The legacy of Buckminster Fuller, one of America’s greatest minds of the 20th century, lives on, largely due to the dynamic Buckminster Fuller Institute and its annual Challenge, which awards cash prizes to inventors working in the same vein as Bucky. Others work independently to complete Bucky’s ideas, including Jeff Lane, who is building a Dymaxion car, based on Fuller’s 1933 prototype. David K. Gibson reports for BBC Autos:
Some concept cars influence decades of automotive engineering. Some concepts never catch on. Some simply catch fire.
The Dymaxion car, designed by the visionary US architect and all-round polymath R Buckminster Fuller, may be the rare prototype for which all of these things are true.
“It’s full of unique and different technologies,” says Jeff Lane, director of the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. “It was a failure commercially, but it tried lots of different things that have had big influence on car design.” It was a big enough influence on Lane that, 80 years later, he’s in the final stages of recreating Fuller’s first prototype.
When the first zeppelin-shaped vehicle debuted in 1933, it broke every automotive design convention save the use of round wheels. Nearly 20 feet (6.1 metres) long, it could transport 11 people and return 30mpg thanks to wind-tunnel-tested aerodynamics and lightweight aluminium-skin construction. Its engine was rear-mounted but powered the front wheels, and it was steered with a single back wheel, a less-than-intuitive arrangement that may have contributed to a fatal crash that occurred during its demonstration at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.
In Fuller’s lifetime, three Dymaxions were built. The first – the one that crashed – later burned. No 3 was sold for scrap sometime in the 1950s. The lone surviving original ( No 2) was abandoned to a farmer’s barn before ending up at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada. A fourth car, based on the badly damaged second car, was completed in 2010 by British architect Norman Foster, a onetime acolyte of Fuller.
Lane’s model is a recreation of the very first prototype, which had one door, no moving windows and a single headlight. Lane and his team of designers analysed photographs and news reports, bills of materials and 80 different drawings made for the manufacturing process. “We’ve got plans for 12 different swing arms, and some drawings have no numbers so we don’t know which prototype they belong to,” says Lane. He has discovered details missing from the No 4 recreation, among them a work order for a belly plate, something he believes the streamline-obsessed Fuller wouldn’t have omitted from the design…
[continues at BBC Autos]
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