Architect and engineer Buckminster Fuller sought to live his life as “an experiment to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world.” One result of this philosophy was the fascinatingly futuristic Dymaxion Car, the first of which was manufactured in Bridgeport, Connecticut on this day in 1933.
Fuller, a futurist in the truest sense of the word, not only embraced change, but worked to create it in all aspects of society. “Dymaxion” was a name that he adopted as a personal brand and applied to several inventions, emphasizing that he considered them part of a more general project to improve humanity’s living conditions.
The Dymaxion Car, with its teardop shape, tail fin, and three wheels, more closely resembled a wingless aircraft than it did any automobile of the day. It was designed to carry 11 passengers at speeds of up to 120mph (though the fastest documented speed of a Dymaxion was 90mph). The car steered with its rear wheel, and could perform a u-turn in its own length (20 feet). Power came via a rear-mounted Ford V8.
Fuller made initial sketches of the Dymaxion Car, then employed his sculptor friend Isamu Noguchi to produce additonal drawings. He set up production in Bridgeport in March, 1933, and Car #1 rolled out of the factory on July 12, Fuller’s 38th birthday. It had a steel frame, and a body made of wood covered with an aluminum skin. The roof, made of canvas, would soon contribute to the car’s downfall.
The theme of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair was technological innovation, and Fuller’s Dymaxion was a natural fit. Tragically, an accident at the fair damaged the first car badly, killing the driver, and seriously injuring the two passengers. The Dymaxion rolled, and its canvas roof did not offer sufficient crash protection. Though the official cause was never determined, investors nonetheless abandoned the project, blaming the accident on deficiencies of the vehicle’s steering.
While only one of the prototype Dymaxions survives, the car’s legacy lives on. It appealed greatly to the people of the Depression era, who dreamed of technological solutions to the overwhelming problems of the day. Auto designers listened, and began designing more streamlined cars to serve the desire.
Automobiles would never be the same.
Have fun in your garage!
See more fascinating photos of the Dymaxion prototype here.