R. Buckminster Fuller, born in Milton, Mass., lived an adventurous, if unconventional, life. A philosopher, architect and futurist, Fuller is best known for his geodesic designs, including geodesic domes that have found many applications both in housing, industry and military. His Dymaxion Car, however, was not the success he had hoped.
The Dymaxion car was futuristic in virtually every sense. It was a three-wheeled, aerodynamically efficient car that was designed to bring elements of aircraft and boat design to automobiles. It had a thin metal skin made of aircraft aluminum and canvas top. It had three wheels, with front-wheel drive. It could carry 11 people, but was remarkably maneuverable. Fuller also believed it could travel at well over 100 miles per hour, though he never tested it above 90. As for fuel efficiency, it got a remarkable 30 miles per gallon.
The Dymaxion Car was also, as you might suspect, fairly unstable and susceptible to wind gusts. Fuller put his vision of the future on display in the 1933 World’s Fair, and it went disastrously badly. The car crashed on a test track and its driver was killed. Investor enthusiasm dried up after that and Fuller stopped Dymaxion production at prototype number three.
But the failure did nothing to stop Fuller. He went on with his life as a prolific thinker, lecturer and writer. Among his books: The Operating Manual for the Spaceship Earth. And his ideas and concepts, such as his buckyballs, many of which struck people as odd, have nevertheless inspired modern designers in numerous fields. Even some of the ideas he was tinkering with in his car have shaped more modern automobile engineering. Though unconventional in many of his beliefs, he was no doubt one-of-a-kind.