Tuesday, 17 July 2012

feature : Dymaxion Car by Richard Buckminster Fuller (1933)



Anyone that has heard of Buckminster Fuller recalls a structural genius who was credited with designing geodesic domes. There’s no doubt Fuller was a clever man, but it took 2 hugely significant events before he embarked on his incredible architectural journey :


Firstly the shock of losing his young daughter to polio and spinal meningitis in 1922, causing severe depression, but eventually resulted in him resolving to conduct “an experiment, to find what a single individual could contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity”.


Secondly the introduction to the Japanese American artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi in 1929 which became the catalyst that sparked a structural revolution.


class="MsoNormal">Coining a new phrase, Dymaxion (said to be the abbreviation of "dynamic maximum tension"), Fuller and Noguchi focused on new designs for practical housing and transportation. Their first project in 1933 was for a revolutionary car. The three-wheeled, fuel-efficient, eleven (!) -seater literally embraced aircraft technology to create a giant tear-shaped, aerodynamic form.


At 6.1m long (twice as long as any conventional car of the time), the Dymaxion could perform a U-turn within its own length. Unfortunately the new concept car got off the worst possible start. The Dymaxion crashed on the way to the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, rolling over and killing the driver and seriously injuring 2 passengers. Some believe it was just the excuse many financial backers had been looking for, as they feared the potential of this revolutionary design would kill all other car sales. Some conspiracy theorists even believe that one of the big car manufacturers of the time arranged for the crash to happen !


Of the 3 prototypes built, only the 2nd one survives. And so it was until 75 years later when Norman Foster, who worked with Fuller from 1971 until 1983 and himself a passionate car collector, built his own replica. Racing car specialists Crosthwaite and Gardiner painstakingly reconstructed the car with an ash frame on the chassis of a 1934 Ford Tudor Sedan. In 2011 I was lucky enough to see it at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. It’s a magnificent gesture to a great man and a true lesson in what might have been.


by Darren Maddison




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