No one cared about fuel economy in the '80s. I drove a used six-cylinder Datsun that got terrible mileage, especially as driven by a high-school boy, where you needed to see if you could hit 85 m.p.h. on the way to the grocery store. But I was easily able to fill the tank on busboy wages, as gas was 99 cents per gallon, cheaper than soda.
Nevertheless, in 1984 inventors Craig Henderson and Bill Green developed the Avion, a hand-built car that hit an astonishing high of 113 miles per gallon in test runs. It wasn't intended to be a "green" car; the duo set out to build a high-performance sports car, but by using manufacturing techniques "more closely related to small airplane construction than steel stamped automobiles"--composite materials are used widely throughout--the Avion achieved absurdly low mileage even though it used a standard Chrysler four-cylinder engine. Henderson drove it from Mexico to Canada while averaging 103 miles per gallon.
After 20 years, Henderson is now trying to break his high-mileage record; he's dusted off the Avion, updated the engine and tires, and is attempting to drive from the Canadian border to the Mexican border on only a single 14-gallon tankful of gas. Henderson departed from Blaine, Washington yesterday, and is Tweeting his updates here.
While he hopes the Avion and his trip will draw attention to just how possible high-efficiency automobiles are, Henderson is well aware of the challenges he faces beyond the drive: "It's one thing to build a car that gets 100 miles per gallon," he says. "It's another thing to build a company that builds that car."