We’re still shaking off the dust from the 24 Hours of Lemons at Buttonwillow Raceway in California. The Southern California event has become a staple of the Lemons calendar and this race brought a big field of more than 130 cars. Here is what happened at this year’s Button Terrible race.
For the uninitiated, Buttonwillow Raceway sits just a short drive from Bakersfield, California, in the Central Valley. That’s one of the country’s agricultural centers and it regularly features wonderful things like oppressive heat. Going off the track means big dust clouds and a layer of the Central Valley soil that sticks to driver’s sweaty brows (and other places) and then requires multiple showers to shake off.
Many video-production hosts contact the 24 Hours of Lemons about shooting television episodes. Of those that contact, perhaps 10 percent bother to show up and most of those tend to create more hassle than they’re worth (Oddly enough, Roadkill was fine). However, Lemons staff were intrigued when the producers of a forthcoming Icelandic car show contacted them to say they were building a Subaru wagon in Reykjavik and shipping it stateside.
Normally, that would have been filed directly under the “Yeah, right” file, but pictures started filtering in of the car being assembled and then going into a shipping container. When they showed up, the Icelanders had taken the long way to southern California. The Subaru had shipped to Maine and they’d driven it (with some tow help, perhaps, but let’s not trod on their TV magic) all the way cross-country by way of Texas.
They were also popular with the other racers and they managed to drive cleaner than 99 percent of the rest of the field. They did manage to get the full Lemons experience. A busted rear differential required an in-race junkyard trip and the show’s host, PJ Karsjó (above), managed to rack up a penalty. Still, the show’s trailer looks entertaining so we’re fairly eager to see what kinds of misadventure they could cook up for Icelandic TV.
The Icelanders’ pit neighbors also provided additional entertainment all weekend. That would be the McDad’s/A Fart Racing Lancia Scorpion. While Speedycop built a Scorpion back in 2010, the A Fart Lancia was the first with a Lancia engine. As one might expect, they faced a few issues just getting the car through tech.
They had started with basically a shell and dug up a 1.8-liter Lancia engine from what we can only assume was the bottom of the junkyard pile. The engine did run, but it suffered chronic overheating issues. And fuel-delivery issues. And the alignment would have broken the brains of most tire-shop techs.
Still, they persisted and the car attempted its first laps around mid-day Saturday. It never ran consistently at all, but it did log 52 laps. That was a fairly incredible performance so expect to see this near the top of the Index of Effluency contenders at future races.
At this race, the Poseur Race Consortium put an end to all of the “YOU CAN’T FIND $500 CARS!!!111!!!” arguments we hear over and over again. They dropped into their local police auction and scooped up a 2003 Ford Crown Victoria for a cool $50, plus a 10 percent discount for paying cash. Yes, this is a $45 car, but wait, there’s more!
The police department was dumping their entire fleet of purchased-in-2003 cars and they asked the buyer if he wanted a few more at that price. Who wouldn’t? So he picked up three parts cars—all of them within six VINs, mind you—while he was at it.
Space Cowboys have run their Saturn SC2 at a few Lemons races, but they’ve been discontent with the car’s speed relative to BMWs and V8 Mustangs. So they did the only logical thing they could: They added a cheap turbocharger to the 1.9-liter Twin Cam engine. What could possibly go wrong?
Given that they only ran 32 laps, we suppose the answer was “a lot.”
We get a lot of Star Wars-themed race cars in Lemons, but the Star Warts team showed how you can get a BMW 3-Series through BS Inspection without too much grief. Just dress the car up like the BB-8 from the most recent Star Wars films and then have BB-8’s head move in conjunction with the driver’s head. Brilliant!
It did help that they all dressed in character, including a convincing Rey with an Ewok.
Finally, both Honda N600s that race Lemons showed up at the same race. Team Apathy’s blue “Saanda,” which is powered by a mid-mounted turbocharged Saab engine, influenced the later Team Baka build. That car sports a carbureted Honda S2000 engine. We’ll have more on both of these cars very soon here on Roadkill, but for now, let’s take a look at the winners from Button Terrible.
Overall/Class A Winner – #71 Eyesore Racing, Mazda Miata
Eyesore Racing managed to win the race overall, which would itself not usually be terribly exciting. The win makes an even nine Lemons wins over the years, but it didn’t come easily. Some contact early on Saturday—Did we mention this race was a bit rough-and-tumble?—bent a tie rod. Eyesore, being ever-ready, had it swapped out in under 10 minutes. From there, they ran cleanly to the win, but they needed some help.
Racing Nemo won at Thunderhill recently and led this race at the end of Saturday. A black flag for contact, likely a mistaken one, reduced but didn’t eliminate their lead. However, they soon racked up another black flag for putting wheels off the track. That put them just far enough behind to come up a lap short of Eyesore.
Class B Winner – #814 Morons!, Ford Escort ZX2
In Class B, Morons put together basically a flawless race with their Ford Escort ZX2 to win the class and finish 9th overall. The Minion-themed ZX2 held off Uncle Joe’s Racing and their V8-powered Toyota Celica by a single lap to win it.
Class C Winner – #433 Team Petty Cash, Jeep Comanche
The Class C win went to Team Petty Cash and their Archer Brothers-tribute Jeep Comanche. On the most recent Lemons Rally, Petty Cash had run one of 100 Comanches that wore the body kit of the Archers’ 1980s SCCA-racing Jeep Comanches. For this race, they prepared a basically stock Comanche to match it with the period-correct racing decals.
The Jeep 4.0-liter inline six ran like a champ, although the Peugeot-sourced five-speed transmission tossed all the gears except fourth by mid-day Sunday. Still, the Comanche tooled around with just one working gear and managed an impressive 21st place overall. And it looked good doing it, too, next to the Archer Brothers Limited Edition Comanche street truck that ran the recent Lemons Rally.
Heroic Fix – #626 Tattoinies, Mitsubishi Eclipse
This race’s Heroic Fix might be an all-timer. We first saw the Tattoinies last year at Buttonwillow when the Pasadena-based team brought their third-generation Mitsubishi Eclipse, which promptly lunched an engine. They returned this year with a fresh 4G63 four-cylinder engine and the same sweet Fast and Furious-caliber wheels. What could possibly go wrong?
This year, the engine lasted exactly two laps until the temperature gauge’s needle was aimed at “Center of the Sun.” The resulting heat obliterated the head gasket and warped the head. Would they call it quits this time? Never. They just needed to machine the warped head surface back to level. The only slight problem was that their machine shop was back in Pasadena and they were unlikely to find one open on a Saturday night near Buttonwillow.
Instead, they decided to deck the head using sandpaper glued to the hatch glass on the team captain’s 1953 Chrysler Town & Country wagon. The idea is that the glass is a flat surface and the sandpaper will (very slowly) work the head’s surface back level. They tried at first using the glass while it was still attached to the hatch. That involved a Rube Goldberg contraption using 2×4’s to keep the jack from moving since it was holding up a milk crate to support the weight of the head.
That didn’t work out so well, so they instead took the rare glass out of the hatch for the first time in 64 years. For the second try, they used the 2×4’s to hold the cylinder head with the warped bottom end facing up. With the sandpaper glued to the glass, the team captain simply moved the glass in a figure-8 motion for a couple hours to “machine” it.
Did that work? Hell yes, it did! They figured they had it good to 0.002 of an inch. That’s not perfect, but it’s pretty danged good for work in the Lemons paddock. On Sunday morning, they put on a fresh head gasket and reassembled the engine’s top end.
It worked well enough that the Eclipse covered 31 laps in the final couple hours of racing so that all the team’s drivers got a turn behind the wheel.
Well, almost the whole team. Everyone drove except for the team captain, who had to solve a fuel-delivery issue on the rear-windowless ‘53 Chrysler. When it rains, it pours in the Central Valley.
I Got Screwed – #38 Safety Third, Hyundai Elantra
The I Got Screwed story at this race also reads like a Heroic Fix, except that the Safety Third’s choice in cars was directly influenced by Judge Phil. He suggested the team (and all other teams) should bring a fine Korean car because both of their abundance in junkyards and because he’d put any such car in Class C. The Safety Third team, as a result, team brought a Hyundai Elantra whose roof they hacked off to make a North Korean presidential limousine.
The team captain originally bought the car to replace the interior on his girlfriend’s Elantra after her dog had more or less ruined it. And once you have a parts car lying around with no interior, the obvious choice is to race it. It turned out to have average pace on the track, although the engine sounded progressively jankier throughout the first day until it finally clanged its last clang.
The team immediately went to CraigsList and found one just 15 minutes away in Shafter, California. While negotiating for an admittedly very nice Hyundai Tiburon, the seller’s significant other burst out of the house to shout “JUST TAKE IT.” Talk about haggling power; the Safety Third team quickly talked the Tiburon down from a couple thousand dollars to a mere $1,200. Still a lot for a Lemons donor, but desperate times.
They pulled the engine from the Tiburon and dropped it into the Elantra without issue. Of course, little of this would have happened if they hadn’t followed Phil’s advice in the first place. Because they did, Safeth Third headed home with a very expensive non-running Hyundai. That’s “Screwed” if we’ve ever heard of it.
Most Kern County Porsche – It Won’t Get Better Unless You Pick At It, Porsche 924
Each race brings an event-specific award and this time, that went to the very It Won’t Get Better Unless You Pick At It. Yes, that is their team name and the last time we saw them, they had adapted an SU carburetor to their Porsche 924’s engine.
Instead of fixing the Porsche engine, they just dropped in the diesel inline-six engine from a Volvo. Ironically, this was originally a Volkswagen Auto Group engine, so there was some level of convergence. It created a clunky, noisy, smoky Porsche and since Ferdinand Porsche built tractors, this diesel 924 was naturally the Most Kern County Porsche in the Central Valley.
Judge’s Choice – #141 Lemon Head, Chevy C10
As this race feature some particularly aggressive cars for inexplicable reasons, both the Judge’s Choice and Organizer’s Choice trophies went to well-behaved teams. Lemon Head showed up with a Roadkill-approved square-body Chevy C10 that had been minimally modified. These off-road changed virtually nothing on the truck except an off-road style shifter.
It still sported the original 305 Small-Block Chevy, the original one-leg rear end, and the original automatic transmission. Yet, they stayed clean all weekend without a single visit to the Penalty Box and beat up on more than 50 teams. That’s not bad for a full-size truck without a hint of road-racing modifications.
Organizer’s Choice – #21 Croc O Sh**, Volkswagen Golf
The Organizer’s Choice went to Croc O Sh** Racing, a spin-off team from the miscreant Volkswagen Vanagon team of Zitronen Commando. The Golf racers were almost entirely the Zitronen’s teenaged children and unlike their parents (and the rest of the field), they kept themselves entirely out of trouble all weekend.
Lemons is no stranger to younger teams being best-behaved. Old age and treachery usually lead to many black flags. Add in that the team ran a great-looking car—the scaly alligator protrusions are some of the best spray-foam applications we’ve seen in Lemons—the Crocs had this one nailed down.
Index of Effluency – #411 Ran When Parked Racing, Volkswagen 411
We’ve already spilled a few hundred words on this IOE-winning air-cooled Volkswagen. You can read that whole story here, but this tired four-door VW with an automatic transmission managed 104 painfully slow, clattering laps. That earned them the series’ top prize and we should see this car again next month at MSR Houston.
You can see even more 24 Hours of Lemons content here on Roadkill. If you’re in Michigan or the Chicago area, come check out Lemons at Gingerman Raceway this weekend in South Haven, Michigan. Here are full details on that event.