In early 2010, the Bondo-caked, temp-tagged, red-tape-for-taillight-lens ’93 Chevy Corsica that is the 24 Hours of Lemons wheezed into the legendary race track at Sears Point, California. For reasons none of us understand, the joint just keeps inviting us back, and so we lowered their property values once again, at the 11th annual Arse Freeze-a-Palooza 24 Hours of Lemons. Here’s what happened.
The third-generation Toyota Celica came with a gnashy 20R or 22R engine yanked from the Mujahideen-approved Hilux truck. While the Toyota R might well be the ideal powerplant for hauling 25 AK-toting guerillas through the mountains of East Waziristan, it has proven to be a rod-throwing, head-gasket-blowing liability in our series. The solution? For three Celica teams at the ’17 Arse Freeze, it was obvious: V8 swap!
Two of those teams opted for Toyota purity, dragging 4.0-liter 1UZ-FE engines out of dime-a-dozen junkyard Lexus LS400s, SC400s, or GS400s, bolting them to Jeep Cherokee AX15 5-speeds via janky backyard-built bellhousing adapter plates, and shoehorning them into their cramped engine compartments.
The third team, the proud U.S. Army soldiers of the very aptly-named Nut Sack Racing, went all patriotic with their Celica, dropping a good old Ford Windsor 302 and C-4 automatic transmission into their car. What happened? The Ford-powered Celica was the slowest of the three, but it didn’t break. USA! USA! USA!
When the 1UZ-FE in the Uncle Joe’s Racing Celica lost all its water and melted down, half the team members got busy yanking out the bad engine while the other half started working Northern California Craigslist for a suitably cheap engine donor…
…which turned out to be this very clean, strong-running 1994 LS400, complete with a valid California smog check and a set of brand-new Goodyear Eagles. The engine swap went off without a hitch and the Celica hit the track in time for the green flag on Sunday morning.
Best of all, the team found someone to take the now-engineless Lexus off their hands and haul it away from the track, sparing the race organizers the wrath of track management. For this, Uncle Joe’s Racing won the Most Heroic Fix trophy.
As always, the Sonoma Raceway course was fast and challenging, with many drivers driving at 10/10th instead of the 6/10ths recommended for weekend-long endurance racing. The Lemons Supreme Court had a busy weekend in the penalty box, for sure.
Teams that could run quick, consistent laps and stay out of trouble did well. In the end, it was the very fast, very clean Eyesore Racing taking the overall win once again in their ghettocharged Miata, beating the Nemo Money Miata by a strong five laps.
The Eyesore Miata looks like a junk heap. In fact, it is a junk heap, with more Lemons races under its belt (42) than any other car in series history and a great deal of “temporary” engineering that just keeps functioning. This time, the team scavenged up a homemade fiberglass wing (based on a crude parody of the Eppler 420 airfoil) from another team’s dumpster, connecting it to their rear suspension using junkyard swaybar end links.
For the sick(ening) aero mods on the front of their car, they invested about 20 minutes in the hotel parking lot, using cardboard found in a Vallejo hobo jungle. Strangely, all this stuff worked, with Edmunds Engineering Editor and Eyesore wheelman Jason Kavenagh claiming that the additional downforce allowed him to enter the Carousel in fourth gear instead of third. Engineering, how does it work?
For another example of engineering that worked better than anyone expected, Team Thom’s Fault brought this 1969 Chevrolet Corvair for its Lemons debut. That’s right, a final-year-of-production, ultra-rare ’69 Corvair… and the team hacked it all up for racing.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, V8-swapped Corvairs were all the rage, and you could get the swap kits out of the J.C. Whitney catalog. Many did, and now those kits are dirt-cheap today. The Thom’s Fault wrenches squeezed in this random small-block Chevrolet V8, and all of us predicted (based on the experiences of the last half-dozen Corvairs in Lemons racing, some with ill-advised engine swaps) that it would spin out five times in the first lap, then overheat and spin all the rod bearings and never be seen again.
Miraculously, the Thom’s Fault Corvair ran pretty well all weekend, and it neither spun nor crashed (mostly because the team’s drivers knew enough to avoid the dreaded lift-throttle oversteer problems that plague mid- and rear-engined cars). It wasn’t very fast, but by Lemons Corvair standards it was hypersonic. For that, we created and awarded the We Wanted To Give a Corvair a Trophy But We Refused To Use the Name “Ralph Nader” in the Name of the Trophy Trophy.
Speaking of silly mid-engine-swapped cars, the “Saanda” 1971 Honda 600 of Team Apathy has more than quadruple the factory horsepower, driving the rear wheels.
You might think that shoehorning the entire front-wheel-drive powertrain from a Saab 900 Turbo into the back of a microscopic Honda 600 would result in a dominating road-race car, what with the upgrade from 45 to 200 horses and all, but the Saanda had raced nearly a dozen times over the course of the previous five years and had never come close to winning in Lemons racing’s most leisurely class, Class C. Reliability problems and generally twitchy handling dogged the Saanda for race after race, starting with the 2012 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway.
The Team Apathy guys kept fine-tuning their setup, though, and this time it paid off. The car ran for most of the time and was able to turn laps an entire two seconds faster than its deadly rival, the completely stock 2005 Hyundai “Kim Jong” Elantra of Safety Third Racing. When the checkered flag waved, Team Apathy had their Class C win at long last, beating the Dear Leader’s car by two laps.
That leaves Class B. Volkswagen GTIs used to get put into Class A without exception, but the wise and fair judges of the 24 Hours of Lemons Supreme Court have learned that most of these cars struggle to run for more than a few hours between hard-to-repair mechanical failures; for this reason, stock examples that have fallen apart repeatedly at past races can sleaze their way into Class B every so often. This is what happened with the 2001 GTI of Team Boiling Hasenpfeffers, who finished fifth overall (out of 170 entries) and took the class win by a humorous nine laps. So, GTI racers, get ready for Class B to be a more difficult-to-enter club for you.
Maybe a few hopelessly flaky and slow GTIs will be caught up in the general roundup of all GTIs in the aftermath of the Boiling Hasenpfeffers’ big win, but sometimes the innocent must suffer along with the guilty. And on the subject of getting screwed, let’s talk about the winners of the 2017 Arse Freeze’s I Got Screwed award: Fraidy Cat Racing. This team spent years running a majestic Jaguar XJ12 in West Coast Lemons events. We love V12 engines in our series, and the Fraidy Cat Jag was very reliable for what it was. Still, the Fraidy Cat drivers wanted to go faster, and so they devised what seemed the ideal solution for their second car:
Yes, the first Porsche Boxster in the 24 Hours of Lemons. These cars have become cheap enough that you can get bent-up runners for a few grand at insurance auctions, then— in theory— sell off enough parts to get the purchase price below the series’ $500 limit. Thing is, the judges don’t worry much about the letter of the law on the budgetary limit when a car has no hope of being fast, but the microscopes and skepticism get deployed with great force with a car like this. Fraidy Cat had found a screamin’ deal on a crashed and
maybe stolen registration-challenged Boxster, then picked up an additional body shell for— they claimed— the low, low price of zero.
After much debate, the judges determined that Fraidy Cat Racing had fudged their accounting a bit, and the team got hammered with sufficient penalty laps to prevent victory. Then, just as everyone predicted, the Boxster turned out to be slower than Porsche fanatics claimed it would be (and the Fraidy Cat drivers have serious skills and much experience on the Sonoma Raceway course). It also turned out to be about as reliable as everyone expected, broke often, and finished in P72 (or P52 without the penalty laps). The much-vaunted Boxster, driven by good racers, was beaten by such overwhelming racing monsters as a 1976 Oldsmobile Omega and a 1966 Volvo Amazon. For the incineration of their hopes of stomping the field like so many arthritic cockroaches, Fraidy Cat Racing received the you-don’t-want-to-win-this-one I Got Screwed award.
Old Crows Racing have been competing at West Coast Lemons races for as long as we can remember (actually, since 2012), starting with a Union Jackified Mustang and then adding this gorgeous Jensen-Healey.
Then, the Tubbs Fire that devastated much of the region around Sears Point struck in October, obliterating both of the Old Crows’ race cars (plus their houses and street cars). The team couldn’t race at the ’17 Arse Freeze, but they did make a trophy out of melted components and gave it to us to present to a deserving team. We dubbed this the Rise From the Ashes Award.
Receiving this trophy were the members of McDads/A Fart Racing, who have the guts to race a genuine Lancia Scorpion (you foreign types knew this car as the Montecarlo). Scorpion endurance racing offers the opportunity to solve one soul-crushing problem after another, which is exactly what McDads/A Fart Racing did all weekend.
We also like the logo on their team shirts.
The bad influencers at Lemons HQ have spent many years wheedling, requesting, demanding, whatever it took, to get a team to race a genuine Sterling. This race, it happened!
Bodge Engineering, the team that owns the Lexus-engined Rover SD1 (the RoLex, get it?), began scouring the List of Craig for our favorite Honda-Rover collaboration. The Sterling 827 features all the passion of the 1986 Acura Legend, combined with a gorgeous British interior and Rover-grade Lucas Electrics. Eventually, they found the perfect car.
The Sterling’s Craigslist seller demonstrated unusually good spelling and grammar, along with seldom-seen-in-Craigslist-car-ads honesty about the car: “Sterling is now defunct, so there are no spare parts to be had. Otherwise, it’s a great car…”
The guesses for the most likely lap count for a 300,000-mile Sterling 827 at Sonoma Raceway mostly hovered around the 25 mark with quite a few spectators predicting two or three laps at best, but the car shocked the Lemons world by running flawlessly for the entire weekend.
The lap total for the Bodge Engineering Sterling came to 239, which amounts to more than 628 extremely punishing miles of tire-shredding, full-throttle-now-full-brake, car-killing driving. For this, the team took home the prestigious Organizer’s Choice trophy, generally considered the second-to-highest award in the Lemons universe.
As for the top prize, the Index of Effluency, the Lemons Supreme Court decided early on Sunday that two mighty racin’ machines would battle for it, and the one with the most laps would bring home IOE glory while the other grabbed the Organizer’s Choice. One of those cars was the Sterling 827. The other was the Pit Crew Revenge 2002 Pontiac Aztek. When the checkered flag came out, the Aztek crossed the finish line six seconds ahead of the Sterling.
We’d had endless Breaking Bad themes prior to this; no Azteks among them, but we were tired of the whole schtick. For this reason, Pit Crew Revenge gave the very first 24 Hours of Lemons Aztek a Survivor Season One theme. Yes, that’s a Pit Crew Revenge driver as a naked Richard Hatch.
The winner of the first season of the show took home a million bucks plus a brand-new Aztek; Pontiac ran many Aztek ads during this season, linking the show’s first season with Pontiac’s most versatile vehicle.
This Aztek, which cost the team $300, came with the allegedly valuable tent and the allegedly valuable cooler. The team ran the entire race with the tent deployed, and it held together very well at racing velocity.
It was slow, even slower than the pokey Sterling, but consistency and reliability is what counts in endurance racing. 240 laps, no breakdowns (other than an unfortunate running-out-of-gas incident that wasn’t the Aztek’s fault), no black flags.
For a big gallery of Arse Freeze 2017 race photos, go here. For official timing-and-scoring results, go here. For all your 24 Hours of Lemons news, features, and blown head gaskets, go to the Roadkill Home of Lemons. The next race takes place on the first weekend in February at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, and we hope to see you there.