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Irvine Inventor Finds Inspiration in the Bizarre, Extreme

February 03, 1990|TOM HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Doug Malewicki would be the first to admit that some of his inventions have literally never gotten off the ground.

Malewicki has invented a jet-powered motorcycle, a mileage-record-setting car, a speed-record-setting bicycle, a popular game for kids and a car-chomping mechanical dinosaur that performs at monster-truck shows.

Malewicki is a real-life version of the scientist named Szalinski, portrayed by actor Rick Moranis in the hit movie, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." Szalinski mistakenly zapped his children to sub-insect dimensions.

"Yeah, you could say I related to that movie," said Malewicki, who has lived in Irvine for 12 years. "I'm sure some of my friends thought I was a little crazy with some of my first inventions."

The jet-powered motorcycle, Evel Knievel's Skycycle, made a highly publicized but unsuccessful attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. Malewicki designed and engineered the steam-powered motorcycle that barely got off the ground, but rocketed Knievel to greater fame, nonetheless.

"It was a sham, but people started looking up to me after the association with Evel Knievel," Malewicki said. "Even though the project didn't work, my peers knew how much thought and work went into building the Skycycle."

Malewicki has had other disappointments. Before he could claim the world land-speed record of 152.284 m.p.h. for a bicycle, he had perhaps the world's fastest flat tire on a memorable day in 1985 at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Three-time U.S. Olympian John Howard was mounted on the prototype bicycle that featured a double-reduction gear setup and was nearing 150 m.p.h. when the rear tire went flat.

"The flat tire could have killed him," Malewicki said. "There were 1,600 Gs (the measure of gravity against an accelerating object) on the valve spring of the tire. We were really worried about maintaining the balance of the bike when we took the tire off."

Malewicki's most successful project, the California Commuter, never brought him a dime but earned him a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. The prototype car got 157 miles per gallon on a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

"I'm most proud of that project, although it never took off," he said. "We left the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and weren't on the road 20 minutes when three California Highway Patrol cars pulled us over in Woodland Hills.

"They asked to see the operating license and started asking all kinds of questions about the car. They must have radioed ahead the entire trip because every once in a while another patrol car would pull up beside us, give us a signal and then take off."

Malewicki's most profitable project has been a child's game, "Nuclear War." Self-described as "a comic, cataclysmic card game of global destruction for kids of all ages," it has been a best seller for Flying Buffalo Games for 25 years. An IBM computer version is due for release next month.

"I've gotten a $300-a-month royalty check for that game for 25 years," Malewicki said. "They tell me if the computer game takes off, I could get $50,000 a year.

"It's been a word-of-mouth type of game. The company tried advertising but found it sold more games by friends telling other friends how much fun it is to play. People wear the decks out and write for more."

Malewicki's lastest project, Robosaurus, is a 40-foot-high, 56,000-pound, fire-breathing monster robot capable of lifting and crushing 4,000-pound cars.

The machine, which took 18 months to build, moves freely with the aid of cylinders, valves, pumps, air brakes and air suspensions. A two-man crew strapped inside the monster's cranium controls its huge claws with fly-by-wire electronic equipment.

Sound outrageous?

Malewicki envisions his lastest creation as potentially his most profitable project. Investors earned $25,000 when the machine appeared at a recent two-day show that drew 67,441 spectators to Anaheim Stadium.

Robosaurus rolled onto the stadium field, lifted a junk car 40 feet, tore off the car's roof with its steel jaws and then slammed it to the ground.

Robosaurus is scheduled to appear in shows in Tempe, Ariz.; Toronto and Vancouver, Canada; Los Angeles and Indianapolis. Malewicki said he is also negotiating a deal with Universal Studios to produce a two-hour pilot television show.

"This is my first real winner," Malewicki said. "It's King Kong, Godzilla and Star Wars rolled into one."

Malewicki's next project will be to build a hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle, capable of traveling 145 m.p.h. and as far as 100 miles per gallon. Its gas engine will run a generator and an electric motor in each wheel will power the car. Malewicki plans to build the car in Irvine and then embark on a cross-country promotional tour.

"Some of these things I've invented are crazy," he said. "But at some point, they become creditable and then acceptable."

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