Everyone like a good scare on Halloween and what could be more frightening than some gruesome, busted parts from 24 Hours of LeMons races over the years? If you’ve ever looked at LeMons and thought, “I bet racing $500 cars leads to a lot of broken things,” you’d be 100-percent right. From radiators to brake lights, things can and do go wrong. So we’ve gone and pulled some of the more remarkable LeMons breakdowns in a mechanical bloodbath style for this All Hallows’ Eve.
OK, this isn’t broken parts, but the orderly tool-sorting is the first thing that tends to go haywire when broken LeMons cars need attention. At some point, multiple people need the same size wrench or socket so the collections of tools just get littered together in a gigantic mess. If an organized shop is your domain, this photo will give you the creeps.
Wheel hubs and bearings are extraordinarily common failures in LeMons. Usually, it’s just a bearing that makes a ton of noise, but sometimes the wheel hub is the problem. If the wheel studs don’t snap off (which usually allows your wheel to pass your newly minted tricycle), the wheel hub itself might just break in two.
Cooked wheel bearings are a common enough problem on their own, although excessive brake temperatures can exacerbate the problem. The White Trash Racing Dodge Neon had a custom-made splitter that blocked air to cool the brakes. Their caliper eventually cooked itself, which also baked the wheel grease into a powdery paste.
Because of the nature of endurance racing, brake failures are also pretty common, though few are severe enough to weld the caliper piston to the brake-pad backing plate. Cooling ducts for the brakes are your friends.
If the calipers and pads don’t weld together, sometimes the rotors will instead separate.
Suspension parts occasionally fail, as well. The rear subframe on this fourth-generation Pontiac Firebird completely ripped away on the driver’s side. You can see where the untethered subframe swung the wheel into the front of the wheel well before it lodged up against the rear of it. Incredibly, the team had this welded back up and back on the track in an hour or so.
Like we said above, wheel studs rip out of hubs regularly and send wheels careening off to the hinterlands. Sometimes, however, the wheel itself is the problem.
And if you flat-spot a tire, you may as well flat-spot the wheel while you’re at it. There are no half-measures in LeMons, as they say.
If you can manage to keep the wheels, tires, and brakes on the car, things can still go wrong. If you buy a car that’s been sitting for more than a few years, you can expect a bit of rust in the fuel tank like 3 Pedal Mafia’s Citroen SM had in it when it first raced.
Another common failure point comes from wiring gremlins. Typically, it’s just a ground wire that shears because of the general wear and vibration of racing, for which none of these cars were designed. It’s a bit hard to show niggling electrical gremlins, but the first electric-powered LeMons car, a Datsun Fairlady built by Hoonatic Racing, managed to melt a set of El Cheapo battery terminals.
While not a catastrophic failure, this snake’s den of tangled wires in the RoLex, a Lexus 1UZ-powered Rover 3500, represents true nightmares for anyone who’s had to rewire a modern(ish) car more or less from scratch.
Dragging exhaust commonly draws black flags of the “Go Fix Your Obvious Problem” variety. If Dennis “Fish” Newman is holding up a broken exhaust manifold, however, it probably came off the Model T GT.
Less common is anybody using a full-size exhaust muffler at all, unless you’re running a Mazda RX-7 with a rotary engine. Those engines produce incredible noise and with high-pressure, high-temperature exhaust gases. It’s not uncommon for rotaries to run two mufflers to stay under the decibel limit, but sometimes that intense exhaust pressure ruptures one of ’em.
A different RX-7 suffered this incredible failure. This photo was taken just moments after it had exited the track; the exhaust header glowed cherry-red all around the gaping hole where the 12A engine had blown it apart. After letting it cool for an hour, they “fixed” it by hose-clamping a cut-up can of baked beans from the previous night’s dinner. It absolutely did not work and they soon found more holes in the header that required a proper fix.
Driveline issues crop up occasionally, although differentials take a remarkable amount of abuse in LeMons races. However, spectacular differential carnage isn’t unknown in LeMons.
Sometimes, it’s not the internals that fail on the differential, though. Sometimes the whole subframe falls out and you get black flagged because that dragging noise behind you is the differential bouncing off the racetrack.
However, no driveline failure is likely to be more spectacular than that of Scuderia Regurgito’s Fiat 131. A total failure somewhere in or near the junction between transmission and driveshaft sent the driveshaft through the transmission tunnel along with a bunch of transmission parts. The driver was fine, the car has never run again, and many teams welded up trans-tunnel reinforcement shortly thereafter.
Clutches occasionally wear out in LeMons, though the frequency of that varies greatly. Some cars have run the same clutch for dozens of races. The clutch in LemonAid Racing’s BMW-swapped Geo Metro became truly dual-mass in the middle of a race in 2015.
We’re not sure whose car this is, but halfshafts and constant-velocity joints fail regularly enough in front-wheel-drive cars that veteran teams have spares and have learned to swap the in 10-15 minutes. When the half-shaft completely fails at the CV joint and sends grease flying all over the engine bay, however, that’s going to be a longer fix.
Transmissions themselves take tons of abuse. Automatic transmissions have a tendency to overheat while manuals getting rowed constantly work themselves into fine powder. The failures usually are invisible without cracking them open, but sometimes the failures are more incredible.
Windowed transmissions are evidence of huge failures and probably typically accompanied by seized drivewheels and soiled pants. Good times.
If you’re like Jeff “Speedycop” Bloch, you don’t fret when your half-century-old Ford Thunderbird transmission fails. You instead find a replacement that doesn’t fit, try to rebuild it unsuccessfully, and then finally turn it into a direct-drive, one-speed transmission that requires push-starting before the car catches on fire.
More often, transmission failure results in a Radio Flyer full of broken transmission parts.
Or sometimes all that’s left is a little cup of used-to-be-Nissan-transmission.
And then there’s this.
All of these failures are moot, of course, without an engine to propel your LeMons car. And let’s face it: Big engine carnage is why you’re here in the first place. You might think that the cars that run in LeMons, which typically top out around 250 horsepower with considerably fewer for most cars, can’t produce that much carnage, right? Oh, we shall see. Of course, overheating is one of the most common things to sideline LeMons cars, even when it’s 35 degrees out.
The typical cause is a blown head gasket. And the typical response to every blown head gasket symptom is to make an excuse so as not to change a head gasket. That does not work. Eventually water and oil mix and the engine cooks itself into oblivion, warping or cracking the head or worse.
Scenes like this are pretty common and, like the scattered tools photo, will send clean-shop freaks into a frenzy. But once an engine is toast, it’s essentially a 400-pound paperweight.
There are options for fixing things, however. The Moose Knuckles torched their Porsche 924 head and when nobody around Houston had a head for a 2.0-liter Porsche/Audi engine, they just filled in the burned gaps with JB Weld, sanded it down, and tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to make it work.
Things aren’t usually that pretty when teams pull the heads off, though. That missing valve is problematic.
This is the usual outcome: Broken valve mashes piston. Piston makes a few more revolutions. Valve continues to chew up piston. Debris gets everywhere and finishes off the cylinder head.
If you’re “lucky,” you’ll just mash the valves and get some neat valve impressions on the piston head.
Occasionally, the valve will get pounded into fine particulate.
Or in rare cases, the valve and piston will form some kind of extraterrestrial symbiosis. This three-cylinder Saab engine had a bad evening.
The top side of the valvetrain occasionally has less-than-spectacular races. While major valve damage is spectacular, sometimes a single broken rocker arm, like the one in this BMW E30, can finish your weekend.
However things fail, this is the unfortunately the typical look when any four-cylinder car, not just the Gadget Inspectors’ Nissan 240SX, suddenly has 3-1/2 pistons.
It’s not just pulling heads that reveal damage. The oil pan is a telling piece of evidence, as well. It’s probably a good thing that the Smellable Internet isn’t actually a thing because the pasty, emulsified oil in the pan of this blown-up engine produces an unmistakably horrible odor.
Sometimes, the oil pan turns into the collection plate for an entire piston and connecting-rod assembly.
And sometimes, you learn the hard way. These are three pictures of Matt Adair from Team Petty Cash at three different Sears Point/Sonoma Raceway LeMons races holding a Jeep Inline-Six oil pan full of engine failure. Unlike the Halloween movies, though, the Petty Cash Jeep’s sequels are actually better.
Few things create spectacular mechanical carnage like broken connecting rods, however. When the con-rods in an engine break, they have a lot of energy. This one made a break for freedom and got some fresh air.
We’re not sure this rod was ever seen again, but it blasted a big hole in the Small Block Chevy oil pan on its way out of the Stupid But Tough Chevy Malibu.
Escaping rods seem to escape into the ether often enough, but occasionally a big engine explosion prompts track cleanup. This Ford Taurus SHO rod and some other assorted engine chunks were handed in by the safety crew cleaning up the oil barfed all over the track when the block was aerated. Almost 40 minutes after they had escaped for horrible, horrible freedom, the engine parts were still warm.
A broken rod cap frees up the hole piston for party time, as the poor Rusty Dragon Racing crew found out.
Everything has gone wrong here.
Almost made it. This is like those slasher movies where the victim is being chased and gets halfway out a window or door or whatever before the antagonist catches them.
This is just an engine bloodbath.
And this is that arty shot of a Volvo Amazon engine laying in a pool of its own blood while the Tunachuckers/surgeons make a last-ditch effort to save it.
This rod took a massive chunk of engine block with it.
And this rod took bites out of the engine’s internals as it became an external.
This was a first for most LeMons people: The crankshaft had actually snapped but taken an entire connecting rod with it. The rod would still turn around the remaining chunk of crank.
Whatever happened inside this Slant Six, it took some of the camshaft with it. No treats here, just tricks.
Of course, a byproduct of tossed engines is hot oil falling onto hot surfaces. This, along with other sources sometimes, can cause fires. Fires are scary. We don’t like fires. This Toyota MR2, however, gets a gold star for keeping the fire away from the driver, who would have been sitting just a few inches in front of the firewall.
This Renault Dauphine had a rear-mounted Ford Duratec V6 in it that caught itself on fire. The driver drove it into the paddock, where it was extinguished but not before cooking the engine bay to a crisp.
The aptly named Firekatz committed one of the most incredible automotive atrocities by putting a Nissan 280ZX engine in their Pontiac Firebird. The Firebird responded by catching fire on pit lane.
But there is a level of catastrophe beyond tossed rods and fires, even. Property Devaluation Racing are a Texas team who have run just about every variety of Fox-Body Ford. This one, a Thunderbird I think, blew up spectacularly. The flywheel and clutch launched off the back of the engine and shattered the transmission bellhousing.
And this is part of what must be the most intense scene of LeMons carnage in history. The astute will notice parts of bellhousing and transmission in this pile wreckage.
It came from this, a 5.0-liter Ford engine in a Porsche 944 that absolutely exploded. Part of the crankshaft remained attached to the flywheel while the transmission fractured into hundreds, possibly thousands, of pieces. Engine internals likely fell a couple counties away.
All those failures have a tendency to leave LeMons participants looking like the villains (or victims) of slasher movies.
That seems like a good place to stop, but you can see even more scary Halloween LeMons gore in the gallery below. Be sure to check back for LeMons coverage and more here on Roadkill.