This goofy three-wheeled people transporter should one day be a flying car. Designed by architect Buckminster Fuller using his own trust fund, the Dymaxion (named for dynamic, maximum, and tension) was a death trap at high speeds or in high winds. car week took a replica for a ride, and it’s obvious where the problem is:
The Dymaxion car’s bizarre configuration should be the first clue that it won’t exactly be the most stable thing on three wheels. The reverse-trike setup is a good start, but it all quickly goes to hell: Although it’s front-wheel drive, the Dymaxion car’s Ford V8 sits way back – just ahead of the single-wheel rear, which is cradled by a suspension system in cobbled together from Ford components.
That rear wheel is how you steer the car, for some reason. In theory, this front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-steer configuration gives the Dymaxion car a very tight turning circle. In practice, it walks on the road, even at the slow speeds (20 mph to 35 mph) we were holding it at; crowned or grooved road surfaces are extremely difficult to drive.
Keeping Bucky’s beached whale upright requires slow, deliberate, and constant steering adjustment. In the back of my mind there was the fear that a quick input or an overcorrection would cause the car to swing back and forth on the road like a pendulum gone out of control, ultimately leading to our horrible, embarrassing death. This fear was not unfounded, as the car the Lane Museum most copied (prototype number one of three built) killed the driver in 1933.
Yup, one of three prototypes built in the 1930s, was hit by another car, killing the driver of the Dymaxion, who was even wearing a seat belt at the time (a very rare safety measure for the 1930s). Fuller made a lot of wild claims about his car, like how it could go 90mph and squeeze an incredible amount of miles out of a completely unaltered flathead Ford V8. Sure, he sounds like a shy one, but aren’t all dreamers and visionaries a bit crooked too?