Craig Henderson is my hero. He was an automotive technology student at Western Washington University when he and his friend, Bill Green, designed and built the Avion. Other than paint and graphics, it doesn't look much different than it did in 1986, when it first broke 100 mpg on the highway.
Well heck, who cared back then? We had plenty of gasoline in the pipeline and gas was a cheap as firewood. The Guinness folks gave them a world record (103 mpg) and they considered building a kit, but in those consumptuous times, nobody wanted an eco-freako-dorkmobile no matter how cool it looked. So Craig put the Avion under a tarp for 20 years and founded Bullfrog Boats to hone his fabrication skills.
Fast forward to today. Energy is an issue again and the Avion is no longer ahead of its time, it's right on schedule. Craig built another Avion with a modern engine, from a diesel Smart Car, and made a set of molds so he can crank out more car bodies if the world calls for Avions — and how better to get the world calling than another long distance record attempt; from Canada to Mexico on one tank of fuel. He found a sponsor to pick up the travel tab, and so the Avion Economy in Motion Border to Border Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max Challenge was born (sponsored by Goodyear, in the name of its Assurance Fuel Max tires.
Craig set out from the Canadian border crossing at Blaine, Washington, on Sunday morning, August 29, and reached the California/Mexico border on Wednesday, September 1. He was accompanied by an SUV containing an engineer to handle the fuel, and a publicist to handle the press.
For MOTHER EARTH NEWS this is a major story, right? Well worth sending Ace Reporter, Yours Truly, to the front lines, right? We were geared up to follow the Avion, me and MAX, the full 1,400 miles from start to finish ... until a month ago when we were asked not to go.
That may seem an odd decision. None of the other press reps were interested enough to track them from initial fueling to final measurement of the dregs, and you'd think they'd want somebody around to say “I was there and yes they did it.” To avoid speculation, I asked the publicist for an explanation I could quote, and here it is:
"Craig wanted to focus on the Avion breaking his old record, he wasn't interested in doing the Border to Border run with MAX or any other vehicle. He just wants to achieve his dream of doing a solo run to smash his old record."
I can relate to that. I'll be driving MAX to the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR in Pennsylvania in a couple weeks and I'm looking forward to doing it solo; just me, MAX, and a sleeping bag. I might not enjoy the trip as much if some newsguy was hanging around documenting it. But I did connect briefly with the Avion team, near the halfway point, in Redding, California, where I saw the Avion live for the first time. I didn't learn much I couldn't learn off their Twitter page (“Portland, OR to Redding, CA - 117.0 MPG “ at the time, and their latest tweet says “1478 Miles using only 12.41 Gallons of Fuel. 119.1 MPG”) but it was enough to leave me impressed.
I'll tell you, in an open road economy contest, the Avion would wax MAX. Their best leg was Redding to Fresno, claimed at 129 MPG, and MAX is still in double digits. Also the Avion looks gorgeous, like a small quantity production car, whereas even the kindest spectator would call MAX a work in progress. All in all, the Avion is the better car, as well it should be for five times the money, but if you get one, you'll be getting what you pay for.
Craig intends to put out an Avion kit at around $30,000, plus you'll need a diesel Smart Car (not an easy acquisition in America) and some other odds and ends, and you'll have a car that gives you every reason to feel smug as you cruise down the road. My hat's off to Craig, for sticking to his dreams and making one heck of a car, and maybe next year we can do a Three Flags Econo Rally. If that comes to fruition, I'll be honored if MAX comes in second to the Avion.
I'm also interested in checking out Fuel Max tires, so I'll probably be talking with their publicist again. According to Goodyear, these tires can add 4% to your mileage, and when you're nibbling at triple digit MPG, 4% looks like a lot.