Classic Car Catalogue

Dymaxion 1933



An early illustration of the Dymaxion. The two front wheels were for traction and braking; the one at the rear was for steering. The two carried up in the body on each side of the rear-mounted Ford V-8 engine were spares.

On March 4, 1933 an inventor Buckminster Fuller formed Dymaxion Corporation, set up a workshop in the former dynamometer building of the defunct Locomobile Company at Tongue Point, on the west side of the harbor in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Hr hired naval architect Starling Burgess and a team of 27 workmen to continue work on his project called Omni Medium Transport, a vehicle that would ultimately have "wheels for ground travel and jet stilts for instant takeoff and flight.
The first prototype of the Dymaxion (dynamic, maximum, and tension) was completed in three months — on Fuller's 38th birthday, July 12, 1933. 20 feet (6.1 m) long, was built on a hinged two-frame chassis constructed of lightweight chromoly steel with aircraft-type dished lightening holes — and powered by a Ford V8 engine producing 85 brake horsepower in a rear-engine, front-wheel-drive layout. The front axle was a re-purposed and inverted unit from a contemporary Ford roadster. Tires were provided by Goodyear. The bodywork featured sheet aluminum over an ash wood frame, with a roof partially constructed of snap-on painted canvas. Original blueprints indicate seating for four, including the driver. Fuller claimed to have achieved fuel economy of 36 mpg (7.8l/100 km) and to have reached a speed of 128 mph (206kph).
The second and third prototype featured developmental improvements including a lighter three-frame chassis, central periscope providing rearward vision, larger side windows, recessed headlights and a roof-mounted stabilizer with rear-facing exhaust outlet.
The Dymaxion concept presented considerable challenges. Maneuvering in high winds proved problematic, with the vehicle having a strong tendency to turn into the wind. The high forces caused large distortions on the tires, as well, making steering difficult. High speed travel could induce low pressure at the rear of the vehicle, causing the rear of the vehicle to lift. Fuller realized the Dymaxion "was an invention that could not be made available to the general public without considerable improvements," and instituted a program of constant refinement and improvement to the platform. Because of its limitations, Fuller and Burgess limited driving to a list of trained drivers and eliminated driving the vehicle in high winds or inclement weather.
Soon after launching Prototype One, Fuller was invited to exhibit the Dymaxion at a Bronx race track, beating the track record by 50% and drawing attention because it didn't slide or drift across the track like the other race cars.
A highly publicized accident in Prototype One on October 27, 1933 occurred "virtually at the entrance to the Chicago Century of Progress World's Fair." Ther vehicle rolled over killing the driver and seriously injuring its passengers.

The first prototype.

The second prototype.