Part automobile, part lobster (get a look at the tail on this three-wheeler), this 1937 Airomobile is a quirky and delightful highlight in the Petersen Automotive Museum’s latest exhibit FINS: Form without Function, and the museum gives us background on this unusual prototype…


“Paul Lewis of Denver, Colorado, conceived the idea for a futuristic, three-wheel automobile in the early 1930s and contracted with former Franklin engineers Doman and Marks to build a prototype in 1937.  Working from an aerodynamically-styled model created by John Tjaarda (designer of the successful 1936 Lincoln Zephyr), Lewis’ team began construction of the unusual front-wheel drive car, which debuted in April of 1937.


The car could easily reach 80 miles per hour and averaged over 43 miles per gallon, but Lewis had difficulty securing financial backing for series production and the project did not progress beyond the prototype stage.”


Three-wheelers online gives us a little more detail about Lewis’ attempts to raise interest in the speedy and durable car.  “Lewis toured the USA on a promotional tour with the Airomobile covering over 45,000 miles.  Prospective dealers were told that they would not be able to follow the Airomobile for one mile over rough terrain without damaging their driving mechanism.  Lewis would then drive through plowed fields and ditches without the need to slow down and return to show no damage had been sustained to the vehicle.  As a result many dealers became interested in the Airomobile and Lewis was able to establish possible dealers throughout the USA.


“In 1938 the Airomobile was slightly redesigned with a new front section that included the lights being moved from the top of the wings and built into them.  Lewis again toured the USA but interest in the vehicle had diminished and plans to put the vehicle into full production were squashed with the onset of the second World War and so the vehicle never became anything more than a prototype.”

Prototypes like this Airomobile are bookmarks in automotive history, giving us a glimpse into the inventor’s vision of the future.  While we didn’t get a chance to see this three-wheeler on the road, thankfully, museums like the Petersen seek to preserve automotive design moments like these so we can enjoy them long after their era has passed.

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