The 24 Hours of Lemons series has been visiting Buttonwillow Raceway Park, just west of Bakersfield, since the Buttonwillow Histrionics race in 2009. For 2010 and 2011, the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza races were held at “The Butt,” followed by an Arse Sweat-a-Palooza in 2012, and then the race moved to summer or fall (starting with the hottest race in Lemons history) in 2013 and received the name that has stuck since then: the Button Turrible 24 Hours of Lemons. Yes, four different names for the Buttonwillow event over a decade, and all of them have been weird. Let’s take a look at what happened at the tenth Buttonwillow Lemons race.
First of all, the record for the most trucks in a 24 Hours of Lemons race got smashed in a big way, with something between 8 and 10 trucks competing (depending on whether you consider a BMW E36 or Rambler American pickup conversion to be real trucks). Two Ford Rangers, two Chevrolet S-10s, a Jeep Comanche, a Ford Ranchero, a Chevrolet LUV, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, plus the Wasted Potential 1963 “El Ramblero” and the 70s Called and They Want Their Camper Back V8-swapped BMW E36.
This truck not only boasted a column-shifted automatic transmission but one of our all-time favorite GM engines: the 2.5-liter Iron Duke four-cylinder. This truck wasn’t particularly quick, running 2:40 laps while the fast teams turned 2:15s, but the drivers stayed reasonably clean and the old S-10 never faltered, resulting in a 49th-place finish out of 119 entries. That was good enough to beat 7 BMWs, 9 Mazda Miatas, a Corvette, and a Porsche 944 Turbo. As a result, Contagious Racing earned a trophy dubbed Zis Iss De Vehicle’s Top Speed, in honor of the legendary S10-versus-tanker-truck chase scene from Terminator 2.
But a team with so many drivers needs more than one race car, so they found a fully depreciated 1999 Mercedes-Benz C280, complete with fritzy electronics and an automatic transmission, and dressed up two drivers as the Oildale version of Oktoberfest Germans. Both the Jeep and the Benz were absolutely stock and the team stayed out of trouble, earning Shortbus Racing a Judges’ Choice trophy on their first time out.
The Wasted Potential 1963 Rambler American pickup (aka El Ramblero) features Ford 300-cubic-inch straight-six power and had been pursuing a Class C victory since the 2016 Button Turrible race. Five races into their Ramblero-piloting careers, the Wasted Potential drivers finally managed to outlast the competition in Lemons racing’s slowest (and most important) class, beating 15 class challengers and taking the win by nine laps over the Re-Start Racing Ford Ranger (which also runs a Ford 300 engine).
Earlier in the race, Class C looked to be nailed down by the Chotus, a Chevy 350-swapped 1974 Lotus Elite campaigned by The B-Team: Just Plain Stupid. You may recall how the Chotus was sitting in P5 overall, with a two-hour Class C lead, at the Pacific Northworst race back in July… only to get knocked out of the running by a cascade of front-suspension failures. The B-Team took home a hard-earned I Got Screwed trophy from that race, as it was the culmination of close to a decade of misery and futility with the fast-but-fragile Chotus.
This time, things were different. The Chotus was in P4 overall on Sunday morning when a hub, wheel bearing, and brake rotor failed, causing the wheel to part ways with the car and dooming yet another seemingly-in-the-bag Class C win. One more I Got Screwed trophy for their collection!
We’re supposed to care about who gets the most laps, and once again it was Cerveza Racing and their BMW 5-Series. As usual, the Cerveza drivers stayed invisible on the track, biding their time as the faster teams blew up their cars and/or got black-flagged out of contention, ultimately beating the Goleta Lemon Association 5-Series by 50 seconds.
These guys have won more 24 Hours of Lemons races than any team in history, with a shocking total of 12 victories. That’s just over 6% of the 196 American Lemons races that have taken place. Want to be like Cerveza? Be smooth on the track, don’t kill the car, and don’t make any mistakes. That means you don’t forget to register one of your drivers, you don’t lock the tools in the trailer, you don’t catch a dumb black flag for pit speeding, you don’t go for a pass with a mere 99.9% chance of success, you don’t forget the hood pins, you don’t spin the engine past redline for just this one pass, and you… well, this list has at least 500 items on it.
Finally winning Class B after many years of failed attempts in their blown-3800-swapped Pontiac Fiero, the Area 51 Alien pimps overcame the chronic reliability problems of their car by crafting a “Fiero” out of a Mazda RX-7, then swapping the 3800 into it.
Not that engine-swapped RX-7s have been very successful in the series, but the Fiero has been— how shall we put this in diplomatic terms?— something of a character-builder for Lemons racers. Well done, Alien Pimps!
Speaking of mid-engined cars with more passion and soul than build quality, the McDads/A Fart Racing Lancia Scorpion competed in its fourth Lemons race since the team debuted this high-performance racing machine at the 2017 Button Turrible.
During the race, the Scorpion’s battery got loose, flipped upside down, and welded its positive terminal to the car’s frame. This made the car’s highly passionate and soulful Magneti Marelli electrical system somewhat addled, and the team had to thrash on the car for many hours. Fortunately, this was no big deal by McDads/A Fart Racing standards, and the team finished in P80, beating 39 lesser teams and enjoying their best racing performance yet. For this, the Lemons Supreme Court handed them the Lancia: It’s Not Just For Rallying trophy.
You’d think a 21st-century Miata would be far more dependable than a 1977 Lancia Scorpion, but such was not the case with F*Bomb Racing and their Mazda. The car’s differential exploded during practice on Friday, and the team had to chase down a ludicrously overpriced replacement on Craigslist that night. After installing the new diff in a frenzied overnight wrenching thrash, the car promptly blew its head gasket right after the green flag on Saturday morning. The F*Bombers fixed that as well, sort of, and continued racing despite clear signs of head and/or block warpage. This earned them the race’s Most Heroic Fix trophy.
Some teams look for good deals on Integras or E36s when planning their next race-car build. Other, smarter teams go right for weird captive imports from the far-flung GM empire, and that’s precisely what the Westboro Fastest Church team did when they found this 1967 Opel Kadett Sport Coupe, still wearing its original black-and-yellow California license plates.
With a mighty 1,077cc four-cylinder engine developing an honest 54 horsepower (51 years ago), the Westboro Fastest Church Opel had all the underhood resources needed to drive to Buttonwillow from Los Angeles (through the Grapevine, of Hot Rod Lincoln fame) and then turn 232 laps on the race track.
That’s 130 miles of highway driving followed by 432 miles of full-tilt racing, for a half-century-old Euro-GM heap that had been abandoned since the early 1990s. The Opel was one of the few racing machines to be even slower than the Contagious Racing S-10, and yet the Westboro Fastest Church finished in P64, nearly in the top half of the standings and 21 laps ahead of the Opel’s distant C4 Corvette cousin. Organizer’s Choice!
In most ordinary 24 Hours of Lemons races, such an achievement by a harrowingly stock 1967 Opel Kadett would be a no-doubt Index of Effluency slam-dunk (given the dominance of General Motors in the IOE pantheon), but the ’18 Button Turrible was no ordinary race. Team captain Corey Dickman of Ran When Parked Racing, the perpetrator of such purist-infuriating outrages as the “Ramble On Forward” 1961 Rambler Classic, Oldsmobile Omega, and Volkswagen 411, decided to take on the single-interest car fanatics whose obsession with their cars is matched only by the incredible depreciation levels suffered by those cars since they sold for more money than a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class: the Cadillac Allanté Jihad. So he picked up one of the many $200 Allantés up for sale in Southern California and raced it.
The team tried to keep as much of the Allanté’s Italian-made interior as possible, because the car is an irreplaceable classic. Note the futuristic digital dash, which worked perfectly all weekend long.
After much hooraw with the furious members of a couple of Allanté-centric Facebook groups (none of which would buy a single part off this race car, due to extreme cheapness), the Ran When Parked crew rolled into the inspections with anti-classic-ruining protest signs. Better that this car had gone to U-Pull-It (where I see Allantés all the time) than be submitted to the indignities of road racing!
For reasons nobody can explain, the Cadillac HT engine has proven itself to be the most reliable Detroit pushrod V8 in the 24 Hours of Lemons, and the 170-horsepower 4.1-liter engine in the Ran When Parked Allanté never skipped a beat all weekend long.
In fact, the Allanté suffered no serious problems, went around the course 258 times, and finished 40th overall. That’s better than nearly three-quarters of a very tough field, in a 31-year-old front-wheel-drive GM car with worn-out suspension and leaky automatic transmission. One of the easiest Index of Effluency calls we’ve ever had. Congratulations, Ran When Parked Racing!
This weekend will be the first-ever attempt by the 24 Hours of Lemons to stage two races at the same time, with one in Michigan and the other in Washington. If you can’t make it to either of those races in person, be sure to follow the action on the 24 Hours of Lemons Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. For all the photos from the ’18 Button Turrible, check out the Lemons Smugmug gallery, and stay tuned for all the official Lemons video content at the Lemons YouTube page.