Automotive History: The Dymaxion Car

dymaxion

Designed by engineer, architect and philosopher Buckminster Fuller, the Dymaxion car – a multidirectional and three wheeled vehicle – was manufactured exactly 85 years ago today in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Fuller was born in Massachusetts and saw his life as “an experiment to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity”. Those were his own words.

Fuller coined the term Dymaxion and used the term as his own personal brand. He created the word by combining the words dynamic, maximum and ion. Along with the Dymaxion car, Fuller also created the Dymaxion house and geodesic dome which can be seen below. The Dymaxion house was made of lightweight aluminum, could be shipped by air and made on site.

geodesic dome fuller
Geodesic Dome
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Dymaxion House 1946

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for the Dymaxion car, Fuller made the first design in 1927 calling it “4D transport” and was part aircraft, automobile and had wings that would inflate. Five years after the initial design, Fuller reached out to friend and sculptor Isamu Noguchi for more sketches of the car. The designs would result in a car with a teardrop design, a third wheel in the rear lifted off the ground and a tail fin.

Production for the Dymaxion car was then set up in March 1933 at a former Locomobile factory in Bridgeport, CT. The first model would be produced on Fuller’s birthday, July 12 of that same year. The vehicle came equipped with a steel frame, an ash wood body and was covered with aluminum skin along with a painted canvas roof. The claim behind the design was that the vehicle would be able to reach 120 mph and 28 mpg on average.

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Fuller standing beside his 1933 Dymaxion Car

The vehicle was sold to Gulf Oil and was put on display in Chicago at the Century of Progress exposition. While things were looking up for Fuller and his invention, a professional driver named Francis Turner was killed a few months later during a demonstration of the Dymaxion car when it flipped over. While Dymaxion was not found responsible for the death, investors became wary of the vehicle despite endorsements from novelist H.G Wells, painter Diego Rivera and overall enthusiasm from the press.

The Dymaxion car was one of several futuristic style cars that were developed during the 1930s. Other concept cars during this time period included the 1936 Stout Scarab, the 1934 Model 40 Special Speedster, and the 1934 Voisin C-25 Aerodyne.

Even though it was not mass produced, the Dymaxion did help in more acceptance of new sreamlined passenger cars. There is now one surviving Dymaxion, which was featured in an exhibit in New York City at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2008. The exhibit was in dedication to Fuller’s work. The New York Times published an article about the exhibit – using Fuller’s own words from the 1960s about the Dymaxion.

“I knew everyone would call it a car,” he said to literary critic Hugh Kenner; instead, it was actually “the land-taxiing phase of a wingless, twin orientable jet stilts flying device.”

It’s without a doubt that Fuller had an interesting mind and lived up to how he wanted to live his life as “an experiment to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity”.