If you’re on this site, there’s a good chance you have contemplated building your own car. Perhaps from scratch, using items found in a junkyard. This notion probably came to you as a child, when possibilities were endless and the realities of life had not yet taken hold.
For me, that inspiration came to fruition at the age of eight, in the form of two Radio Flyer wagons, lashed side-by-side, with a wooden pole connecting the two steering mechanisms. The dream of building my own road-faring machine ended there (for now), but for Paul M. Lewis, the dream of creating a car became a lifetime passion.
His creations, the Airomobile and the Fascination, are true works of automotive art. Some might say abstract automotive art, but make no mistake- these aeronautical-inspired vehicles turn heads.
Paul M. Lewis moved to Denver, from Idaho Springs, CO in 1933 to open an airplane company. His goal was to construct VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) aircraft. Shortly after beginning development of his first aircraft, Lewis also decided to take on constructing an automobile. Though he had no experience building cars, he was convinced that he could build an economical mode of transportation for the masses- and sell it for only $300. His design called for a very simple construction, with a three-wheeled layout.
Lewis approached ex-Franklin Motor Company engineers Carl Doman and Ed Marks to build the engine of his new car. He presented them with a scale model, which was curvaceous yet streamlined, and like nothing either man had ever seen before. They were sold, and moved production from Denver to Syracuse, which was home of the Doman-Marks Engine Company.
The original layout for what was to become the Airomobile called for two wheels in the front, and the engine up front, powering a single wheel in the rear. Doman and Marks were skeptical about the three-wheel layout, and drew up plans for a more conventional four wheel design with the engine in the rear.
After much trial and tribulation, in early 1936, the car was ready for production. Unfortunately for Lewis, the SEC stepped in with some major questions. Though they were selling stock, Lewis-American Airways had only built one plane and one car. They suspended Lewis’s right to sell stock. Undaunted, he continued with development and promotion of the “Airomobile”, which averaged 43.6 miles per gallon!
However, amidst continued SEC troubles, the company went bankrupt in late 1939.
That would convince most men to pack it in and take up another occupation. For a time, Lewis did just that, building specialty items and toys, accumulating 28 patents in the process. However, in 1962, Lewis formed the Highway Aircraft Corporation, with the goal of bringing a vehicles to market. It was under this new company that Lewis created the “Fascination”, with jet-age styling (albeit a decade after that type of design was in favor) and efficiency in mind.
The first iteration of the Fascination was prop-powered and had three wheels. After a failed demonstration at Bandimere Speedway, the propeller was ditched in favor of a pancake-style boxer engine and a second wheel was added up front.
Three more cars were built, mostly as marketing tools to drum up funds. Each of these cars featured a Renault 4-cylinder engines. One car was on display at the Denver-Stapleton Airport, while another was shown at the Los Angeles Auto show.
Lewis claimed an innovative new engine was on the way for the Fascination: a Nobel Gas Plasma Engine. It was supposed to be a closed, two-cycle reciprocating engine. It was to have no intake, no exhaust, and once the fuel is sealed, would last 60,000-75,000 miles. (Ummm, I find this hard to believe, but OK)
But alas, Lewis ran into trouble again. The stockholders, mostly farmers, voted Lewis out, and the company went bankrupt. Lewis cited constant interference from the SEC, but it just might be possible that Lewis was never able to develop such a far-fetched engine, and the stockholders became restless.
Paul M. Lewis died on November 27, 1990, having only built six cars (one Airomobile, one prop Fascination, three Renault-powered models, and a final model with an Oldsmobile Tornado-sourced V6. The latter was built after he stepped down). That is still six more automobiles than most human beings have ever built. In his last public statement, he admitted to having no regrets. He also wished the government would give inventors more freedoms, claiming that America had become a third-rate nation.
Today, three of the five Fascinations are owned by Keith and Eileen Carpenter of Parker, CO- No.1, No.2, and No.5, to be exact. The V6-powered No.5 was never completely finished, while No.1, and No.2 make the classic car show circuit. Keep an eye out and maybe you’ll see it if you go to a major show this summer!
So what to make of Lewis and his creations? These cars represent that part of our brain that says “what if?” and a man that took it upon himself to make “what if?” a reality. Not a great deal is known about the financial woes that would repeatedly stand in the way of Lewis, but the biggest dreamers are not always the most realistic or pragmatic individuals. Reality can sometimes dash our grandest of visions. Those rare chances, when someone comes even close to making their dream a reality, it should be celebrated, as these cars still are to this day.