The Avion cuts a striking figure, so imagine what it looked like in 1984, when Craig Henderson of Bellingham, Wash., built it from scratch. The two-seat sports car was designed to be incredibly fuel efficient, and it’s still like that 26 years later, having recently traveled from the Canadian border to the Mexican one
on 12.4 gallons of gas, averaging 119 mpg and making the Guinness Book of World Records. (The first time it made this trip in 1986, it averaged 103.7 mpg).
Now Henderson is putting a (minimally) revised Avion into production as a kit car. Super fuel economy can be yours!
“People really like the car, even before they know it gets really good gas mileage,” Henderson said. The Avion does look cool, but it’s basically an exercise in minimalism. The lightweight rolling chassis uses an aluminum monocoque center with steel tubes “like a Ferrari” at the ends. The body is a combination of fiberglass (the main construction material originally) with super-strong but light carbon fiber, aluminum and Kevlar. The gullwing doors pivot up like they did on the "Back to the Future" DeLorean
, and the Mercedes 300SL.
Powered by the engine from a Canada-sourced diesel Smart car, the whole thing weighs less than 1,500 pounds. When originally built with a Shelby-derived Chrysler turbo engine
, it could do 40 mpg on the highway, but the Smart engine is just 800 cubic inches and diesel to boot, so insane mileage is possible. The interior is nicely finished, with a rosewood dash and leather seats. There are no airbags or other advanced safety stuff, but you could put them in.
Henderson says the kit version of the Avion will be available in the spring, with a price somewhere around $25,000 to $30,000. That’s without an engine, though. (You can’t sell kit cars with engines attached.) A motor and transmission, plus installation, could cost another $5,000, and the job would likely take a weekend.
Plans like this take awhile. According to this two-year-old video, Henderson was trying to put the Avion into production in 2008:
Henderson is planning to set the Avion up for a possible electric version, and a high-performance version (intended for 300-horsepower Subaru power) is also envisioned — and should do 200 mph, if Henderson has done his calculations right. If the Avion proves anything, it’s that weight matters. Really heavy cars need a lot of power. This one moves out quite nicely with minimal power, achieving zero to 60 in nine seconds.
“You drive it just like a normal car,” Henderson said. He has 30,000 miles on the odometer, and still drives his old friend regularly. Sometimes from the top of America to the bottom, stopping only for quick pit stops at rest areas. That's dedication for ya.