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Space Age car lacks nothing but some well-heeled buyers

BELLINGHAM It's red, and sleek as a rocket. It draws stares the way Mount Rainier draws climbers. It's called the Avion, and it's a handmade sports car that a Bellingham man wants to put into production at $30,000 a copy.

At this point Craig Henderson is an automaker with no backing and no customers. But now that he is completing work on the Avion prototype, he hopes to change that.

The 27-year-old Tacoma native describes his mid-engine creation as a "high-tech sports car - a lightweight, aerodynamic sports car."

It stands only 47 inches off the ground, weighs 1,400 pounds, and is powered by a four cylinder, fuel-injected Audi engine. What makes people stare, however, is its exterior.

The design is uncluttered and very clean. Almost nothing protrudes to break the lines or offer wind resistance. A flat hood panel drops open to reveal the headlights. Even the undercarriage is flat and clean, enclosed by a sheet of aluminum.

Entering the Avion after raising the front hinged, wing like doors takes a special technique. Sit on the raised and padded side panel, swing your feet in and drop down onto the seat.

One of the car's nice surprises is a trunk that is much larger than those of other small cars, which often offer little more than a rear mounted glove compartment.

Henderson pilots the car down a wide Bellingham street in a demonstration of its head-snapping acceleration, even with an engine only half as powerful as the Chrysler Shelby 2.2-liter turbo he would like to try in a later version.

The Avion traces its brief history back to the department of technology at Western Washington University, where Henderson went to school from 1975 to 1980. A group of students in the department came up with a modification of the Viking experimental cars that had been built at the department. Their idea was to build and market the new model.

About the time he graduated in 1980, Henderson signed on with the group to build the prototype body using S-class fiberglass. Then he built the aluminum chassis.

By the time the body and chassis were put together about a year and a half ago, Henderson had become the sole entrepreneur still dedicated to the idea of building the car for sale. His Henderson Motor Co. is now ready to accept its first order for an Avion, priced at $30,000.