Special Exhibit Spotlight: The Avion Car

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Now on display in the San Diego Air & Space Museum’s Modern Jet Gallery is a true example of a unique combination of aircraft and automotive technology.

The Avion Car holds a World Record for border-to border fuel economy at 104 miles per gallon in a 1986 Mexico to Canada competition. It broke that record in 2010 driving from Canada to Mexico on one tank of fuel, 12.4 gallons, averaging 119.1 per gallon!

The Avion was designed and built by Craig Henderson and Bill Green, graduates of the Vehicle Research Institute at Western Washington University.

The car is a prototype sports car that achieves over 100 per gallon. The car is based on a simple concept: good fuel economy is due to low aerodynamic and rolling friction, low weight and a very efficient engine.

The Avion was intended to be made using existing automotive components. Built much like an airplane, the Avion uses a center aluminum sheet chassis with steel tube spaceframes attached at the front and rear. The aerodynamic, composite body is bonded and riveted to the chassis, adding to its strength and rigidity. The total weight of the Avion with fuel is less than 1,500 pounds.

Although designed for production, only one Avion was built, but it proved the impossible is possible! 100 miles per gallon plus!

Why Do We Have the Avion Car in the Air & Space Museum?
The design and construction of the Avion car mirrors much of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics that go into modern aircraft construction. The car body is made of strong lightweight composite materials much like many aircraft today. Additionally, the aluminum chassis construction contributes to the overall body strength and lightweight feature, again, much like an aircraft. Of special note is the builders’ effort to reduce the “profile” drag produced by the shape of the car. Wind tunnel testing is used to track airflow around the body of an aircraft when being designed to improve efficiency, and some of the same techniques were used in the body design of the Avion. Along those same lines, the builders reduced the “parasitic” drag on the airflow by shaping and positioning items that had to be present on the vehicle so it could be driven on the road legally. Two very visible examples of this are the reduction of two windshield wipers down to one; the one remaining wiper is aligned with the car body and in line with the wind as the car drives down the road. The second obvious difference from most vehicles is that the side rearview mirror is mounted inside the window and not externally as most are. Any items mounted on the outside of the car produce drag and thereby reduce the fuel efficiency.

The French word for “aircraft” is “avion,” the namesake of this car, and if it had wings, it could probably fly!

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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