had threatened to recall their loans, feeling the car would destroy sales for vehicles already in the distribution channels and second-hand cars.

Although the Dymaxion cars were not produced, the design was influential on several subsequent designs. The most widespread example of its influence was the Fiat 600 Multipla, where an extreme rear-mounted engine and a driver position above the front axle was used to give an extremely compact hybrid of car and van, which could either seat 6 people, or be used for moving bulky loads. Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion concept of obtaining optimal efficiency by aerodynamic design and employing the most advantageous materials, although obvious, may have especially influenced such designs as the Aptera hybrid car prototype, which, like the Dymaxion, is a three wheeled, ultra light, aerodynamic, fuel efficient vehicle design. Of the three prototype cars built, only the second prototype survives.

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