A year after our first trip to lower the property values of the upscale Inde Motorsports Ranch near Tucson, Arizona, the 24 Hours of LeMons returned to the land of snakes, cacti, and thrown rods for another Arizona D-Bags race. We saw cars from Kragujevac and Longbridge dicing with cars from Oshawa and Hiroshima, plenty of broken parts, and an impressive haboob during the course of the weekend. Here’s what happened.
The paddock of Inde Motorsports Ranch— a facility that doubles as an airfield, with club members able to land their light aircraft on the track’s main straight— is full of vintage military jet aircraft from NATO and the Warsaw Pact. This F-104 in Dutch Air Force markings displays a sense of humor about purchases of high-buck machinery.
On the subject of European money squandered on sleek, high-performance hardware, more than a third of the entries in this race were Porsches and BMWs. While not as fast nor as dangerous as an F-104, you’d expect a taut, finely-balanced 325i or 944 to run away with the victory in a race such as this.
Nope! The overall and Class A wins were taken by Team Black Bird, whose 1976 Chevrolet Camaro triumphed by a big eight laps over the second-place Zoom Zoom Kaboom Mazda Miata. Second-generation GM F-Bodies have been characterized by mechanical failure and spinouts by leadfooted drivers— no doubt driven to madness by that most Camaroesque of songs, which plays on an endless loop in the minds of F-Body racers— in our series, but Team Black Bird broke no parts, got no black flags, and spent the entire weekend driving zero-drama quick laps. This car had the quietest mufflers of any F-Body in LeMons history, which may have had something to do with the team’s victory.
Meanwhile, things didn’t go quite as well for the Stuttgart brigade. Verti-Gogh Racing loved their 1986 Porsche 944 LeMons car so much that they prepared a second one for the Arizona D-Bags race. The new car promptly popped a fuel line and roasted the engine compartment, just an hour or so after the green flag on Saturday. For this unhappy experience, the Verti-Gogh Racing team took home the I Got Screwed award.
The I Got Screwed and Most Heroic Fix awards often are two sides of the same coin, and in this case the latter trophy counterbalanced a sad Porsche story with a happy one. It Won’t Get Better Unless You Pick At It Racing showed up to the car inspections on Friday with this 1984 Porsche 924, a car that had sat forgotten in the Arizona sun for about 20 years.
The reek of decades-old bad gas in this car’s fuel tank could be detected a hundred yards away, and the team hadn’t made it run since they’d bought it. Normally, when we see a CIS-equipped old car that won’t run during the inspections, we figure it will never get onto the race track.
We had underestimated the mighty improvisational powers of It Won’t Get Better Unless You Pick At It Racing, however. The team realized that they had no hope of making the clogged-up fuel-injection system work, not without about 48 straight hours of chasing unobtainium parts and cleaning the uncleanable, and so they borrowed an SU carburettor from another team, dug up a low-pressure fuel pump, fabricated a precision adapter out of a piece of pine board, and converted their 924 to use a profoundly English fuel-delivery system.
Our experience with kludges like this has taught us that a field-expedient carburetor swap on a fuel-injected car won’t work so well, but we were impressed by the IWBBUYPAI team’s handiwork (which we assume will prompt a diplomatic protest from the German Embassy).
Shockingly, the 924 drove just fine with its new carburetor conversion, running all weekend long and finishing 22nd out of 33 entries. The justices of the LeMons Supreme Court were so impressed that we gave the team the Most Heroic Fix trophy.
The Toyota MR2 is one of those cars that’s a little too quick for Class B but handicapped by shaky Toyota reliability in LeMons racing (yes, in the topsy-turvy world of our series, Alfa Romeos are as reliable as hammers while Toyotas are among the most blow-uppity cars). The LeMons Supreme Court decided that the Skid Marks West MR2 was due for catastrophic overheating and/or head-gasket-blowing problems and put the team in Class B… which they won by 33 laps over the Geezer Escort Service 1994 Ford Escort.
The Flaming Spanksters won Class C in their cobbled-together-from-a-dozen-rusty-parts-cars 1962 Austin Mini. This car has been in LeMons since 2009 and must have 20,000 track miles on it by this time, and it outlasted the faster-but-less-reliable Class C competition for a P12 overall finish and class win. If you have been following LeMons racing for a while, you know who Spank is already; if not, just go here and you’ll see plenty of Spank’s creations.
The yellow-and-white house-paint and car #61 livery on the Flaming Spanksters’ Mini was meant as an homage to 24 Hours of LeMons Ops Manager Jeff Glenn, who spent most of his youthful days racing
horrible highly competitive British cars. Here’s Jeff getting three-legged with the inspiration for the Flaming Spanksters’ theme.
We get a lot of automotive reality shows (and producers hoping to get backing for automotive reality shows) competing in the 24 Hours of LeMons, in addition to our all-wise and comprehensively dominating media sponsors. In some cases, having a TV crew at the track and generally getting underfoot is a big hassle for the racers and race organizers, but the folks from Counting Cars turned out to be a good fit with LeMons culture and caused us few hassles.
They brought a car we had been hoping to see in one of our races— a Chevy Nova-based Cadillac Seville— and listened to our advice about how to avoid killing the car and/or crashing a lot, and so the LeMons Supreme Court issued the first-ever-to-a-TV-show-team Judges’ Choice trophy. You’ll learn more about this fine racing machine when you tune in to the Counting Cars episode shot at this race, which we hear is coming out pretty soon.
When you put together a new LeMons team and you’re shopping for your car, the Audi A4 with 1.8 turbo engine is a tempting choice. Lots of power, Quattro all-wheel-drive system, manual transmission, and the prices are scrap-value low for even strong-running examples! What’s not to like? That was the logic employed by the rookies of the Ouchie Audi team, who went with an ambulance theme for their 1997 A4.
Thing is, there’s a reason that these cars can be purchased for $219 and a six-pack of Natty Light: they break frequently and are devilishly hard to repair. We told the Ouchie Audi guys to be gentle with their car and keep an eagle eye on the temperature gauge, assuming that we’d get the call to clean up the spilled oil and metal shards from their nuked engine about seven laps into the race. Instead, they slowed down when the coolant temperature strayed into the red, didn’t spin the motor to 11,000 rpm every shift, and generally kept the car alive, turning a respectable 378 laps and finishing 20th overall. True, they did fry the clutch late on Sunday, but theirs was such an amazing accomplishment for a LeMons A4 1.8T that we created the Least Disastrous Audi Debut trophy for the occasion.
The Le Citron 1977 Pontiac LeMans is a great big Detroit land yacht with a barely-over-100-horsepower Malaise Era V8, and we love it with all our hearts. Organizer’s Choice award!
A first-generation Cadillac Seville wasn’t the only entrant from our Cars We’d Like To See In LeMons Wish List that had its first race at the ’17 Arizona D-Bags. Out of nowhere, the members of a team with a dime-a-dozen Real Racer™ BMW E30 were visited by a heavenly apparition that commanded them to go find a Volvo PV544 and race it. Which they did.
The car had been sitting in a Mojave Desert wrecking yard for 30 years, but it had a B18 swap (instead of the three-main-bearing B16 that was in the car when it rolled off the assembly line in 1961) and it ran.
They left the ancient Southern California parking stickers on the bumper, caged it, named the car after the one-hit-wonder band, Blue Swede, and were ready to race.
The Blue Swede wasn’t particularly fast on the race track, not with a suspension design dating from the middle 1940s and 90 pushrod horsepower at 4,200 feet elevation, but it ran very well for its first time on a road course.
The Blue Swede killed its transmission late in Saturday’s race session, but the team had been prudent and had a parts car stashed away in Phoenix. On Sunday, the PV544 made it back onto the track, winning the hallowed Index of Effluency.