Driving ambition … Norman Foster and his Dymaxion. Photograph: Nigel Young

Richard Buckminster Fuller had a lot of nerve. In the 1930s, the great US inventor secured the first $1,000 he needed to build a giant futuristic car, called the Dymaxion. The socialite who gave him the cash was told: “If I want to use it all to buy ice cream cones, that will be that – and there will be no questions asked.”

Fuller, born in 1895, is best known for his geodesic domes, but his ultimate hope was that the three-wheeled Dymaxion – which looked like a VW camper van crossed with a pinball flipper – would fly, allowing Americans to leave the highway vertically and touch down at lightweight aluminium homes, scattered wherever they fancied by a fleet of Zeppelins.

The Dymaxion was meant to be phase one of a social revolution, fuelled by the latest technology, but only three were ever built. No 1 caught fire and No 3 was turned into scrap; only No 2 survived. It now sits in the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada – or it did until 18 months ago, when the architect Norman Foster decided he wanted to fulfil a dream, and build Dymaxion No 4. So he borrowed No 2 for inspiration.

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Jonathan Glancey
Guardian

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