The 24 Hours of Lemons traveling circus has been clattering into dang ol’ MSR Houston since way t’hell back in 2008, and neither hurricanes nor the miasma of a million oil refineries can stay your hooptie couriers from their appointed Texas rounds. The 2017 Houston We Have a Problem race showed us some great competition in all three classes this time, plus the usual assortment of triumphs and miseries in the pits, and we’re here to share all the action with you.
Given how happy the average Mazda Miata is on a road course, you’d think that Miatas would win just about every Lemons race. Sadly for the folks in Hiroshima, this is far from the case, but this time the Comickazes and their 1990 Miata triumphed over the field of 87 entries, winning Class A by a big nine-lap margin over the Tetanus Racing Datsun 240Z.
In Class B, Team Too Soon Junior drove their 1997 Volkswagen Jetta to an impressive 7th overall, getting the class win by a single lap over the Tetanus Racing Porsche 944. Volkswagens in this series tend to be fragile, so a class win for the People’s Car is always noteworthy.
Speaking of fragile Volkswagens, perhaps the least reliable VW product ever made— in fact, perhaps the least reliable car ever made— is the Volkswagen Type 4. When Ran When Parked Racing campaigned a 1971 VW 411 at the Button Turrible race in September, the team won the big prize of Lemons racing, the Index of Effluency. After that, Ran When Parked had endured sufficient Type 4 challenges and sold the car (for the way-too-high price of free) to Texas automotive journalist Stef Schrader and her allies at Tetanus Racing.
The 411 drove 104 laps at the Button Turrible race, which amounts to the hardest 275.6 miles ever driven by a Type 4. Two cylinders and pistons were bad, the all-important engine-cooling tins were missing, and that was just the start of the intimidatingly long list of problems that had to be solved in order for the 411 to compete (if that’s the right word) at the Houston We Have a Problem race. Stef managed to get the engine mostly back together prior to the race, then had the trailer break down while towing the 165 miles between Austin and Houston. This set the tone for the race weekend.
Between the dreadful oil-burning problems (which got so bad that liquid oil was pouring out the 411’s tailpipe) and chronic overheating woes that kept most stints down to one or two laps, the Tetanus Volks wasn’t able to best its Buttonwillow lap total; by the time the checkered flag waved at MSR on Sunday afternoon, the 411 had turned 103 laps for a total of 245.1 race miles. Because the team wasn’t able to translate an eternity of Volkswagen-wrenching misery into a better performance in the car’s second race, we awarded Tetanus Racing the I Got Screwed trophy.
Prior to the race, the officials and spectators got all revved up to see a tremendous(ly effluent) battle between the Tetanus 411 and this car: the Toxic Assets Racing Program Jaguar XJ-6, known as The Jaggernaut.
This Jag hadn’t been seen on a race track since all the way back in 2010, when its team won the Most Heroic Fix award at the Mutually Assured Destruction of Omaha race in Iowa. Back then, it had moved under traditional(ly troublesome) Jaguar straight-six power.
For 2017, though, the Jaggernaut crew decided that a more luxurious powerplant was in order. What better choice than the mighty Cadillac 472 V8 (that’s better than 7.7 liters, for those of you brainwashed by the Communist metric system), rated at 375 horsepower and an end-of-the-world 525 foot-pounds of torque? That’s the engine that the Jaggernaut maniacs swapped in prior to this race.
Sadly, the 472 seized up while the car was being driven off the trailer. The good news was that the team had brought a spare Cadillac engine, the only one that counts as even more majestic than the 472: the 500-cubic-inch (8.3 liters, when translated into Trotsky-ese), 550-foot-pound ruler of the Detroit V8s. Naturally, this meant that both engines had to be disassembled down to the atomic level, for reasons that make sense to Cadillac-Jaguar V8 swappers and nobody else.
The upshot of all this was that the Jaggernaut suffered from catastrophic overheating problems and managed just a not-so-luxurious 17 total laps. This means that Round One of the 411-versus-Jaggernaut battle went to the Volkswagen and its double-digit horsepower. We look forward to Round Two.
Five years ago, Ratsun Racing acquired one of the greatest Datsuns ever made: the spectacular 210ZX. This late-1970s body kit turned the ordinary B210 into a machine that would outshine even the stunningly disco’d-up Black Gold 280ZX in the Studio 54 parking lot. The Ratsun squad brought their 210ZX to the 2012 Gator-O-Rama race and to a dozen Gulf Region events since that time. Even with the doubling of horsepower over the B210’s hamster-wheel powerplant with a KA24 swap, the Ratsun 210ZX wasn’t able to capture a Class C win in all those races.
This time, however, nothing broke and the drivers stayed (relatively) black-flag-free. After five long years of trying, the Ratsun 210ZX snared a Class C victory, catching the checkered flag in 18th place.
Escape Velocity Racing, the Houston team that runs a 1964 Dodge Dart with Slant-6 power and pushbutton automatic transmission, usually brings an extra Slant-6-powered street car to races, as a sort of combination daily-driver/parts-car (don’t worry, they always fix this car after borrowing parts during a race). In the past, this was a frighteningly rusty 1971 Dodge Challenger, but now they have obtained a battered but operable 1963 Plymouth Valiant station wagon (seen here in a photograph shot on an Argus Seventy-Five film camera).
The tailshaft came off the Valiant’s Torqueflite and onto the Dart’s, with the entire swap accomplished in less than 90 minutes. The Dart was just in time to catch the checkered flag, to great jubilation by Slant-6 fans everywhere.
That might have been enough to win Escape Velocity Racing the Most Heroic Fix trophy, but there was much more to the story. On Friday, a rookie team with a Ford Probe learned that their car’s roll cage wasn’t even close to passing the tech inspection. The members of Escape Velocity Racing broke out their welding gear and steel tubing and spent much of that night reworking the DadBod Racing Probe’s cage so that it would pass the inspection, and the DadBods made the green flag the next morning (and then fried their car’s engine a few hours later). For all this, Escape Velocity Racing earned a Most Heroic Fix trophy to add to their collection of Lemons awards.
The members of The Resistance, famous in Lemons circles for their shouldn’t-be-anywhere-near-this-fast stock 1975 Honda Civic, have added a 1980 Honda Civic wagon to their fleet of double-digit-horsepower race cars. This car has a toilet above, alarmingly squishy suspension below, and drivers with the skills to squeeze every last bit of speed out of a car that was pokey even by 1980 standards.
That’s a Malaise Era-correct E-series CVCC engine under the Civic’s hood, putting out something like 55 horsepower on a good day… and yet this car turned lap times close to what many of the Mustangs and BMWs were doing. For this accomplishment, we awarded The Resistance the Driving a Slow Car Fast trophy.
The Team Low Ball AMC Gremlin has been competing in Gulf region Lemons races for a couple of years now, and we’re always happy to see American Motors products in our events. Two AMCs are always better than one, of course, and so the members of Team Low Ball put together this beautiful 1977 AMC Hornet wagon and made the Houston We Have a Problem race a double-Kenosha effort.
With a 360 engine grabbed from one of the dime-a-dozen Grand Cherokees clogging U-Pull yards around the country and a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed, this final-year-of-production Hornet has the potential to be pretty quick (by admittedly lax mid-1970s wagon standards).
The usual first-race teething problems limited the Team Low Ball Hornet to just 56 laps this time around, but the wise and fair justices of the Lemons Supreme Court loved it so much that they awarded the team the Judges’ Choice trophy.
Mike “Spank” Spangler has been one of the most legendary figures in Lemons racing since the early years. In addition to racing such puzzling monstrosities as the Hells Treehuggers Harley-Davidson-powered Toyota Prius and Spank Worthington’s 1967 Olds Toronado, Spank’s love of the theatrical has led him to recreate the O.J. Simpson “slow-speed chase” with a six-car onslaught, to create a little slice of dystopic 1970s Romania in California, and to take on the persona of a buyer of a new 1986 Hyundai Excel. He revels in the impossible, such as buying three long-dead Austin ADO16s on Craiglist and building a functioning race car in the MSR paddock during a race.
Spank seems to love
nightmarish challenging road trips best of all, beginning with the ill-advised California-to-Florida solo drive of his excruciatingly unreliable Citroën ID19 race car back in 2010.
Spank bid 50 bucks on a 1993 Chrysler LeBaron at a San Diego police auction, just for fun, and he won the car. He registered it, caged it, put gas in it, hopped in, and drove the 1,500 miles straight to Houston. Think about that, next time you balk at towing a race car to a track six hours away.
Other than Lemons-mandated safety equipment, the Spank LeBaron was 100% stock, down to the soft Corinthian Leather interior and padded green vinyl landau roof. With a Mitsubishi 6G72 V6 under the hood, it had decent power, but the worn-out suspension made for some interesting on-track handling.
Because Spank wanted to be able to sell the car after the race, Team This Seemed Like a Better Idea When It Was Theoretical didn’t beat on the LeBaron too hard on the race track, and so it turned the slowest laps of the entire field.
Slow or not, the TSLABIWIWT LeBaron finished 63rd out of 87 entries, beating two BMWs, four Mustangs, a 1.8T Audi A4, a Porsche 944, and a Mazda RX-7. Because the idea of buying a cheap car at random, driving it two time zones away, and racing it in completely stock form is what Lemons is all about, Spank and his droogs received the prestigious Organizer’s Choice trophy. This car is still in Houston and still for sale, for much less than the cost of a roll cage alone. For a caged, street-legal, registered turnkey race car that could be made reasonably quick with just a junkyard manual-transmission swap and some new shocks, this car is a steal.
At the 2016 Houston We Have a Problem race, Team Low Ball and their beautiful AMC Gremlin went home with the Please Learn To Drive So You Can Dominate trophy, the result of the unfortunate contrast between their amazing race car and their overaggressive, black-flag-magnet driving. The judges worship the Gremlin and everything it stands for, but had become weary of raking the team’s drivers over the coals for repeated spins, offs, and crashes.
This race, the Low Ball drivers finally figured out that you don’t race a Gremlin the way you would race, say, a BMW 3-Series, and their drivers dialed it back from a tire-shredding, landscape-plowing 19/10ths to a saner 6/10ths. The result? P20 overall, just four laps behind the Class C winner. For this, they earned a very well-deserved (and long overdue) Index of Effluency trophy. Congratulations, Team Low Ball!
Our next race will be December 1-3, when we’ll continue to lower the property values at Sonoma Raceway aka Sears Point by holding the 11th annual Arse Freeze-a-Palooza. A week after that will be the first-ever Lemons race at Road Atlanta: the Kim Harmon Scrotium 500. For a big photo gallery of the 2017 Houston We Have a Problem race, go here; for complete timing-and-scoring results, go here. And, as always, you can keep up with the latest Lemons happenings at the Roadkill Home of the 24 Hours of Lemons.