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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.