Gearhead Tuesday – Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Car

Gear Head

dymaxion-car

On this day, 18 October 1933, inventor R. Buckminster Fuller tried to patent his Dymaxion car.

R. Buckminster Fuller was a 20th century inventor and visionary who did not limit himself to one field but worked as a ‘comprehensive anticipatory design scientist’ to solve global problems.

Richard Buckminster Fuller was born on 12 July 1895 in Milton, Mass. He on died on 1 July 1983 in Los Angeles. He was an engineer and architect who developed the geodesic dome, the only large dome that can be set directly on the ground as a complete structure, and the only practical kind of building that has no limiting dimensions (i.e., beyond which the structural strength must be insufficient). Among the most noteworthy geodesic domes is the United States pavilion for Expo 67 in Montreal. Also a poet and a philosopher, he was noted for unorthodox ideas on global issues.

buckminster_fuller

Fuller was descended from a long line of New England Nonconformists, the most famous of whom was his great-aunt, Margaret Fuller, the critic, teacher, woman of letters and cofounder of The Dial, organ of the Transcendentalist movement. Fuller was twice expelled from Harvard University and never completed his formal education. He saw service in the U.S. Navy during World War I as commander of a crash-boat flotilla. In 1917 he married Anne Hewlett, daughter of James Monroe Hewlett, a well-known architect and muralist. Hewlett had invented a modular construction system using a compressed fibre block, and after the war Fuller and Hewlett formed a construction company that used this material (later known as Soundex, a Celotex product) in modules for house construction. In this operation Fuller himself supervised the erection of several hundred houses.

The construction company encountered financial difficulties in 1927, and Fuller, a minority stockholder, was forced out. He found himself stranded in Chicago, without income, alienated, dismayed, confused. At this point in his life, Fuller resolved to devote his remaining years to a nonprofit search for design patterns that could maximize the social uses of the world’s energy resources and evolving industrial complex. The inventions, discoveries, and economic strategies that followed were interim factors related to that end.

In 1927, in the course of the development of his comprehensive strategy, he invented and demonstrated a factory-assembled, air-deliverable house, later called the Dymaxion house, which had its own utilities. He designed in 1928, and manufactured in 1933, the first prototype of his three-wheeled omnidirectional vehicle, the Dymaxion car.

dymaxion_plan

This automobile, the first streamlined car, could cross open fields like a Jeep, accelerate to 120 miles (190 km) per hour, make a 180-degree turn in its own length, carry 12 passengers, and average 28 miles per gallon (12 km per litre) of gasoline. In 1943, at the request of the industrialist Henry Kaiser, Fuller developed a new version of the Dymaxion car that was planned to be powered by three separate air-cooled engines, each coupled to its own wheel by a variable fluid drive. The projected 1943 Dymaxion, like its predecessor, was never commercially produced.

Dymaxion – the word itself – was another Fuller invention, a combination of “dynamic,” “maximum,” and “ion”. The Dymaxion car looked and drove like no vehicle anyone had ever seen.

It was stylish, efficient and eccentric and it attracted a great deal of attention: Celebrities wanted to ride in it and rich men wanted to invest in it. But in the same month that Fuller applied for his patent, one of his prototype Dymaxions crashed, killing the driver and alarming investors so much that they withdrew their money from the project.

When Fuller first sketched the Dymaxion Car in 1927, it was a half-car, half-airplane—when it got going fast enough, its wings were supposed to inflate – called the “4D Transport.” In 1932, the sculptor Isamu Naguchi helped the inventor with his final design: a long teardrop-shaped chassis with two wheels in front and a third in back that could lift off the ground. In practice, this didn’t turn out to be a great idea: As the vehicle picked up speed (theoretically in preparation for takeoff) and the third wheel bounced off the ground, it became nearly impossible for the driver to control the car. In fact, many people blamed this handling problem for the fatal crash of the prototype car, even though an investigation revealed that a car full of sightseers had actually caused the accident by hurtling into the Dymaxion’s lane.

Elements of the Dymaxion Car’s design, principally its streamlined shape and its fuel efficiency, have inspired later generations of automakers. Fuller himself was probably best known for the geodesic dome. Geodesic domes are built using a pattern of self-bracing triangles. As a result, perhaps unlike the Dymaxion Car, they are incredibly strong and stable. In fact, as one historian writes, “they have proved to be the strongest structures ever devised.”

dymaxion-2

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Bonus: Zsa Zsa Gabor Pitches the ’63 Studebaker Lark

The 1963 Lark boasted disc brakes, a built-in lighted vanity mirror in the glove box and contemporary styling at an affordable price. Studebaker turned to Zsa Zsa Gabor to pitch this somewhat exotic, nearly compact car. Like her marriages, the company didn’t last much longer after she got involved.

One Comment

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  1. Jack Darnell 18/10/2016 — 18:06

    I have seen pictures of the Dymaxion Car, but never knew any history on the neat but ugly dude. Been busy and not on line as much. I did enjoy the read!

    Like

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