Dymaxion reborn

Back in 2002 I came across R Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion car and wrote about it for Bolide. Fast forward eight years and Lord Foster has just test-driven his “new” Dymaxion, hand-built in Sussex by noted car constructors & restorers Crosthwaite & Gardiner

R Buckminster Fuller – “Bucky” to his friends – was a visionary designer far ahead of his time. His inventions and pioneering engineering projects include Tensegrity structures and the Geodesic Dome. In the last twelve years of his life he collaborated with Norman Foster, and Foster has commissioned a recreation of Fuller’s Dymaxion car

The shape and concept of the Dymaxion seems logical now but in 1933 it must have seemed futuristic in the extreme

The Dymaxion is rear-engined and drives through a single rear wheel which also steers the car. The long wheelbase and rear steering give the car superb manoeuverability but – predictably – made it tricky to handle. This design seems purpose-built to benefit from present-day stability control systems and modern electronics which would make it predictable and easy to manage

Had Buckminster Fuller had access to these systems back in 1933 it seems sure the Dymaxion would have prospered. As it was, early accidents involving prototype cars received bad press.  Fuller himself crashed prototype #2, injuring his daughter Allegra Fuller Snyder, and she believes this made him lose heart in the project

To my mind the Dymaxion represents one of the great “What If?” moments in automotive history. Car design and styling would have taken a distinctly different turn had it been a success and later single-box designs such as the VW bus, Renault Espace and Fiat Multipla (both original and new versions) might seem less forward-thinking than they do

The Dymaxion car pre-empted many of the design breakthroughs we now take for granted. Its shape is based on aerodynamic principles and construction was derived from aircraft practice. The glazing of the cab follows Fuller’s theory of creating three-dimensional shapes from flat planes, here using triangular and rectangular flat glass panes to create a wrap-around screen. The car suffered from front-end lift at high speed, something that could be forecast now and designed out, but Bucky had neither the computing hardware or the luck to solve the problems

A prototype Dymaxion crashed en route to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, fatally injuring the driver. The subsequent bad publicity killed the project and left just a handful of prototypes in existence. Foster’s decision to commission a recreation of this flawed but iconic car is a nice conceit and one I applaud wholeheartedly

Norman Foster and Buckminster Fuller © Ken Kirkwood

Dymaxion #4, Lord Foster’s car, is on display at the Ivorypress Art+Books gallery in Madrid till the end of October 2010 as part of the Bucky Fuller & Spaceship Earth exhibition. Where it will be after that is not decided – but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it at the 2011 Goodwood Festival of Speed

IvoryPress has published a new book about the Dymaxion. It relates the history of the three original prototypes and the production process of prototype #4, pictured below. Buckminster Fuller: Dymaxion Car is available now priced €59.90

See the Dymaxion photo gallery 

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  1. Pingback: Dymaxion photo gallery | Bolide

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