In terms of design, the early 1930s were a time of promise, when people weren’t afraid to dream big. Buckminster Fuller is a perfect example, and his “Dymaxion” brand promised Americans a better (and more stylish) quality of life.
Though applied to everything from the Marshall Fields department store in Chicago through kettle-shaped housing, we associate the name Dymaxion with the three-wheeled automobile conceived by Fuller in the early 1930s.
On paper, its specifications were impressive: its teardrop shape allowed a claimed top speed of 120 miles per hour, while returning 30 miles per gallon. Large enough to seat 11 passengers, the Dymaxion’s reverse-tricycle layout (two driven wheels up front, one in the rear to provide steering) allowed it to complete a U-turn in its own 20-foot length.
Though the 85-horsepower Ford flathead V-8 engine was located in the rear, the Dymaxion was front-wheel drive. It’s single-wheel rear steering proved tricky to grasp, and a fatal crash at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair proved to be the Dymaxion’s undoing. Investors quickly bailed on the project, and production ended with just three built.
As Hemmings Daily tells us, the crashed Dymaxion was rebuilt, but later destroyed in a fire. The second Dymaxion was sold to several private owners over the years before winding up at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada. The third and final Dymaxion went missing sometime after World War II.
Famed architect Norman Foster (Lord Norman Foster, actually), an associate of Fuller's, commissioned British firm Crosthwaite and Gardiner to construct Dymaxion number four, based on the surviving Dymaxion number two. In exchange for allowing Foster to document the interior of the vehicle, the National Automobile Museum requested that he fund an interior restoration of Dymaxion two.
Dymaxion number two had fallen into disrepair, and its interior was so gutted that the museum opted to simply black out the windows. Thanks to Foster's passion for the Dymaxion, the Crosthwaite and Gardiner restoration has put the car back to "as new" condition inside and out.
It’s not yet operational, however, and the National Automobile Museum is actively seeking a 1934 Ford flathead V-8 to complete the restoration. If the mechanical details can be sorted out, the museum plans on unveiling the Dymaxion in the summer of 2013.
Thanks to Alister Oliver for providing the additional background!