The Birth, Life, and Death of a 24 Hours of LeMons ’72 Plymouth Valiant Scamp

Many Chrysler products of the 1960s and 1970s have competed in the 24 Hours of LeMons race series, including such greats as the winged ’66 Plymouth Belvedere of Faster Farms Racing and the NASA-ized ’64 Dodge Dart of Escape Velocity Racing. Most of the time, these old Mopars stay in the hands of a LeMons team for many years… but this Valiant raced for just three seasons before it met a cruel junkyard fate. Here’s the tale of the Dudes Ex Machina 1972 Plymouth Valiant Scamp coupe.

Dudes Ex Machina Civic
Team Dudes Ex Machina, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, started out in the early years of LeMons racing with this Honda Civic. For the 2010 Arse Sweat-a-Palooza race, they ran their car on straight ethanol, installing a giant corncob on the roof and dressing as farmers.

But they got bored with the Civic and decided that they’d have more fun racing an old Detroit car, something that looked really cool on the track and that could be made to go quicker with easy-to-find swap-meet parts. California is bursting at the seams with solid-but-ugly classic American cars that nobody seems to want to rescue, and the Dudes Ex Machina guys found this battered 1972 Plymouth Scamp for a couple hundred bucks.

The Scamp was a slightly sporty-looking two-door version of the Valiant, which itself was the Plymouth version of the Dodge Dart. This one wasn’t nice enough for someone in California to restore, so it was either the junkyard or the race track for it.

The team gutted the interior, sold off everything they could, and installed all the required safety equipment.

Under the hood, a completely stock, high-mile 198-cubic-inch Slant-6 engine, rated at 100 horsepower for the 1972 model year.

With automatic transmission and stock suspension, the Dudes Ex Machina Scamp wasn’t particularly quick, but it made a big impression on the officials during its debut at the 2012 Sears Pointless race.

The Scamp finished 152nd out of 171 entries at that race, not great but respectable for a 40-year-old car making its LeMons debut.

A few races later, the team created some sort of puzzling “safety first” theme, with orange cones bolted all over the car.

Because the judges are willing to cut some slack on the $500 budget for awesome old Detroit cars, the team rounded up a 225-cubic-inch Slant-6 and found a cop-spec twin-carb induction setup for it. This probably bumped up the horsepower to 130 or so.

Most races, the car broke something and spent much of the weekend on jackstands, surrounded by parts and tools, but the team had a good time.

The fundamental problem with the Dudes Ex Machina Plymouth was that the Mopar Slant-6, while utterly bulletproof on the street, is very fragile under road-racing conditions. This has been proven over and over in our series, by such cars as the Slant-6-powered BMW E30 and the Squatting Dog Racing 1970 Valiant.

HF 1
Don’t feel too bad about that, Slant-6 guys— such street-reliable engines as the small-block Chevy, Honda B, Toyota 4A, Volkswagen Air-Cooled, and Nissan L-series have proven to be even more blow-uppity in our series (while the Alfa Romeo V6 and Cadillac HT4100 exhibit cockroach-grade immortality on a LeMons track).

Still, the Dudes Ex Machina guys always had fun on race weekends, and the car was at least as quick as the Volvo Amazons and Hyundai Excels and Ford Rancheros that competed against it in Class C.

Chrysler made the Slant-6 engine into the 1990s, which meant that the team could always find another 225 for cheap at U-Wrench-It. They became weary of all the engine swaps and all the slow laps, though, and decided to get a race car that was lighter and more modern. At that point, they offered the Scamp up for sale, even going so far as to redecorate it with a Dudes Ex Machina Quality Pre-Owned Vehicles theme.

Would you buy a used race car from these guys?

It costs thousands to race-prep a car for the 24 Hours of LeMons, with most of that cost going into the roll cage. A turnkey LeMons car for less than $2,500 is a steal (if you’re shopping for such a car right now, for example, you can get a 1959 Studebaker Silver Hawk for next to nothing, a street-legal 1964 Humber Super Snipe wagon for $1,999, a 2000 Ford Focus for $1,750, or a 1984 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz for free). But nobody wanted to buy the Dudes Ex Machina Scamp, even after repeated price drops that eventually dropped down to the “haul it away and it’s yours” level.

Dudes Ex Machina Datsun
Meanwhile, the team had purchased a turnkey LeMons car that they hoped would break less and go faster, while still being old and funky enough to get some coolness points: this 1980 Datsun 200SX with a KA24 swap out of a 240SX. At that point, they had two non-street-legal race cars and not enough space for both.

They couldn’t even sell their good engines to local Slant-6 fanatics, because those guys turn out to be even cheaper than lovers of old Volvos, a penny-pinching standard we once believed impossible to surpass. So, they took the twin-carburetor setup off the engine, threw all the spare parts in the Scamp, and told Pick-n-Pull to come get it.

Yes, a fully caged, turnkey race car with several spare engines and the team couldn’t give it away. I found it last summer, during one of my many junkyard expeditions.

The hood still had such legendary LeMons Supreme Court BRIBED stencils as the LSD Molecule from the 2014 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza and the Grateful Dead Steal Your Face from the 2014 Sears Pointless race.

The tech sticker from the car’s last race was still stuck to the windshield. I’m telling you, even this cruel LeMons judge had a tear in his eye when he saw that.

Three engines are going to the scrapper as well, and their metals will be shipped out of the Port of Oakland and on to China, where they will become Geely Freedom Cruisers and Shenyang J-15s.

How did this happen? It happened because not one car freak among the tens of thousands who knew this car was available for damn near free was willing to step up and put his money where his mouth was. Next time you get upset about some cool old car getting crushed, remember that you could rescue the next one… and we say it should be the “any non-zero offer considered” 1959 Studebaker Silver Hawk.

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover