We held the ninth annual B.F.E. GP 24 Hours of Lemons at Colorado’s High Plains Raceway last weekend, and we saw perhaps the largest proportion of weird and interesting cars— the sort that please the wise and fair judges of the Lemons Supreme Court— of any race in series history. Goofy engine swaps, edge-case examples of badge engineering, miserable econoboxes, and comfy luxury cars all competed in the rarefied atmosphere of northeastern Colorado. Let’s see how it went.
Located between Byers and Last Chance, and about 100 miles from the Kansas border, the aptly-named B.F.E. GP takes place at a great remove from civilization, so most racers camp at the track. Friday and Saturday nights at the B.F.E. GP always feature a festive atmosphere, with plenty of wrenching and even more eating. Rocket Surgery Racing brought a chef-driver and all the gear needed to feed octopus tacos to the masses.
While the Rocket Surgery 1978 Checker Marathon suffered from reliability problems all weekend, the team arrived with a top-notch Addams Family theme.
With all the great food at the Saturday night potluck party, few seemed enthusiastic about the “Bum Wine Tasting” event put on by Salty Thunder Racing, of Pontiac Fiero fame, which included Screaming Yellow Fieros as a palate-cleanser.
For some inexplicable reason, two teams independently opted to create vivid and well-executed disco themes for the race. Team Driving Without Intent took their supercharged, Soviet-carbureted 1978 AMC Pacer wagon and gave it a glitterized Studio 54 makeover.
It would have seemed impossible for any team to out-disco that, but the two-MR2 team of Volatile RAM and Waiting For Data managed the feat. First, the outfits, which reeked of 1979-grade Quaaludes and chlamydia.
The #300 team’s name, Waiting for data…, will seem familiar to any Lemons racer who has experienced connectivity glitches on the Race Monitor app.
The battles for the Class A and overall wins were as exciting as a polyester-clad chance encounter with Giorgio Moroder at The Factory in 1977. The Low Road Racing BMW-powered C3 Corvette, which hadn’t performed well at the Pacific Northworst race last summer, showed up in the hands of the veteran Petty Cash Racing team and proceeded to contend for the overall lead for most of Saturday’s race session.
Then, disaster: the GM 10-bolt differential exploded in a manner we’d never seen before, knocking a hole in the top of the pumpkin. You won’t be finding a C3 rear at your local Pick-n-Pull on Sunday morning in rural Colorado, so the race was over for this purist-enraging machine.
Meanwhile, Dropped Packet Racing, winners of the 2016 and 2017 B.F.E. GPs in their 1990 Acura Integra, added a ringer driver with a last name that resonates very, very loudly in this state: Loni Unser.
Unser is quick, as are the other Dropped Packet drivers, but there wasn’t much their driving skills could do when their engine exploded.
Those mechanical mishaps left the way clear for the third car that was in the thick of the Class A battle all day Saturday: the Car Wars – Return of the Junkers 1990 Acura Integra. This team, running various Honda products at the B.F.E. GP over the years, had scored two apiece P2 and P3 finishes, and now they’d taken an overall win by a big 11 laps.
Except for a couple of notable exceptions in South Carolina, V6 Mustangs have been solid Class B Lemons cars— more reliable than their V8 brethren and nearly as powerful, but mostly not campaigned by teams that do the hundred little things you need to do in order to win a long endurance race. We didn’t think twice about putting Dazed and Confused and their 2000 Mustang (hauled all the way from Illinois) in the medium-speed class, and the team ended up driving a flawless, mistake-free race and finishing second overall.
Even before we put Dazed and Confused in Class B, the team volunteered to haul a set of sweet 1990 Oldsmobile Silhouette wheels back to Chicago-based Judge Eric and his Olds Ciera wagon. Not only that, the team gave me a 1930s Kodak camera at the Chicago race in April. We’re not saying that bribes help when it comes to classing, but they sure don’t hurt.
Engine swaps! Lemons is full of engine swaps that everyone does (such as RX-7s with Ford or Chevrolet small-block V8s) and full of engine swaps that only Lemons freaks do (such as a Toyota MR2 with radial aircraft engine). We like the latter type best, of course, and we had a couple of such swaps make their Lemons debuts at the 2018 B.F.E. GP. This Volvo 940 wagon team, the Gunbarrel Cobras, brought a good Kung Fury theme to the race… and a decisively non-Volvo engine.
That’s right, a Toyota 1UZ-FE V8 engine, pulled from a Lexus LS400. Apparently it’s not too difficult to get the LS400’s automatic transmission into a Volvo 940, so that’s what the Gunbarrel Cobras did. However, getting the LS400 engine computer to work proved more challenging, so the team made a homemade intake manifold and topped it with some motorcycle carburetors, then rigged up a distributor drive off one of the cam gears and attached a GM HEI distributor to it.
Never mind that another Volvo 940, a completely stock 1991 wagon run by the Lemons rookies of Generations Racing, had mechanical problems all weekend long and still beat the Gunbarrel Cobras by three laps— engine swaps are worth doing just for coolness points!
Another team performed a silly V8 swap, one of the worst engine-swap ideas we’d ever seen. How about a 4.9-liter Cadillac High Technology V8 into a Mazda Miata?
Keep in mind that the Petrosexuals are best-known in Lemons circles for bribing the judges with bags and suitcases full of loose Spaghettios. Why? You might as well ask why you’d stuff a heavy V8 engine known for low power levels and crappy reliability (on the street, anyway) into a perfectly good (well, actually pretty slow) Miata.
The whole thing is built out of junkyard parts, using the engine out of a free 1991 Sedan DeVille, the transmission out of a four-cylinder Dodge Dakota, the instrument cluster from a C4 Corvette, homemade exhaust headers, and random bits from at least a couple dozen additional cars and at least one trash compactor. The amount of sweat and ingenuity that went into the build is staggering, and you’ll want to read the team’s thread on the Lemons website forums to get the whole story.
Cadillac HT engines have been quite reliable in Lemons racing, from the Corporate Machine Sedan DeVille to the King Henry the V8th Fleetwood, but we knew that the Petrosexuals’ “Trashback” Miata was going to sputter around the track for a couple of miserable laps and then spend the rest of the weekend up on jackstands while the team spun wrenches in ever-deepening despair.
Did that happen? No, that did not happen. This car ran all weekend long, set the fast lap of the race (in fact, it set the official quickest lap of any 24 Hours of Lemons car in the history of High Plains Raceway), and obliterated the nearest Class C competition by 24 laps.
If not for a fuel-leak bust and some black flags caused by excessive driver exuberance, the Petrosexuals might have taken the overall win, a feat never even approached by any Class C car before. We expect (and hope) to see many more Cadillac High Technology engine swaps in the future. The junkyards are overflowing with these unwanted so-called boat anchors, so your team could be the first to build an HT Porsche, HT Z-Car, or HT Volvo Amazon.
One Cadillac engine that nearly always fails in the 24 Hours of Lemons is the Northstar V8, which Internet Car Experts claim is far superior to the HT engine series. Holy Crap Racing, veterans of the Texas Tippin’ race last year in Houston, blew the Northstar head gaskets in their 1998 DeVille after a mere 38 laps.
The head gaskets in a Northstar can’t be fixed at a race track (back when Northstars were new, GM would deal with head gasket failures under warranty by installing a new engine), so the Holy Crap crew opted for some good ol’ Head Gasket In a Can. This repair attempt, while easy, proved unsuccessful. The team now talks of getting a junkyard 4.9 HT engine for their car.
The Dirty Racers brought this “Subaru” (it’s really a Plymouth Neon) and promptly blew the head gasket. That’s not particularly newsworthy in a high-elevation Lemons race with triple-digit temperatures.
When they took the cylinder head off the engine, they were so worried about losing cam timing that they bungee-corded the cam gear to more bungees wrapped around the hood, suspending it in (what they hoped was) the correct position.
Well, their new head gasket didn’t quite solve the problem, so the team established a routine: drive a couple of laps, pit, add water, return to the track. The tough part was that the only source of water at this very dry track was the sink in the bathroom, and the only container the team had to transport water was this Nalgene bottle. As a result, adding water to the radiator was a time-consuming task, and watching the Dirty Racers was akin to watching a bunch of ants build a hill, grain of sand by grain of sand. For this persistence, we awarded the team the Most Heroic Fix trophy.
The 24 Hours of Lemons organization was founded by automotive journalists and remains heavily staffed by former or current car writers to this day. As we’ve seen over and over, most car writers aren’t so good at driving, and those who race in Lemons — with a very few notable exceptions— tend to get more than their share of black flags and crashes. The car-journo members of Team Scream started their Lemons career as Hell Kitty Racing, with a quick Honda Prelude that got into the top ten at several races. Then they decided that their Prelude was too
slow worn-out, and put together a BMW E46 without much regard for the fine print of the $500 budget limitation. That’s fine if you’re racing, say, a 1979 BMW 733i, but we’re tougher on E46s. At the Chicago race in April, the Lemons Supreme Court buried Team Scream in penalty laps.
If you have read car magazines during the last, oh, half-century, you have read the work of Team Scream members Tony Swan and Csaba Csere, and these guys have plenty of help from publications and car manufacturers… which is fully in keeping with the Car Writer’s Creed. This race, they brought one of Car and Driver‘s copy editors from Michigan, to serve as team gofer. The judges decided, just this once, to let Team Scream race with zero penalty laps, on the condition that they’d get hammered with five penalty laps for each black flag. Their big chance for a Lemons overall win… which they squandered when their car developed several exquisitely BMW-ish (i.e., undiagnosable) electronic maladies, finishing in P24. It’s unlikely that the Lemons Supreme Court will be as generous with Team Scream in future races, so we handed the team the I Got Screwed trophy for missing this opportunity.
Members of the extended Chrysler K-Car family (and K descendants) with the Mitsubishi 6G72 engine have a checkered history in the 24 Hours of Lemons, ranging from pretty good to the worst motor vehicle in human history. We’re always happy to see another one in the series, in this case the 1994 Plymouth Sundance Duster of Mint Motorsports. Mint Motorsports finished 39th in their debut race, not quite high enough in the standings to qualify for the Index of Effluency this time, but we’ll be keeping our eyes on this car in future races.
We love front-wheel-drive GM cars of the 1990s and 2000s, especially the W-Bodies. The Rude Dudes, hauling all the way from Oklahoma for their first Lemons race, opted for one of our favorite Ws: a 6th-generation Grand Prix GT.
With a 195-horse 3.8-liter V6, automatic transmission, and decorations that GM probably sourced from Manny, Moe, and Jack, the Grand Prix GT is our kind of race car. Naturally, we put the Rude Dudes in Class C.
Soon after the green flag on Saturday, the transmission in the Grand Prix exploded. Rather than give up, the team took their rental car to a junkyard 75 miles away. W-Bodies with 4T65 transmissions are plentiful in American wrecking yards, to put it mildly, but it was 101°F out and who wants to sweat under a hot Oldsmobile when you can pick up an already-pulled transmission off the junkyard dirt?
Into the rental car went the Rude Dudes’ ATF-dripping replacement transmission, and back to
western Kansas Deer Trail, Colorado. The team thrashed on the car overnight, hoping that they hadn’t picked up a returned core transmission by mistake.
It worked! Well, for a few hours on Sunday, at any rate, allowing the Rude Dudes to amass a grand total of 101 laps for the Grand Prix. For the Rude Dudes’ wise vehicle selection, ‘Merica theme, leakage of ATF into a rental car, and never-give-up overnight wrenching session, the Lemons Supreme Court awarded the Judges’ Choice trophy.
A Lemons team can’t go wrong with a Ford Pinto, and these crazy Texans from Team Tommy Salami & The Meat Wagon hauled this Cannonball Run-themed 1974 Pinto wagon all the way from Amarillo.
This isn’t just any Pinto wagon, however; one of the team members owned it in high school, then tracked it down in a New Mexico junkyard many years later. He claims to have lost his virginity in this wagon (and he’s fortunate that the car didn’t get rear-ended during the act).
The Tommy Salami Pinto suffered from the usual first-race mechanical problems, including brake and ignition-system woes, but it stayed out on the track most of the time and finished 40th out of 65 entries. That achievement was enough to win the sought-after Organizer’s Choice trophy.
For the top prize of the race, the Index of Effluency, we look for a fundamentally bad car that— against all expectations— performs surprisingly well on the race track. At this race, we had many IOE candidates to watch, including the Cadillac, the Cadillac-powered Miata, the Grand Prix GT, the AMC Hornet wagon, the Suzuki Swift, and the Pacer. By late Sunday, our candidates were down to the Pinto and the 1976 Plymouth Arrow of The DreadNots.
The Arrow was a rebadged Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste, similar in basic design to the Pinto but with less power and more weird 1970s Mitsubishi
The team worked on their basket-case Arrow for many months prior to the race. For added authenticity, they obtained a genuine Mitsubishi sewing machine for race-suit repairs. The car wasn’t quite ready for Friday tech inspection, but it clattered onto the track not long after the race started on Saturday.
The team hadn’t done a very good job of cleaning out all the bad gas and ooky fuel-system contamination that you get with a car that sits for decades, so pit stops for repairs took place at regular intervals.
For a big gallery of our photos from this race, go here. Our next race takes place 1,075 miles due east, where the 2018 Cure For Gingervitis will happen June 29th through July 1 at GingerMan Raceway in Michigan. We hope to see you there.