FEATURE CAR: Buckminster Fuller’s 1933 Dymaxion Replica

For as large as the vehicle is it does not have a lot of passenger seats. It only sits 4.

When I was in college studying architecture many years ago, Buckminster Fuller was a guest lecturer one year. At that time the Geodesic Dome was his most famous contribution to the world of architecture. I and a handful of other students (not more than 10 in total) were fortunate enough to spend an hour outside under a shade tree on a spring morning talking with “Bucky” about his life, beliefs, projects and philosophy. He was a true genius and that experience was a once in a life time memory.

The Dymaxion is a strange looking car but was well advanced for 1933.

Even then I was a car guy and knew something about the Dymaxion but information was much more difficult to obtain on such creations back in the day before the internet. I knew the Dymaxion was very advanced and innovative just the kind of thing Buckminster Fuller would create. From what information I did find I also knew it was not accepted well at the time and was even a bit scandalous for its questionable handling characteristics. The car guy in me wanted to ask him about it but that was a nearly 40 year old project of his at the time and this was an architectural class so my questions and discussions with him dealt with city planning and architecture.

This is a scale model of the Dymaxion frame, drive train, suspension and driving cockpit.

Only three Dymaxion cars were ever built. The initial build of car #1 started in March of 1933 and was completed in July of that same year. It was sold to Al Williams of the Gulf Refining Company. Unfortunately, a few months later in October of 1933 it was involved in an accident, killing tow of the three occupants. It was repaired and used by Gulf Oil for promotional purposes.

Note the large swing arms at the back that support the rear suspension.

The second car built was completed in January of 1934 sold at a cost of $7,688 (about $130,000 today). However, the buyer changed his mind and the car was kept by Buckminster Fuller as a demonstrator. In May of 1935 with his wife and daughter as passengers the car overturned. There were no injuries.

This is a model of the complete wood skeleton of the Dymaxion.

Car #3 was commissioned by Evangeline Stokowska and finished in October 1934. It immediately went on display at the 1934 Chicago World’s Fair.

The dashboard is very plain and simple. The driver’s seat is in front of the front tires and the steering system is in the rear of the car. The “seat of the pants” driving feel of this setup must have been very disturbing.

The Dymaxion factory closed in 1935 having produced only three cars, two of which had major accidents. Car #1 was destroyed in a fire, car #3 is believed to have been cut up for scrap and car #2 is now at the National Auto Museum in Reno, Nevada.

Jeff Lane, owner of the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville TN (www.LaneMuseum.com) was fascinated by the Dymaxion. He and his crew did an eight year study and building process to recreate a Dymaxion from original plans. This replicar has been driven on the streets, highways and interstates. It has been displayed at the Amelia Concourse de Elegance. It is a striking car to say the least and is as innovative as it is striking.

This is the flat head engine. Note the swing arm for the rear suspension and steering.

The Dymaxion is a three wheeled streamlined big car (min-van?). Its shape is very sleek unlike most of the cars in 1933. Set this beside a 1933 Ford and tell me which one looks more modern. It was also front wheel drive with the engine mounted in the middle, so it was a mid-engined car. It was also rear steer! Single wheel rear steer! It could likely turn on a dime but just as likely it could roll over trying to do so at higher speeds. It is said that the next version would have more conventional front wheel steering.

The design is very aircraft like with no wings.

If this design would have been picked up my one of the big three automobile car manufactures or even one of the lesser ones with actual automotive designers and assembly plants think what the final Dymaxion might have looked and operated like. The exterior design along could have advanced automobiles by decades.

What do you think? If you live near Nashville or plan a trip there soon do yourself a favor and stop in to the Lane Motor Museum.

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About the Author: I grew up and lived in Iowa for nearly 40 years before moving to Southern California and now live in Tennessee. I have been into cars since I was old enough to remember. I don't have a brand loyalty although I do prefer American Muscle especially the 1969/1970 NASCAR Aero Cars. (Check our our www.TalladegaSpoilerRegistry.com page) As long as it has four wheels on it I get excited. Few men are lucky enough to be able to share their passion for cars with the woman they love. Fortunately, my wife Katriana is also a gear head and many of our activities revolve around the cars. We have a small collection that includes at least one car from each of the Big Three. Katrina prefers all original cars while I like to modify them so we have a few of each. When we aren't playing with cars we are out with our miniature donkeys. You can see more about that part of our lives at http://www.LegendaryFarms.com.

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