Nebraska-built Fascination makes a home-state visit
By Jeff Barnes
What car has two doors, was built in Nebraska, was extremely limited in its production… and looks a lot like George Jetson’s space car?
That would be a 1974 concept car called the Fascination, and no one is more fascinated with the vehicle than Denver residents Keith and Eileen Carpenter. Keith is a former Omaha teacher and was passing through the city on a morning in June to visit fellow car enthusiasts Howard and Joan Hunter.
There were only five Fascinations built and Carpenter owns three of them. This may be the most unusual car you’ve ever seen, almost looking like a giant egg with a flattened tailfin.
It was built for fuel efficiency with its aerodynamic design, although the Carpenters have never driven it far enough to have any idea of its miles per gallon. The streamlined design contributes to a major flaw of the car – it gets very hot for the passengers, sitting in what could be likened to a terrarium on wheels. Air flows right past the open windows, never entering the car unless it’s blowing from the side. There IS air conditioning, Carpenter said, “but the car is so underpowered that I disconnected the belt.”
Propelling the car is a small Renault four-cylinder engine which is barely enough to get the car up small hills. However, it’s MUCH better than the prototype which had a large propeller on the back of the car. A demonstration of that car back in the late ‘60s saw the propeller fly off, resulting in a number of lawsuits for the founder and developer of the Fascination, Paul Lewis. (Car No. 1 is also owned by Carpenter, who has completely restored it without the propeller; he also owns No. 5.)
Lewis built in the first one in Colorado, but moved production to a manufacturing plant near Sidney, Nebr., in the early ‘70s. “They flew in a bunch of Renault motors and started building,” Carpenter said, “but Lewis had a habit of coming in and interrupting the workers, saying ‘OK, what can we do to improve this today?’ and making them undo the work they’d already done. This went on for years until the board of directors finally pulled the plug and took over.”
Carpenter is all about sharing his Fascinations with the public, taking photos of people with them, loaning them to Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and taking them to car shows like the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
Occasionally he’ll even let someone he met just a half hour earlier take the wheel. That happened to this writer when – driving through Boys Town – Carpenter pulled over and said “Do you want to walk or do you want to drive?”
The Fascination is unlike anything you’ve ever driven before. It IS underpowered, and Carpenter warns you to give it some gas before you even start to drive up an incline. There’s also a warning to give the side of the road a wide berth, since the tail of the car is much wider than the nose and you sometimes forget that.
And do people stop and stare. As soon as Carpenter pulled over to change drivers, a motorcycle rider pulled up alongside his door and immediately started asking questions. After parking for photographs near the Father Flanagan statue, cars and pickups stopped as well to take photos with their cell phones and digital cameras.
Carpenter wouldn’t dream of selling it and has had many offers. While displaying in Florida, a man came up and insisted on buying it. “I couldn’t figure out why he’d want it – you can’t really drive it on the street,” he said. “But he said he wanted it for his collection. ‘I build luxury condominiums and townhomes,’ he said. ‘I will pay you $500,000 and give you a townhome in Miami.’ I turned him down.”
“You always forget the biggest part, about his business card,” Eileen reminded him. “Oh yeah – his card said ‘Trump Enterprises’,” Carpenter said. “He built for Donald Trump.”
(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, August 11, 2012)