A week ago, the 24 Hours of LeMons returned to the very plush Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, for the fourth annual ‘Shine Country Classic race. Prior to the race, we ran the Retreat From Moscow LeMons Rally, which went from Moscow (Pennslylvania) to Paris (Tennessee), via Buffalo and some other chilly places, before finishing up in Birmingham. This meant that many of the participants were even loopier than usual, what with the exhaustion of having driven their hoopties 2,000+ miles through ugly winter weather. We saw favorites knocked out of contention by bad driving, bad hardware, and bad luck, while Mercedes-Benz dominated the event. Here’s what happened.
Getting the most laps and winning Class A in the process, the Squirtin’ Coronas piloted their 1993 Mercedes-Benz 300E to a spotless, mistake-free victory over the 104-car field.
This wasn’t the first overall LeMons win for a Mercedes-Benz W124, but it was the first for a W124 with a luxurious and sensible automatic transmission. Yes, Internet Car Experts, you can get around a road course quickly with a slushbox!
This team had been racing in the 24 Hours of LeMons since all the way back in 2011, dressing up in full Corona Beer regalia for many a Camden, South Carolina parade and street party. The drivers started out slow and black-flaggy, and the car broke often, but they got a little bit better at the drivin’ and wrenchin’ with each passing race.
By last year, they had become regular top-ten finishers at the Southern LeMons events. This race, the bookies would have selected the Done Racing Racing BMW AMX, the Save The Ta-Tas Camaro, and the LemonAid Racing BMW 325 as the betting favorites… but then the drivers of the normally-clean-driving first two teams went Full Red Mist Mode and got parked by the LeMons Supreme Court for over-crashy driving, and the latter team got knocked out when the lithium-ion battery in their car’s race radio exploded and burned up their wiring harness in a scary electrical fire.
In stark contrast to those teams, the Squirtin’ Corona Benz ran perfectly, the crew executed no-mistakes pit stops, and the drivers were both fast and clean. Congratulations on a hard-earned first overall LeMons win, Squirtin’ Coronas!
The P2 team gave us another dramatic world-turned-topsy-turvy story. The Midwest-based Apocalyptic Racing 1978 Toyota Celica has been with us for many years, and we had become accustomed to seeing this car up on jack-stands at race tracks, surrounded by thousands of broken parts while stoic-yet-cheerful racers zip-tied it together again.
After exploding countless Toyota R engines and wearing out their tools doing engine swaps at race tracks, the Apocalyptic Racing guys swapped in a GM Ecotec engine out of a Cobalt. This didn’t work much better, it seemed… until this race, when nothing broke and the Apocalyptic drivers got a chance to race all weekend.
The Toyota Corolla FX16 GT-S is what we in the LeMons Supreme Court refer to as a “B+” race car: a little on the quick side for Class B, but not quite quick enough to catch the fastest Class A cars. We had been putting the Toyota PE Motorsports car in Class A for a couple of years, but this time we relented and gave the team (which is made up of Toyota employees) Class B. After spending all weekend battling with the Team Too Soon Jetta, the Corolla drivers edged out a very close Class B win.
In Class C, the Steel City Rustkateers and their Pontiac XP-833 Banshee (actually a much-modified Opel GT with the Banshee-correct Pontiac OHC Six engine swapped in) persevered while the other Class C teams broke their character-building cars in typical Class C fashion, winning the most important LeMons class by three laps over the Team M00nboostin Dodge Conquest.
Along the way, all their tools were stolen from their truck. Soon after, the truck’s transmission exploded, stranding them on a tiny two-lane in rural Tennessee. For these travails, the Steel City Rustkateers took home the I Got Screwed trophy to go with their Class C prize.
Did you know that you can get strong-running, low-mile Audi A4s with the turbo 1.8 engine and the mighty Quattro all-wheel-drive system for really cheap prices? Why is that? T.D.G. Racing, a bunch of Birmingham Audi fanatics, already knew the answer, but they couldn’t resist a great deal on this 1999 A4 wagon. The team’s plan was to blow away the competition when the rain started.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the A4’s engine ate itself about an hour after the green flag on Saturday. This was no problem for T.D.G. Racing, because one of the drivers had brought his daily-driver ’99 A4 1.8T, and everyone on the team was a skilled Audi mechanic. Not very shockingly, the fact that the two ’99s had gone down the assembly line six months apart meant that everything between the cars was different, from electrical connectors to alternator brackets. 10,000 overcomplex, finicky proprietary fasteners and 28 hours of hard work later, the replacement engine was in and the car hit the track… seven minutes before the checkered flag on Sunday. It ran out of gas after doing a single lap, of course, but the achievement was so monumental that T.D.G. Racing took home the Most Heroic Fix trophy.
The Buick Grand National was the 1980s muscle car to have in the Deep South, and so the guys on Team Bros With Hoses were very excited to find a screaming deal on a Regal with a genuine Grand National turbocharged engine swap.
Sure, there were trees growing through the engine compartment, the body featured panels in five different colors, the suspension was completely shot, and the transmission was of the box-o-slush variety. No matter! The Bros With Hoses Regal ran all weekend long, slowly, and no engine parts were launched through the hood. We call that a victory for Southern Muscle, and so we awarded the team the Numbers-Matchin’ Southern Muscle Car trophy.
The first electric-powered LeMons car to run, sort of, for most of a race was the Duff Beer Racing 1981 Jet Electrica 007 (an electrified Plymouth TC3). Back at the LeMons South Fall race in September, the Duff Beer TC3 featured 800 pounds of lead-acid batteries and the original 25-horse electric motor.
This time, the Duff Beer Jet Electrica boasted an upgraded motor plus modern battery packs from a couple of Chevrolet Volts (yes, there is a LeMons budget exemption for hooptie electric race cars like this). The car was quick enough to pass on the race track, but the Duff charging system wasn’t up to the demands of racing (i.e., the RC-hobbyist chargers exploded and melted, one by one) and this limited the car to 99th place out of 104 entries. Still, this achievement was sufficient to warrant the awarding of the prestigious Judges’ Choice trophy. Once the charging bugs are worked out, this car should be a legitimate Class C contender.
Barber Motorsports Park features what must be the best motorcycle museum in the world, and so the track’s entry to the LeMons race had to be a motorcycle. Since the 24 Hours of LeMons rules mandate at least four wheels on race vehicles, Team Barber had to convert their Datsun 200SX into a patriotic chopper. This looked so great on the track that Team Barber won the Organizer’s Choice trophy.
If you had to drive the 2,000 miles of the Retreat From Moscow LeMons Rally, through the Appalachian Mountains during snowstorms, would you take a 50-year-old diesel Mercedes rated at 55 horsepower and a roll-caged, two-ton, ludicrously complicated Benz coupe sold to mid-level cocaine dealers during the 1980s? The Knoxvegas Lowballers, creators of the amazing Ford Contour-based Ken Block Hooptiecorn Mustang, did just that.
The Knoxvegas 1988 Mercedes-Benz 560SL had run a few LeMons races before, and it had been terrible. Everyone affiliated with the LeMons organization assumed that this car— which bears the Tennessee vanity plate SPUTR— would limp about a dozen miles out of Moscow, Pennsylvania, then clank to a halt after some maddeningly undiagnosable electrical problem popped up. Nope! The car did the entire rally, then proceeded to turn not-embarrassingly-slow laps all weekend at Barber.
For this, the Knoxvegas Lowballers added another Index of Effluency award to their ever-growing heap of 24 Hours of LeMons trophies.