Sam Glover Dy­max­ion; a true vi­sion of the fu­ture.

Joyrid­ing in Buck­min­ster Fuller’s vi­sion of the fu­ture

Practical Classics (UK) - - CONTENTS - Sam Glover spends his spare time break­ing down in ex­otic lo­ca­tions around the world. He also tries to main­tain a fleet of 50 ob­scure clas­sics, from Anadol to Žuk.

Richard Buck­min­ster Fuller was a ‘de­sign sci­en­tist’ who in­ten­tion­ally worked at least half a cen­tury ahead of his time. He viewed tech­nol­ogy as a means of ‘mak­ing the world work for ev­ery­body’. As well as be­ing a con­vinc­ing ora­tor, he was an able en­gi­neer and math­e­ma­ti­cian – which gave him an im­prob­a­ble abil­ity to trans­late far-fetched ideas into re­al­ity.

Fuller en­vis­aged a ‘one-town world’ cov­ered in self-suf­fi­cient and en­ergy-ef­fi­cient hous­ing stacks. For this to work, peo­ple would need high-speed trans­porta­tion to get around. En­ter the Dy­max­ion. The con­cept be­gan in the Twen­ties as fly­ing ma­chine that was also ca­pa­ble of driv­ing on land (or ‘pro­longed taxi­ing’ as Fuller put it). It was to be pro­pelled by jet en­gines that swiv­elled for ver­ti­cal take-offs. Sadly, these were yet to be in­vented. Thus, the Dy­max­ion had to be born as driv­ing ma­chine, though the idea that it would even­tu­ally take off re­mained cen­tral to the de­sign.

The lay­out was char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally re­moved from the con­ven­tional. It had a light­weight low-drag body with one steer­ing wheel at the rear. A en­gine and trans­mis­sion placed be­hind the cabin sent drive to a pair of non-steer­ing wheels at the front. It looked like it’d fallen from space.

In March 1933 – the midst of the Great De­pres­sion – Fuller se­cured fund­ing from var­ied sources, hired 28 world-class en­gi­neers and set up a fac­tory. Dy­max­ion 1 was un­veiled to an as­ton­ished press less than four months later. Its ash-framed alu­minium body cloaked the en­gine, trans­mis­sion and much of the chas­sis of a 1932 Ford V8. A re­de­vel­oped Dy­max­ion 2 ap­peared in January 1934 and a glitzier Dy­max­ion 3 later that year.

The money had run out by 1935 and Fuller sped off to pur­sue other ideas. While not en­tirely a con­cep­tual suc­cess – and cer­tainly not a com­mer­cial one – the Dy­max­ion and the pub­lic­ity Fuller spun from it gave Amer­i­can car de­sign a shake-up and a large help­ing of brain-food. With­out it, the post­war years would prob­a­bly not have been as in­ter­est­ing.

A fu­tur­ist ke­bab

Dy­max­ion 2 is the sole sur­vivor, now re­sid­ing in the The Har­rah Col­lec­tion, Ne­vada. Two repli­cas also ex­ist: Dy­max­ion 3 com­mis­sioned by Bri­tish ar­chi­tect Nor­man Foster and Dy­max­ion 1 built at the Lane Mo­tor Mu­seum, Ten­nessee. As luck would have it, this is where I found my­self one sunny lunchtime.

‘Shall we jump in the Dy­max­ion and grab a ke­bab?’ asked Jeff Lane, the mu­seum’s vir­tu­oso cu­ra­tor. I as­sumed he was jok­ing. His re­cently-com­pleted Dy­max­ion was bask­ing cen­tre-stage in mu­seum’s mag­nif­i­cent main hall. He wasn’t jok­ing. He clam­bered in, fired up the V8, swung it round in its own length and slalomed through ex­hibits to the door. ‘The body is Dy­max­ion 1 but the chas­sis is a three-part con­struc­tion like the later cars,’ ex­plained Jeff as we ad­mired it out­side. ‘We tried to pick the best of what Bucky did – and we started with the same Ford V8 as a donor car.’

‘You’ve got to watch the back end as you pull away from junc­tions, or it swings right out onto the other side of the road,’ said Jeff, demon­strat­ing that he’d mas­tered the art by join­ing the busy road out­side the mu­seum at some speed. ‘Once you’re go­ing, it’s not too bad,’ he con­tin­ued, ac­cel­er­at­ing with im­pres­sive oomph. ‘You’ve just got to fight the urge to over-cor­rect the steer­ing. You drive like a drunk at first – but we took it 650 miles to a show in Florida last year and we kinda got used to it.’

As a pas­sen­ger, I found it un­usu­ally civilised for a Thir­ties-de­signed car. The V8 bur­ble was well­masked, the cabin cav­ernous and the ride cred­itably smooth. It seemed to go pretty well, too. The 180° screen pro­vided a per­fect vista from which to en­joy the shock and awe of on­com­ing mo­torists. Jeff swept into the ke­bab restau­rant and parked among the trucks and wheelie bins at the back. In such mun­dane sur­round­ings, the Dy­max­ion looked more bonkers than ever. If only the fu­ture had turned out to be as cool as Fuller en­vi­sioned 80 years ago.

An ex­hi­bi­tion of Thir­ties fu­tur­ism be­hind a ke­bab diner in Nashville.

Jeff Lane's Dy­max­ion took nine years to build. He's cov­ered thou­sands of miles in it since its com­ple­tion in 2015.

SAM GLOVER

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