Earl Harper's Starfire Express is an exercise in extremes. From it's big block Oldsmobile powertrain to it's exotic bodywork and paint, this car screams "Look at me". Earl has taken an Avenger about as far as you can go, only the basic shape remains, and if not for the fact that some original fiberglass still lurks under the two-toned paint job, it would be a stretch to call this an Avenger. Earl sent in such a wealth of info and good pics, that I will just let him tell his own story, which you can read as you browse the pictures.
If my wife were to see something in the driveway like this, she would just know that this project would never be finished. I have to admit, she would probably be right. My hat is off to you Earl, for having the vision and tenacity to finish this car, congratulations.
Earl's story starts in the next frame.
re-building two Fiberfab Avengers,one VW and one Turbo Corvair), in the late summer of
1982 I suddenly found myself building yet another because, over the years, I'd fallen
in love with the shape of the Ford GT-40.
Like most kit car builders, I couldn't afford a real GT-40, so an Avenger was the closest thing to it that I could muster. Unlike most kit car builders, I took this latest Avenger GT-12 project one step--or maybe two or three - further. As I hope you can see, I think that the nearly eight years of dedication and innovation that I spent on the car paid off in spades.
To regress a bit, I saw my first Avenger advertised in a tiny ad in Popular Mechanics magazine back in 1967. Since I had been stationed in France with the Air Force just prior to the GT-40's 1-2-3 finish at LeMans, the Fiberfab kit filled a real need. With encouragement from my wife, Terry, I found a 2-piece Avenger in need of TLC advertised in the Detroit News for $1,000.00 , and I jumped at the opportunity, re-building the car with a conventional 40-horsepower VW setup, performance exhaust etc.
| My second
Avenger, a 3-piece unit, like the first, was an acquisition from someone else's original
effort, and this too was rebuilt/re-done from the ground up -- but this car included a
much more powerful turbocharged Corvair engine mated to the VW gearbox. Then, in
late 1982, my buddy , Gerry Spezia, tells me about a virgin, one-piece late model, Avenger
GT-12 body whose owner needs some $$$$ for a pending marriage. With
Gerry's inspiration over a few beers, we decided that the way to take this
car "ONE STEP FURTHER" was to drop in a high-compression 425
C.I.D., 385 hp V/8 from a 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado.
I finally purchased the body for $700.00, found an already started but incomplete Mid-Engineering clone frame for $1100.00, and a Toronado engine/transaxle for another $350.00. After spending another $1050.00 to rebuild the engine, it cost me an additional $350.00 for rejuvenating the automatic transaxle. From this point on , it was $100.00 here, a $100.00 there except for the Cragar ProTech wheels and BFG Comp T/A's priced at $950.00.
substantial costs were major frame modifications, Carrera coil-over shocks in
the rear with Corvette disc brakes; Mustang/Pinto front suspension and disc
brakes using a Kelsey-Hayes proportioning valve, all coupled to PRO coil over front
shocks. A Melling HO oil pump keeps the engine lubricated.
In all, I figure I invested a total of in excess of $8000 in receipt verified material in the car ( who knows how many receipts were lost or misplaced ?), plus about 5000 man hours ( easy, trust me ) of labor. Considering that the Avenger GT-12 was not an easy car to build in the first place ( and it's a major reason that Fiberfab Corp. is defunct), I consider the time well spent ! In any case, the Avenger body was purchased in late 1982 and by Spring of 1983 the initial plans were basically in place, so the build-up began in earnest. Drive shaft adapter plates were fabricated, floor pan modified to accept Vette seats, and frame modified ( Z 'ed ) to create a lower appearance and modified rear engine mounts. In addition, the Chrysler K-car steering column installation was finalized and coupled to the rack and pinion steering gear.
At the time my involvement with SAMA and the Grand Touring Sports Car Association of Michigan ( kit car club) got me the coordinator position for the kick-off of the first Kit Car Nationals at the Michigan State Fair Grounds in July of 1984. This slowed my build progress for a large part of late Spring and early Summer but I still managed to fabricate and install the complete brake and steering systems and rough-in the new hood opening . Exhaust system, heater/defroster installation, plus door hinges and latches were all part of the progress so that by mid-summer in 1985 I could drive the chassis short distances , dune buggy style. Again , work on the 1985 Kit Car Nationals again took considerable build time from my Avenger project. With driving my turbo Avenger in GTSCA club activities and cruising always a temptation, I found the only way to accomplish the major body modifications on this project was to sell the distraction (with a heavy heart).
|By late in 1986 the modifications to the side air scoops , front fender louvers and vents, new hood panel, rear deck cooling slots, rear grille redesign, location change and fabrication and the major rear fender widening were in various stages of completion. The ProTech wheels and BFG tires were finally installed and the chassis was taken to a street-rod alignment shop for the initial four-wheel alignment. In 1987 I found myself stalled. I guess my "ONE STEP FURTHER" approach was a bit out of control. Still, for every low spot in the road, there is always a crown, and things gradually turned around.|
|I think that I was inspired to get back on track again as a result of my friend George Hutchinson's enthusiasm while working at a furious pace to re-build his Manta Mirage. In addition, my new-driver son, Kevin, volunteered to assist me in developing a "to-do" list to get the project back on track. As every item was completed, it was highlighted and checked-off....a real indicator of progress.|
|So, in 1987, I managed to install the instrument panel and overhead console wiring harness, power window and seat harness and install the VDO Night Vision gauges in the extensive but subtly modified Avenger instrument panel, including removable padded dash cover. By the end of the year I had installed the power antenna, radio/cassette player in the overhead console, wired-in the radar detector and performance computer. The car was getting nearer to completion !|
|Despite the numerous body modifications already completed, that old lure of going one step further struck again in the spring of 1988. In an attempt to make the car more contemporary looking, I developed a ground effects package to blend the custom front spoiler pod configuration into the Can-Am fender design. Weeks of cardboard, Bondo and fiberglass later, it was done. Inch by inch my V/8 Avenger neared completion.|
|The HOT summer of 1988 convinced me that air conditioning in the Avenger would be indispensable. So, the body was lifted-off the chassis one more time to attend to the addition of an A/C system . ^ After a slow start in 1989, I had the V/8 Avenger wheel alignment re-done to reflect the body installation, the interior trim in-place and the body semi-finished and primer coated in gray in time for the annual Carnival of Cars event in Utica Mi. This show included over 100 car clubs and 2000 vehicles, but most importantly, the crowd of spectators loved what they saw in my V/8 Avenger , even in it's unfinished form. ^ The whole summer of 1989 was spent finishing the body, and in reflection, on pushing my 3rd Avenger , to new heights. Looking back, the only body panel on the original body that is in original design configuration is the roof. and head-lamp/tail-lamp pockets.|
|My friend, Gerry Spezia would spend an hour or so each week running his educated hands over the body, noting in pencil the areas needing additional body finishing. This process was done repeatedly throughout the summer and into September 1989. In mid-September, I was ready to paint my version of the Avenger GT-12.|
|Since my first color choice, Chrysler Flash Red, was not available as a straight lacquer, I had to go to the base coat/ clear coat process using Sherwin Williams paint. Color sanding and minor problems with the paint system brought the car into the end of October 1989, but it was now a Flash Red V/8 Avenger. Finally, after realizing that I had just another all-red car among many all-red cars, I decided to add the black paint two-tone design to set my V/8 Avenger apart from the pack. After a winter's hibernation, final color sanding, buffing and polishing took place as well as the windshield installation. So....in March of 1990 my V/8 Avenger was pretty much done and ready to drive.|
|Well, I thought it was done until I started driving it on hot days and the engine cooling temperatures started to climb. So..I installed dual radiator cooling fans rather that an single and that made a drastic difference. I can now drive the car on a 90-degree day and not worry about it, in a traffic jam or at highway speed --- and the air conditioner is just lovely.|
|Since the initial build, a few modifications have been made : the fuel system has been update to include a Holley ProJection4 throttle body fuel injection system, the ProTech wheels have been replaced with PS Engineering bolt-on GT-40 design and the Plexiglas side glass windows have been replaced with original Fiberfab one-piece glass units|
|To be expected, the paint is showing its age and stress cracks are becoming visible but my V/8 Avenger GT-12, named "STARFIRE EXPRESS" has proven herself to be a sexy, durable hand build vehicle.|
I am proud of my effort since, aside from the professional 4-wheel alignments and the pinstriping, all the work was done by me, with occasional club member assistance, in my garage(s) with my tools and mainly....my imagination. After all, the kit car hobby originated to let a car person design and assemble his or her dream vehicle !!!!!
Thank you so much Earl, for sharing you pride and joy with us. This webpage, I know, was a long time coming, I am certain that the visitors to the site not only appreciate the effort that you put into the car, but they appreciate that you to the trouble to let us see it and share the details with us.