Not every 24 Hours of Lemons’ Index of Effluency winner has a well-documented history like the Ran When Parked Volkswagen 411 (aka “Type 4”). Last weekend at “Button Terrible,” in central California, the old four-door VW crawled its way to Lemons’ top prize at Buttonwillow Raceway with a very tired Type 4 engine and a three-speed automatic with excruciating gear ratios. But that history? Well, let’s dig into it.
Automotive writer and longtime Lemons Supreme Court Justice Murilee Martin—aka Judge Phil—lived in Alameda, California, for many years. He referred to it as the “Island That Rust Forgot” because much of the island included street-parked old cars like few other places see anywhere in the United States. He wrote about a number of fantastic old cars he saw street-parked on Alameda during his time with Jalopnik. This very car was among those Jalopnik “Down on the Street” posts.
Even in 2010, this was an exceedingly rare car. In the heart of Volkswagen country, Murilee had spotted only this one in a decade or so. Volkswagen built them for about six years and all of them sold stateside came with a horrible automatic gearbox. Aside from the engine, they have virtually nothing in common with any other Volkswagen product. Some failed to work when they were new and many consider them the absolute worst VW ever built.
Several years later, the Lemons racer behind the dual-control Volkswagen Beetle and the turbodiesel Porsche 911 found this 411 for sale on CraigsList. The owner had driven it daily for about 20 years and was finally ready to move on. After some discussion, it was discovered to be the exact same 411 that Murilee Martin had spotted in 2010. Given its reputation, it was a fairly obvious choice for Lemons.
Unfortunately, that preparation ended prematurely and the reins were handed off to Ran When Parked Racing. That team, headed by veteran racer Corey Dickman, had already scored a couple of Index of Effluency trophies for the Race Rambler and the team’s Oldsmobile Omega. And once IOE Fever bites, you have no choice but to scratch that itch.
To replace the original (mostly dead) powerplant, Corey sourced an untested junkyard Type 4 engine of dubious origin for the car. He sourced every other part—and a lot needed sourcing—from owners groups and forum members.
That still entailed a build of nearly 18 months with thrashing to the bitter end. He dumped the archaic fuel-injection setup for a carburetor and replaced much of the wiring, but it was otherwise essentially a stock Volkswagen 411 down to the hubcaps.
The car arrived as an Index of Effluency favorite, but things took an ominous turn quickly for the four-door VW. During its maiden voyage on track, smoke erupted from the exhaust. Dickman shut off the clattering engine and pulled over to wait for a tow. On the pace laps. “Towed in before the green flag” tends not to lead to good things.
After letting the engine cool off a bit and looking things over, Ran When Parked figured they had just overfilled the engine with oil. In Lemons, “overfilling with oil” is the answer about 0.0001 percent of the time, but for once, that appeared to be the culprit.
First-time Lemons racer Adam Linney took a spin and after a few puffs of smoke in the corners, the Slow-James-Bond smokescreens stopped. He then set the car’s quickest lap of the weekend, covering the circuit’s 2.65 miles in 3:23.687. That made it by far the race’s slowest car and only about 80 seconds off-pace with the fastest overall lap of the weekend.
Things were by no means perfectly smooth, however. The 411 ran for short stretches, usually with a break to cool off the soaring oil and cylinder-head temperatures. However, the five-driver crew all got a few laps in at a time and a turn or two behind the original wheel.
By Sunday afternoon, the Volkswagen clocked 100 laps, which beat the best estimates by at least a couple dozen. Just after completing Lap 104, however, the engine started knocking and spewing oil out of the right pair of cylinders. The driver managed to get it off the race track without covering the surface in oil, but the car was done.
For most cars, 104 laps would be pretty low for IOE consideration. However, given the historically horrific nature of 411s, this one beat the odds by a substantial margin. And they beat a race-winning Mitsubishi Eclipse, a 250-horsepower Lotus Elite, and an Icelandic television show crew in a Subaru. That all weighs heavily in the complicated decision. After much lively deliberation, Lemons organizers decided Ran When Parked Racing deserved the IOE from Buttonwillow.
After the race, Ran When Parked handed the keys over to one of their drivers, Jalopnik writer/air-cooled VW enthusiast/shoey fanatic Stef Schrader. She tossed it on a rented trailer and is currently hauling it back to Austin, Texas. We really hope it’ll race another day.
We’ll have more from Lemons at Buttonwillow soon and you can find more 24 Hours of Lemons content right here on Roadkill. Be sure to check out the 2018 dates for all Lemons events and drop by the series’ website while you’ve got crappy cars on the brain.