Vintage vehicles, Automotive history and stories from motoring's past. 


Dynamic - Maximum - Tension - Dymaxion

Dymaxion demo old photo.jpg

It would be safe to call visionary engineer Buckminster Fuller a leading light of 1930s automotive experimentalists. His wildly innovative 1933 Dymaxion was so original it nearly qualified as a ground up reinvention of the automobile. 

Anna Biddle, a wealthy Philadelphia socialite and friend, provided financial backing for Fuller’s dream car. Another friend, sculptor and furniture designer Isamu Noguchi, helped design its wind-tunnel-tested, 20-feet-long body. Steered via a single rear wheel, the three-wheeled Dymaxion had the ability to pivot in a complete circle within its own length, if at the expense of predictable handling.

Ford’s newly introduced V-8 was then an exciting new power plant; Fuller mounted one in the rear of his blimp-shaped car with an upside-down, backwards transmission driving the car’s front wheels. Double the length of contemporary cars and able to seat up to 11 passengers, the Dymaxion was said to achieve an exceptional fuel consumption of thirty miles per gallon.

Fuller attempted to display his dream car at Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress Exposition, but was shut out as rumors flew that corporate manufacturers didn’t want the competition for their own prototypes. Instead, Fuller parked the Dymaxion curbside where it attracted a large crowd.

Tragically, a rollover accident occurred, killing the driver and injuring two passengers. Though accounts state the driver was hectored by a phalanx of photographers when it happened, Fuller’s car was condemned by sensationalist newspaper headlines screaming, “Freak Car Kills Driver.” 

Production funding dried up, with only three prototypes having been completed. One was destroyed in a crash, a second one met its death via fire. 

An empty shell of the second Dymaxion, displayed at The National Auto Museum in Nashville, Tennesse is all that survives of Fuller’s utopian dream mobile, though the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennesee displays a recently-built, faithful replica that’s fully operational.

By Jim Cherry