The Dymaxion car was a concept car designed by U.S. inventor and architect Buckminster Fuller in 1933. The word Dymaxion is a brand name that Fuller gave to several of his inventions, to emphasize that he considered them part of a more general project to improve humanity's living conditions. The car had a fuel efficiency of 30 miles per US gallon (7.8 L/100 km; 36 mpg-imp). It could transport 11 passengers. While Fuller claimed it could reach speeds of 120 miles per hour (190 km/h), the fastest documented speed was 90 miles per hour (140 km/h).
The Dymaxion car was a three-wheeler, steered by a single rear wheel, and could do a U-turn in its own length. However, the rear-wheel steering made the car somewhat counterintuitive to operate, especially in crosswind situations. The body was teardrop-shaped in the manner designed by Aurel Persu, and naturally aerodynamically efficient. The car was twice as long as a conventional automobile, at 20 feet (6.1 m) long. Drive power was provided by a rear-mounted Ford V8 engine,which produced 85 brake horsepower (63 kW; 86 PS) through the front wheels. The front axle was also a Ford component, being the rear axle of a contemporary Ford roadster turned upside-down.
The 1929 automobile of German inventor and helicopter pioneer Engelbert Zaschka exhibited features that were important to Buckminster Fuller. Zaschka's three-wheeled car could also easily be folded, disassembled and re-assembled, as could Fuller’s Dymaxion House and many geodesic domes.
An accident at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair damaged the first prototype badly, killing the driver, and seriously injuring the two passengers, one of whom was William Sempill, aviation pioneer and Japanese spy. The Dymaxion had rolled over, and although the driver was wearing a seatbelt, the prototype's canvas roof had not offered sufficient crash protection. The cause of the accident was not determined, although Buckminster Fuller reported that the accident was due to the actions of another vehicle that had been following the Dymaxion closely. The crash prompted investors to abandon the project, blaming the accident on deficiencies of the vehicle's steering. In his 1988 book The Age of Heretics, author Art Kleiner maintained the real reason Chrysler refused to produce the car was because bankers had threatened to recall their loans, feeling the car would destroy sales for vehicles already in the distribution channels and second-hand cars.
Although the Dymaxion cars were not produced, the design was influential on several subsequent designs. The most widespread example of its influence was the Fiat 600 Multipla, where an extreme rear-mounted engine and a driver position above the front axle was used to give an extremely compact hybrid of car and van, which could either seat 6 people, or be used for moving bulky loads. Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion concept of obtaining optimal efficiency by Aurel Persu's aerodynamic design and employing the most advantageous materials, although obvious, may have especially influenced such designs as the Aptera hybrid car prototype, which, like the Dymaxion, is a three-wheeled, ultra light, aerodynamic, fuel-efficient vehicle design.
There were 3 original cars; car 1 was badly damaged, car 2 survives in the Harrah Collection of the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada and car 3 changed hands many times but was lost, presumed scrapped, in the 1950s. In October 2010 architect, and student of Buckminster Fuller, Sir Norman Foster had recreated the Dymaxion producing car number 4.
Extensive research was carried out during the manufacture of car 4 in an attempt to replicate the interior of the original Dymaxion cars. Having completed the interior of car 4, O'Rourke Coachtrimmers was selected to restore the interior of the only surviving original, car 2. Car 2 was shipped to Rudgwick in order for the work to be carried out before returning to the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.
The Dymaxion car is the subject of a film by filmmaker and comedian Noel Murphy: The Last Dymaxion: Buckminster Fuller's Dream Restored. The film has been written up in the New York Times prompting an October 2011 lecture and screening at Yale University.