Unusual Vehicles is a segment that looks at a unique car to see how it was designed. There have been many futuristic vehicles in the past, and one of the most innovative had to be the Dymaxion car created by Buckminster Fuller. Designed during the Great Depression, Fuller wanted to build an ‘omni-medium transport’ vehicle that might one day be designed to fly, land and drive.
The idea behind the vehicle stemmed from Fuller’s philosophy of Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science, which involved using all technology on behalf of all people as soon as possible. Fuller sketched early drawings that involved ‘4D transport’ and he described the car to his daughter as “a zoomobile” that could hop off the road, fly and then settle back into traffic.
Fuller was offered money by a stock trader called Philip Pearson, and though initially hesitant, Fuller eventually accepted. He set up the Dymaxion Corporation and set to work on the first prototype. The name of the vehicle came from the sentence ‘dynamic, maximum and tension’ which Fuller applied to a lot of his work.
He partnered with naval architect Starling Burgess to understand steering mechanisms in nature, e.g. the rear ‘single fin’ steering of birds and fish. Burgess had invented the first delta-wing aircraft, so his input came in handy. Fuller came up with an aerodynamic design and worked with sculptor Isamu Noguchi to create plaster wind tunnel models to help develop the teardrop shape.
The first prototype was made of lightweight chromoly steel and featured aircraft style lightening holes, a Ford V8 engine and four seat interior.
When the Dymaxion was revealed to the public, it received a tremendous amount of interest. Fuller had offers from Ford, Kaiser, Chrysler, Packard, Studebaker and others. Walter Chrysler said Fuller had “produced exactly the car he’d always wanted to produce.”
However, Fuller had never intended for the Dymaxion to be created for commercial use. More over, the design needed work. Steering proved to be extremely difficult, especially in high winds. Fuller only permitted trained drivers to operate the Dymaxion and wouldn’t let it be used in windy weather. Ultimately, Fuller chose to dissolve the Dymaxion Corporation after selling three prototypes.
The Dymaxion remains one of the most striking vehicles of all time.