The 24 Hours of Lemons crew returned to Inde Motorsports Ranch in southeast Arizona for the third annual Arizona D-Bags race, where we saw gorgeous desert sunsets, ate vast quantities of Mexican food, and watched a Pinto Cruising Wagon beat up on dozens of allegedly superior road-racing machines.
As an indicator of how depressing things got in the United States during the immediate aftermath of the Energy Crisis, Watergate, and the Fall of Saigon, you can’t beat the Pinto Crusing Wagon. Yes, Ford added bubble windows and stripes to the famously explodey subcompact, creating sort of a cruel parody of a “don’t bother knocking” custom van.
Naturally, a Cruising Wagon makes an ideal 24 Hours of Lemons racer, and so the Turrible Ts and Pinto Bean Bandits (best known for their very fast Model T GT)
ruined prepared what may or may not be a genuine, numbers-matching example for racing. It’s horrifyingly stock, from its wheezing 2300 engine to its 1750s-technology leaf-spring rear suspension, so you’d expect even the best drivers to struggle to place it in the top third of the standings.
That’s not what happened at the third annual Arizona D-Bags race. A combination of flawless driving, tight team organization, and overaggressive driving by the much faster competition resulted in the Turrible Ts and Pinto Bean Bandits finishing seventh overall, beating 40 other teams while turning the 13th-slowest best lap time of the entire field. The Class C battle wasn’t even close, with the Pinto beating its closest challenger— a 1963 Volvo 544— by a whopping 37 laps.
Not to rub it in too hard, but the 88-horsepower Cruising Wagon beat seven BMWs, three Porsches, three Camaros, three MR2s, two Miatas, a turbocharged Saab, and a TRD Solara, with lap times 10-15 seconds slower than most of the quick machinery. In endurance racing, sometimes the tortoise eats the hare!
Speaking of tortoises, we have come to realize that the four-cylinder BMW E36 3-Series must be piloted with superhuman skill in order to keep up with its six-cylinder brethren on a track with any long straights (e.g., Inde Motorsports Ranch, where club members may land their aircraft on the race course). Since the members of the Drunky Wrench team aren’t exactly Formula One drivers, the Lemons Supreme Court showed uncharacteristic mercy (we look at E36s the way Winston Churchill looked at Bolsheviks) for the team’s seventh Lemons race, putting them in Class B instead of the usual Class A. The Drunky Wrenchers spend the entire race struggling to beat the Croc O Shit Racing VW Golf, and they managed to catch the checkered flag just a few seconds ahead of the Volks.
In Class A, the drivers of the Goleta Lemon Association Special team and their 1992 BMW 525i got their first overall Lemons win since they started in the series in 2012. That’s 15 races, in three states.
This time, everything went right for the Goleta Lemon Association, and they beat the Alfa Romeo Syndicate Eccelente Alfa-ized BMW E30 by three laps. Their secret: running pretty quick— but not 10/10ths quick— laps all weekend and staying out of trouble. This formula seems simple, but most BMW teams have yet to discover it.
One of the best things about coming to Inde Motorsports Ranch is the fascinating collection of vintage military jet aircraft, scattered around the facility where racers and spectators can admire them up close. In addition to the F-111 and MiG-17 seen here parked with a spectator’s daily-driver Hudson, you’ll see examples of the MiG-21, F-104, F-86, A-4, and more.
The elevation of the track is close to a mile up; not quite as high as the aptly-named High Plains Raceway in Colorado, but the air is thin and that makes for overheated brakes and engines plus sea-level racer brains not operating at peak efficiency. Just as is the case at High Plains, most of the cars at an Inde Lemons race are going to break something over the course of the weekend, and that means we’ll have plenty to talk about when we decide on the winners of the I Got Screwed and Most Heroic Fix awards.
This time, the winners of the I Got Screwed and Most Heroic Fix could have been swapped without making much difference, so close were their balances of frustration and success; we decided that the Nine Finger Drifters, proud owners of a TE72 Toyota Corolla wagon, most deserved the latter trophy by a 0.0003% margin.
The Nine Finger Drifters has a perfectly good Class C car, with its rock-and-stick-simple pushrod 3TC engine, and after several races were on course to nail down a win in our most important class. Naturally, they opted to ruin their car, when they found a steal on a genuine JDM BEAMS 3S-GE engine, complete with computer and transmission, out of a late-1990s Toyota Altezza. As the wise and fair Chief Justice of the Lemons Supreme Court I gave them a residual value to get this engine, with the warning that their Class C days would be over forever if they did the swap; I knew they’d break a lot of parts and I figured the story would be an interesting one… which it was.
Five laps after the green flag on Saturday, the pinion gear on the Corolla— designed for 73 horsepower— proved to be not quite up to the task of putting 207 JDM horses to the ground, and it failed in dramatic fashion. Just for the record, the Corolla’s best lap time was about 8 seconds slower than the Pinto Cruising Wagon’s best lap time.
Did the Nine Finger Drifters give up after this, hanging their heads in shame and perhaps slicing off additional digits to atone for their disgrace? They did not. Instead, they found a sketchy junkyard in Tucson that had a late-1970s Celica, and managed to yank the entire rear end just before the yard closed for the day.
You Malaise Era Toyota experts know that the second-generation Celica and E70 Corolla don’t share many components, and that the rear end isn’t even close to a bolt-in unit in this application. However, the driveshaft flange on the differential is the same with both cars, and thus the Nine Finger Drifters were able to avoid having to fabricate a custom driveshaft in the paddock. What they did have to do, though, was convert the coil-spring Celica rear into a leaf-spring Corolla unit. Much late-night grinding and welding ensued.
It worked… for one lap, at which point the funky driveline angles resulted in the driveshaft beating itself half to death on the car’s floor. This counts as success in our book, and the team took home a well-deserved Most Heroic Fix trophy.
This M.A.S.H.-themed, Chevy V8-swapped Porsche 928 competed for years in California, and its team picked up their share of wrench-turning glory during that time. Eventually, the Default Racing guys
wised up decided to move on to a less glorious racing machine, and they sold their Porsche (which sold new for the equivalent of $103,000 in 1979) to the Arizona-based West German Pushrodders.
The Pushrodders’ team captain has much experience with
foolishly brilliantly modified race cars, having put together the Fo’ Shogun Mazda B6-swapped Ford Festiva a few years back. The team’s 928 uses an ordinary T-5 transmission bolted to the engine, which meant that the original rear-mounted transxle installed by Porsche had to be replaced with a regular differential. Default Racing had installed an MN12 Thunderbird unit, leaving the Porsche hubs and suspension in place and mating everything up via the use of Frankensteined axle shafts: Thunderbird inner halves, 928 outer halves, mated together via a welded-on sleeve. As you might imagine, this proved to be the two-ton race car’s weak point, and the West German Pushrodders’ car tore up an axle early in the going on Saturday, scattering components all over the track. Adding insult to injury, the team’s transponder hadn’t been working, so even the paltry few laps they’d turned weren’t counted.
No problem, they said, we’ll just hit the local parts store and get a new MN12 axle assembly, then cut and splice to the 928 parts we found on the track when it went cold at the end of the day. Unfortunately, no parts store within 500 miles had the required axle, so the team bought a random assortment of front-wheel-drive CV half-shafts, figuring they might be able to splice the CV joint into a mangled-ass 928/MN12 hybrid axle (and then return the parts they didn’t use).
The end result was a hodgepodge of Porsche 928, Ford Thunderbird, and Ford Taurus axle pieces, welded together under primitive paddock conditions. The Taurus CV boot wouldn’t fit, so they made a sort-of-grease-tight boot out of duct tape. Amazingly, this rig worked quite well, provided the drivers pitted regularly for duct-tape replacement, and the West German Pushrodders turned 68 laps on Sunday. We figured the team had been screwed in several ways (by buying this car in the first place, by their transponder failure, and then by the lack of what-should-be-easy-to-find-parts), so the Pushrodders took home the I Got Screwed award.
There’s more than one way to enrage Porsche purists (actually, scientific notation is needed to describe the number of ways to enrage Porsche purists), and Totally Eclipsed By the Spank chose one of the lesser-known methods when upgrading the powertrain in their Porsche 924. At the 2017 Arizona race, this team— then known as It Won’t Get Better Unless You Pick At It Racing— suffered fuel-injection failure in their Porsche and used a wood-block adapter to install an SU carburetor in place of the defunct K-Jetronic system. Last summer, they tore out that troublesome Audi mill and replaced it with a high-performance straight-six engine.
Yes, this Porsche features a Volkswagen-designed diesel six pulled from a very sensible Volvo and rated at around 80 oil-sipping horsepower. This is less than the 97 horses from the 924’s original gasoline-burner, but has the advantage of allowing stint length limited only by driver bladder capacity.
We thought the coal-rolling 924 looked great on the track and we were pleased that a Porsche was the slowest out of 47 entries, so Totally Eclipsed By the Spank picked up the prestigious Organizer’s Choice award.
The Mercedes-Benz W203 C-Class has now depreciated to scrap-value price levels, and we’re just starting to see them in our series. Team Slow Cure picked up a 2002 C230 hatchback and converted it into a fairly convincing “MackCedes-Benz” cement mixer, complete with rotating drum and concrete chute.
This was so much not what those fastidious Stuttgart designers had in mind for the C-Class that the just and caring judges of the Lemons Supreme Court gave their Judges’ Choice trophy to Slow Cure.
At every Lemons race, a team receives an event-specific award, sometimes tied to the region and sometimes to the track itself. Many of the teams racing at Inde Motorsports Ranch have club members driving, with BMWs, Porsches, and the like predominating. Not so in the case of the IMR members of the Cackle & Caw Cauldron Crew, who race a Ford Festiva stuffed with the B6T engine out of an early-90s Mercury Capri. For this, the team received the Most Impressive Club Members’ Car trophy.
At that very moment, Lemons veteran Anton Lovett (who first competed at the 2007 Flat Rock race) had been preparing his own Volvo for the ONSET/Tetanus Racing team, a ’63 PV544 Sport. It wasn’t ready to race until the Arse Sweat-a-Palooza in California last summer, though, and the Blue Swede crushed it by 139 laps.
The increasingly passionate Blue Swede-versus-ONSET/Tetanus PV544 rivalry continued through the rest of 2017 and into 2018. The two teams had very similar lap times, but the Blue Swede proved to be more reliable.
The ONSET/Tetanus Volvo had a secret weapon at the 2018 Arizona race, however: a set of rugged Roadstone tires to combat the weirdly fast tire wear caused by the FAA-approved tarmac at Inde. There would be no time-wasting pitting for worn-out tires for the ONSET/Tetanus Volvo PV544! There would be no grip, either; the team’s drivers invented slogans for their Roadstones such as “Roadstones: when tires made of wood just aren’t available” and “Roadstones: they grip the road like a stone!”
The two elderly Volvos battled each other and the rest of the Class C field all weekend long. The best lap time for the Blue Swede was 2:22.404, while the ONSET/Tetanus team had a best time of 2:22.270. That’s right, just over a tenth of a second’s difference!
When the checkered flag came out on Sunday, the ONSET/Tetanus 1963 PV544 had won the reliability contest, beating the Blue Swede by 63 laps and finishing an impressive 16th overall. For this, the team received the top prize of Lemons racing: the Index of Effluency.
For a big gallery of photos from this race, go here. For nerve-ripping video recaps of past races, check out the official Lemons YouTube channel. For all the Lemons action here on Roadkill, go here. The next race will be March 24-25 at Sonoma Raceway aka Sears Point, where we’ll be joining forces with Billetproof, the Concours d’Lemons, and Radwood at the first-ever HooptieCon.