Eight Cylinders Bad, Twelve Cylinders Good! V12 Engines in LeMons Racing

You might think that cars equipped with V12 engines would be too expensive to race in our hooptie-centric series, and that a V12 would give a team a vast competitive advantage on the track. You’d be wrong on both counts! The 24 Hours of LeMons has seen participation by race machines with V12 engines made by several high-end European marques, and every single one has been terribly awesome and awesomely terrible. Let’s take a look at the history of the V12 engine in the 24 Hours of LeMons.

Say what you will about the Jaguar V12‘s reliability (and there’s a lot to say on that subject), but all right-thinking LeMons aficionados will agree that it’s by far the best-sounding engine you’ll ever hear in a crapcan race. Yes, when an XJ-S comes by with all 326 cubic inches singing through a pair of Cherry Bomb glasspacks, all conversation stops for a moment.

The Jag V12 isn’t the easiest engine in the world to work on, granted. Head studs frozen into the block, undiagnosable overheating problems, and maddening electrical woes come with the territory.

And, of course, there’s Joe Lucas, Prince of Darkness to contend with when you race a Jaguar.

The good news is that an XJ12 or XJ-S that is less than perfect tends to sell for something like 0.04% of the original purchase price… if the seller is lucky. Yes, you can pick up a genuine V12-powered Jaguar that runs, drives, and stops (or at least two out of those three items) for about the same cost as an ex-rental-car ’91 Sentra with automatic transmission, 400,000 miles on the clock, and a trunk full of used syringes and burned spoons. And when you need parts, your local U-Wrench-It self-service junkyard probably has at least one XJ-S and a half-dozen prole-grade XJ-6s.

24 Hours of LeMons Arse Freeze Palooza 2008LeMons 2008 Thunderhill Raceway
The very first V12 LeMon was the Pendejo Engineering Jaguar XJ-S, which showed up at the 2008 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza at Thunderhill Raceway and finished an amazing 27th out of 104 entries.

The Pendejo guys, who went on to race the first and only Maserati Quattroporte in our series, added big wheel flares and 315-width tires and managed to get the 4th-best lap time at the spring 2010 Thunderhill race. This car handled amazingly well for its bulk, with Los Pendejos stating that it drove like a two-ton Miata.

Since the Pendejo XJ12’s debut, we’ve had a half-dozen or so V12-powered Jaguars, and every single one has grabbed at least one LeMons trophy for its drivers.

If you want a near-certain Class C slot for your LeMons car and you like the idea of sharpening your wrenching skills, there is only one choice for you.

About the only type of car that depreciates as quickly as a British car with a V12 is a German car with a V12. Once such a car is on its third or fourth owner, the Check Engine light stays on, all maintenance costing more than $100 (i.e., any maintenance) is deferred, and The Crusher awaits. For the notoriously miserable 2009 Lamest Day 24 Hours of LeMons at Nelson Ledges, racer Bill Caswell (who went on to become quite well-known the following year) and automotive journalist Sam Smith brought the first-ever LeMons BMW 750iL. Of course, they showed up for the tech inspection about eight hours after the green flag, and then it took them a few more hours to get on the track, but we were very excited to have our first German V12 in a race.

That is, we were excited until about 90 minutes after the mighty 750iL hit the track… at which point Caswell, distracted by an important discussion on his hands-free phone, (while racing, at night at the very challenging Nelson Ledges) lost control of the car and slid sideways into a Dodge Neon that had just spun out. Both cars were done for the weekend. Still, we wanted more V12s in the series.

The following month, Pendejo Engineering managed to grab a 1996 Mercedes-Benz S600 coupe for a LeMons-grade price and raced at at the ’09 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza. Impossible, you say? Hard to believe?

The highest-end W140 Benz listed for more than $130,000 in 1996, but this one had been confiscated at the border with a Paraguayan diplomat at the wheel and a trunk full of Bolivian Marching Powder; the title thus was so radioactive as to render the car absolutely impossible to sell.

The shop that ended up with the car tried to sell it, but this S600 wasn’t sufficiently perfect to be worth the expensive and lengthy process needed to get it registered anywhere outside of North Korea or maybe Bhutan. Nobody seemed interested in buying parts, not even the mighty 389-horse V12 under the hood.

So, the Pendejo guys got the car for the price of “get it out of here forever” and turned it into a race car. Because the interior was so luxurious, they reinstalled it after putting the roll cage in the car. Yes, even the built-in factory car phone was still present and functional. This was, without a doubt, the most luxurious 24 Hours of LeMons car ever raced.

Was it fast on the race track? No. Was it reliable? Hell no. Did we put it in Class C with the MGBs and ex-junky-owned Sentras? Of course!

The Pendejo S600 (the team called itself Diplomatic Immunity for this race, applying Paraguayan Embassy signs on the car) finished 103rd out of 156 entries, but the effort required a 19-hour thrash to remove the intake manifold and numerous other components held down by weird proprietary fasteners in order to replace an absurdly inaccessible coolant valve that was leaking water onto an equally inaccessible electronic component.

Many of the car’s computers (some of which, but nowhere near all, are shown in this photo) also failed under race conditions, causing the instrument panel to light up like the K-19’s control board during a reactor excursion. By the end of the weekend, the Diplomatic Immunity guys wanted to be far, far away from this car. They pleaded with LeMons Chief Perpetrator Jay Lamm to use the never-before-deployed Claimer Rule to take the car off their hands and give us a good story. Jay then gave it to a friend with a lot full of abandoned get-to-it-someday projects, where it remains to this day.

After that, it was obvious that the series needed a team to stuff a BMW V12 into an old Detroit heap as soon as possible. Speedycop, a Washington D.C. police officer who has achieved Certified LeMons Madman status, had killed the Ford 390-cubic-inch V8 in his looked-good-at-500-feet, mostly-body-filler 1963 Ford Thunderbird in most dramatic fashion early in 2010, so he dredged up a scrap-value BMW 750iL and swapped the engine and transmission into the T-Bird. The result was catastrophic glorious!

Speedycop and his Gang of Outlaws (then called Police Brutality) brought the V12Bird to the 2010 Capitol Offense race at Summit Point, where everyone present felt horror awe at the sight of a BMW V12 equipped with a Holley carburetor atop an intake manifold made with an ammo-can plenum plus a steam-calliope-inspired array of plumbing pipe and sliced-up radiator hose. The complex separate-ECM-for-each-cylinder-bank ignition rig used by BMW had been ditched in favor of a pair of junkyard six-cylinder distributors out of we-don’t-want-to-know-what. It ran, sort of… for two laps, at which point the once-computer-controlled transmission went on strike.

It took until the 2012 Thunderhill race for us to get a BMW 8-Series with a V12, but it was worth the wait. Feast your eyes on the Team Miami Vice 1992 BMW 850i, a super-prestigious car that sold new with an MSRP of $78,500 (about $133,000 in inflation-adjusted 2016 dollars).

The passage of time has not been kind to the resale value of the E31, and so the Miami Vice guys didn’t feel very bad about slicing off the too-short roof in order to make room for a roll cage.

The M70 V12 in the ’92 850i made 295 horsepower when new, which is exactly the same as what you get with the optional Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 in the 2016 Chrysler 200.

The Miami Vice guys work at German Auto Sport in Berkeley, which gives them access to not-quite-used-up 8-series parts and fun vanity plates like this one.

There was much outrage when we put this high-performance V12-powered sport coupe into Class C with zero penalty laps, but the Miami Vice car proved to be fairly slow and very unreliable.

Fortunately, BMW V12s are cheap and plentiful, so the team can swap them in the way the Miata guys swap brake pads. The 850i (somehow) managed to win Class C after a few years, so now the team tries to catch the Crown Vics and Volvo 240s of Class B. The car has been in some hard crashes and is barely recognizable as an 8-Series today, but it continues to compete at nearly all of the California races.

Ideally, every team now racing a boring car would go get an XJ12 or 850i, so that our races could have more and more of that beautiful V12 sound. The LeMons Supreme Court would be happy to give a budget exemption for a team wishing to run a flathead Lincoln V12, a Toyota GZ, or even a Daimler Double-Six.

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover