The Dymaxion Car Rides Again
It's a submarine. It's a rocket ship. It's a prop from the latest Bond flick. It's a joke sent over by the engineering department. No! It's the Dymaxion car. It seats 11, goes 120 miles per hour, and gets 30 miles to the gallon. It also has 3 wheels, a periscope in place of a rear-view mirror, and the ability to make a U-Turn along the 20 feet length of the entire car. If you're thinking that this car is the future of urban transportation, you're mostly right. It was indeed intended to be the car of the future – in 1933, when the Dymaxion car was first exhibited. The Dymaxion car was the creation of American engineer, author, designer and futurist Richard Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller. Fuller was interested in using industrial design and engineering to create practical, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly solutions to urban issues such as housing and transportation. Bucky (as he preferred to be called) perfected the mathematics for the geodesic dome – an enclosed spherical structure made up of circles – and received a patent for it in 1954. Bucky liked the dome design because it was strong, light-weight, stable, and offered the greatest interior volume for the smallest surface area. Bucky's idea for the Dymaxion car was similar to that for the geodesic dome. The car was to be lightweight (about the the weight of a VW Beetle), economical, aerodynamic, and fuel efficient. Working with Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi (yes, the same Isamu Noguchi who designed the classic table that bears his name) and naval architect Starling Burgess, Bucky created the sleek, tear-drop shaped 11-seater concept car that was christened the "Dymaxion"; a brand name Bucky used for several of his inventions (see: Dymaxion House, Dymaxion World Map, Dymaxion Chronofile). The best part about the Dymaxion car? When engine design and car technology improved enough, the Dymaxion's streamlined shape and boat-like design would allow the car to fly. Sadly, the Dymaxion car never had a chance to fly with the public. A terrible accident at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair put off investors, who blamed the car's rear wheel steering and lack of roof integrity for the death of a driver. The press cruelly labelled the Dymaxion a "freak car" and implicated the 3-wheel design as the reason for the tragedy. Bad publicity darkened the car's reputation for some time, although the second model was built with the support of Henry Ford and the newly-released Ford V8 engine. When Bucky's daughter was injured in a second Dymaxion crash, both he and Ford abandoned the project. Only 3 models of the Dymaxion car were ever
created; a single one is still in existence today. As you can see, the design of the Fiat Multipla 600 was heavily influenced by the Dymaxion car. Gear heads never forgot about the Dymaxion car and neither did car designers. Bucky's seemingly-radical design features slowly made their way into the mainstream, ending up on the VW Transporter van in the late 1940's and the Fiat 600 Multipla in the 1960's. As the world caught up to Bucky's environmental philosophy, the demand for economical cars like the Dymaxion grew and grew. Unfortunately, it seemed too little too late for the Dymaxion. Until now. In 2010, architect Norman Foster faithfully re-created the Dymaxion car for an exhibition of Bucky Fuller's work entitled "Bucky Fuller & Spaceship Earth". Foster, who designed the new Reichstag in Berlin and the Gherkin in London, worked closely with Bucky in the last 12 years of his life and considers him a mentor. In an interview with Metropolis Magazine, Foster explains that Bucky's concept for the Dymaxion car is even more relevant now than it was in its own time. "The maxim of doing more with less is more urgent and imperative than it's ever been," said Foster. "In a way the Dymaxion was the classic people-mover before its time." For the car lovers among us, here's a technical description of Dymaxion Car's design under Foster:
No 4's shell comprises an ash frame sheathed in hand-beaten aluminium. This sits on the chassis of an old 1934 Ford Tudor Sedan, but front to back, so the back wheels of the Ford form the front wheels of the Dymaxion. Much of the detailing echoes Zeppelin design, while its V8 Ford engine is a mounted at the rear, under a long tailfin designed to both cool the engine and increase stability. It is steered by the single rear wheel, which acts like a boat's rudder. [Source: The Guardian]
Dymaxion Car #4 is a faithful recreation of the original, with a few modern additions such as a hand brake, which "the original didn't have, for some strange reason", according to Foster (hmmm…). The Dymaxion has yet to take to the skies, but at least the ideas and innovations of one of the great American thinkers of the 20th century are finally getting a bit of respect. For more info about Fuller's would-be rocket, read up about the Dymaxion Car documentary and watch some neat footage of the original Dymaxion Car on YouTube. MT.