Murilee Martin contributed heavily to this post.
When 24 Hours of LeMons Chief Perp Jay Lamm dreamed up his beater-racing series back in 2006, he generally expected an outpouring of terrible cars brought as-is. However, it took just a few races to figure out that when the only real constraint on building a car is a $500 budget (excluding the series’ always-improving requisite safety gear, of course), people bring incredible creativity to the game. While the majority of a given field today is still filled with run-of-the-mill BMWs and Civics, the creativity-fostering environment has given way to some incredible race car builds. Compiling any list of “Greatest LeMons Cars” is bound to exclude more incredible hoopties than there are spirochetes in a custom van’s shag carpeting, but here is a relatively whittled-down roster of some of the best crapcans we’ve seen in the 24 Hours of LeMons.
Before we delve too deeply in the list, it’s probably important that you know about LeMons’ top prize, the Index of Effluency. Give a quick read-up on it here and you might understand that word getting tossed around so much. Also, we’re extremely aware that this list probably omits some worthy candidates, but we’re already perilously close to enough images in this post to turn Roadkill’s servers into a smoldering Ford Taurus approximation. Please feel free, as always, to leave us nasty “Y U FORGET R CAR!!!11!?” comments regarding our glaring omissions. Since space is limited with the cars that are there, be sure to follow hyperlinks if you want to read or see more about the listed cars.
Now, on with The List.
Worst LeMons Car of All Time: NSF Racing/K-It-Forward Plymouth Reliant
Originally campaigned by NSF Racing as LeMons’ first authentic Chrysler K-car, the Florida-based team decided to “gift” this car to the LeMons community, changing hands for nearly every single race of the 2013 season. That included logging tens of thousands of transit miles between races. As it turns out, having one set of people to fix the things going wrong on a racecar is a good thing, because a season’s worth of kludges led to it nearly Shanghai’ing a LeMons correspondent and two should-know-better LeMons racers in Wyoming with temperatures plummeting to -23°F, just a couple weeks after finally capturing an Index of Effluency trophy.
No other LeMons car has brought so much perverse misery to LeMons racers, uniting an entire country of them to acknowledge that while Lee Iacocca’s K-Car saved Chrysler, the best thing for any surviving K to do is commit ritualistic hari-kari. Which actually isn’t surviving.
On its face, the Limoni car is just another Alfa Romeo, a marque with a surprisingly successful record in LeMons. However, this car has raced more than 30 times, first on the East Coast (where it won a race) and recently on the country’s other side. When the team noticed it coming apart at the seams this year, they welded it all up to the lax Italian standards that existed when the car was built in 1987. Expect many more races from this Mediterranean beast.
Speedycop‘s original LeMons car was a super-weight-reduction-model Lincoln Mark VIII, but the real origin story of Speedycop’s LeMons uber-legend status begins here with a barn-find (A barn collapsed on it, actually.) 1963 Ford Thunderbird with the original 390 V8 and Cruise-O-Matic three-speed transmission. The body was completely rotted, which was “fixed” with copious body filler and a coat of bright-red house paint that looked spectacular trackside and downright ugly up close. At its first race at Gingerman Raceway in 2010, the transmission blew the hell up and after much flailing to install an ill-fitting replacement, Speedycop welded the Cruise-O-Matic’s third gear in place to make a one-speed, direct-drive Thunderbird. It worked remarkably well until the 390 pitched a rod, leaving a trail of flaming oil out the aerated block.
And here’s where the Legend of Speedycop begins. Rather than replace the 390 with another Ford V8, Speedycop sourced a BMW V12 from an old 750iL and dropped it in with a carburetor, using an old military surplus ammo can for the intake. As it turns out, the bypassed BMW ECUs (plural) were necessary to control the BMW transmission attached to the V12 and the big Bimmer engine never worked. Enter a diesel straight-six from a BMW 524td, which somehow worked like a charm, giving Speedycop his first Index of Effluency and a sip of the severely addictive nature of the IOE arms race.
If such a thing exists as a “LeMons juggernaut,” then surely Mike “Spank” Spangler is that. His endeavors began innocently enough with a terrible Austin Mini (powered by an engine of cobbled-together and/or borrowed parts) and spiraled out of control quickly in a tidepool of British and French merde. His Austin America came with leaky hydroelastic suspension, which of course doused Spank, his crew, and the odd onlooker with the stenchy hydraulic fluid. Nevertheless, the plucky 1,275cc engine ticks like a clock and once it got sorted, Spank’s Austin became a frighteningly reliable and capable British race car.
In the early days of Hooniverse, Editor-in-Chief MadScience aka Tim Odell decided that the credibility of the site (created as a reaction to the
dumbing-down increased democratization of the once-beloved Jalopnik of Mike Spinelli, Davey Johnson, Jonny Lieberman, Mike Bumbeck, and Murilee Martin) would be enhanced by a BMW E24 decked out like a Plymouth Superbird and raced in the 24 Hours of LeMons. Hilarity ensued, and now there’s a new ill-advised Hooniverse-backed LeMons car on the track.
Who says SUVs can’t road-race? Originally comprised of off-road racers, the Petty Cash team went to their default XJ platform when they decided to race LeMons. As will become a theme in this list, the Petty Cash crew soon discovered that with a bit of suspension tuning, they had a curiuosly bulletproof race vehicle. The 4.0-liter straight six was a tough mill whose stump-pulling ability gave it off-corner grunt and when they opted for more power, a Vortec 5300 truck motor weaponized the Jeep. An all-star cast of pro racers, including Motorsports Hall of Famer Tommy Kendall, have flogged the Race Jeep.
LeMons’ most successful Opel is the work of Mike Meier, one of the most-active LeMoneers of all time. Not only has he built a three-quarter-scale Corvette C5.R, he has also worked tirelessly on compiling an anthology of team-submitted stories for a self-published (unofficial) LeMons book, getting LeMons cars on display at major Bay Area auto shows, and taking the Tinyvette to Bonneville, where it ran nearly 120 miles per hour on the salt flats.
As is often the case in LeMons, Bad Decisions didn’t need any kind of theme because they brought an already-horrible vehicle to race, but the Chicago-area team turned their U-Body van into an early 1990s Black & Decker Dustbuster. Not only that, the team also mounted a period-correct GoPro (i.e. hefty camcorder) to the Trans Sport’s rollcage and then created a drivers’ lounge in their paddock that included a console TV with VCR to review the camcorder footage from the comfort of van-seat couches. Dedication won’t always get the Index of Effluency, but the big leaning van ran like a train at Gingerman Raceway in 2015 to win an IOE.
This being LeMons, there are of course many teams with the words “Bad Decision” in their names. California’s version took an old Mercedes 300, chopped out the firewall, and mounted a big-block Chrysler essentially where the passenger’s feet would have been. The mid-engined Mopar-cedes never ran quite right, shockingly, meaning the massive 315 section-width tires never on the rear never got a workout, though the dry-sump system made out of an old five-gallon homebrewing keg did get plenty of use trying (unsuccessfully) to keep the 440 happy. Ultimately, the team opted to move on, which may have been an uncharacteristically good idea.
E30ata – BMW E30/Mazda Miata mashup
The LeMons Supreme Court justices have always felt that BMW E30s and Mazda Miatas are the most boring cars in the series, and so this Miata team added the front bodywork of an E30 to their Miata for the 2010 Southern Discomfort race. E30ata!
Rally Baby are something of an East Coast racing collective that started by racing a not-terrible Audi 4000, adding to the fleet a heavily Bondo’d Mercedes R107, then piling on a whole swath of BMW cars. However, Rally Baby’s greatest contribution to LeMons is their Malaise Era AMC Hornet. The “Whornet” not only sported a period-correct brown-over-brown color coding and door-scraping stock suspension, it also housed a homebrewed blow-through turbocharger setup on the venerable old AMC straight six. The turbo ran low boost through a custom-fabbed ammo can intake and made more cool turbo noises than power, but that’s more or less the point of LeMons.
The aptly named Supra team have spent more than 25 races in LeMons breaking every conceivable car part at least once and collecting black flags. However, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, the Worst Supra Ever in LeMons at last won Class C in 2015. Despite their mechanical and driving woes, the team have endeared themselves to race organizers by generally enjoying the hell out of every LeMons weekend and making obtuse jokes that appeal perfectly to the LeMons Supreme Court’s twisted sense of humor (including the first nitrous-oxide injection system that provides laughing gas to both car and driver).
Aside from the aforementioned Worst LeMons Car of All Time K-Car, Bert One’s Vermont-based 262C is the only car to have raced in all five LeMons regions. The team pitched the coach-built Volvo’s notorious PRV V6 in favor of a dead-reliable Redblock Volvo engine and after winning Class C, added turbocharging. A teammate’s relocation allowed the car to criss-cross the country twice with a stop in Michigan en route to a year on the West Coast, then returning to New England via races in Texas, Alabama, and South Carolina, where it narrowly won the race outright. The Bert One represent part of New England’s herd of Volvo loyalists, who are well-respected in LeMons for their generosity and charity work with Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
We’re still not sure how a 1960 car buyer with any shred of good sense could have bought a Ford Falcon or Dodge Dart with the supremely American Lark available from their local Studebaker dealer. Stude’s 259-cubic-inch V8 made it a rocket compared with the Falcon or the Dart, so we fully expected complete domination when Premature Combustion unexpectedly turned up to Utah’s Miller Motorsports Park with their V8 Lark. The team had resurrected the car after 40 idle years and without changing much (aside from a splash of light-blue paint and an oversized lark sculpture on the roof), brought the Studebaker to Miller. The Lark clanked to an easy Index of Effluency, its four-wheel drum brakes faintly glowing as its 259 purred past the checkered flag.
While most of the motoring world is at least passingly familiar with British Leyland automobiles (Lucas, Prince of Darkness, etc.), the other British conglomeration of horrible vehicles, the Rootes Group, represents a vast reserve of largely untapped LeMons potential. That said, California’s Team Tinworm knew just what to do when they found a Humber Super Snipe wagon for sale on CraigsList. The obscure Rootes Group wagon featured an overhead-valve inline-six engine that, in theory at least, makes north of 130 horsepower. More importantly, the engine was unkillable. Unfortunately, the Super Snipe was itself not indestructible; a rollover ended the first Snipe’s effluent racing career, having rendered the chassis unfixable. Like any good LeMoneers, Team Tinworm did the most logical thing possible: They somehow found another Super Snipe and raced it, defeating Freiburger and Finnegan at Buttonwillow Raceway Park this year.
O Most Divine Lady of Gurney Flaps, assist us in the need for more grip to our tires. Though our speeds be low and heft be great, we know only that we must affix elements of grand scale and hope for you to intercede on our behalf. We beseech you in our quest for a mere section of Thy Holiest Cessna and require that its Mighty Ailerons move with Ye Middle Pedal’s travels to greater arrest our low speeds. Pray for us that our Emaculant Rudder be not only superficial, but also of true might and righteousness for steering our way through the oppressing darkness of LeMons. Amen.
LeMons has seen a great many air-cooled Volkswagens, but none has endured quite so much as that of Team-Ing With Bad Ideas. “Crazy Mike” Kimball has, at multiple races, powered “Scrubby” with as many as three different engines with some lasting only about 200 feet of paddock driving. However, in an incredible feat of LeMons
foolishness inspiration, Kimball and his ever-patient girlfriend towed Scrubby to Texas from California behind their Volkswagen Vanagon. The Beetle ran better than it ever had before, annihilating its Class C competition in a true 24-hour race. That was the Beetle’s high point. From there, they towed to Colorado for the next race, where Scrubby returned to the finicky ways that have again characterized Crazy Mike’s last three years.
In truth, we wish that all LeMons cars were like this beat-on old Rambler. Its unrestored and original inline-six engine ran more than one-thousand race miles in front of its vague three-speed, column-shifted transmission with nary a complaint. And while it was far from fast, the fuel-sipping 195 cubic-inch motor allowed its drivers to run on the track for more than three hours at a time. Even with its leisurely pace, the Rambler shamed dozens of BMWs, Miatas, and Integras by simply running unbothered for an entire weekend.
If you’re not familiar, Honda’s Z600 was a half-shade above a scooter when it was built: 1,300 pounds with a 36-horsepower bike engine. The Angry Hamsters kept the idea of a bike engine, but put quite a bit more power through the sub-subcompact Honda’s wheels. The original build used basically an entire 100-horsepower Honda Magna VF 1100c motorcycle frame in its original guise. As it turns out, those engines don’t hold up well to road racing’s rigors, so Chief Angry Hamster Tim Taylor instead threw a $300 Honda CBR1000 engine at it. There was considerable fabrication involved, using Mazda RX-7 and Jeep parts among others. However, the swooping aerodynamics are entirely functional because a screaming 170-horsepower bike motor will make a miniscule Z600 absolutely hurtle around a racetrack with some downforce. Unfortunately, the Z600 exhibited some “curious” handling tendencies brought on by its extremely short wheelbase, which ultimately became its undoing with the implementation of minimum-wheelbase rules in the series.
While the ‘63 Thunderbird sent Speedycop spiraling down his own bizarre path of automotive modifications, The Flakes started a trend that has driven countless LeMons teams absolutely crazy. In the early days of LeMons, cars were truly a mix of janky heaps, usually only unidentifiable because the early races at Altamont were considerably more violent and tough on cars. Yet, The Flakes showed up at the sixth race of all time at Altamont in 2008 with their Swedish brick chopped up to look like a finned late 1950s Rambler. It was the first time someone had radically altered a car’s bodywork and it blew the minds of race organizers and fellow Lemons racers alike. By the next year, The Flakes had sculpted their Volvo into a completely credible 1957 Chevy and dubbed it the “Chevolvo,” then made it a great American Graffiti replica ‘55 with a hood scoop.
The story could end there and it would still be on this list since so many other teams have grafted or sculpted bodywork onto other chassis to create brow-furrowing insanity. However, The Flakes had one more trick up their sleeve. The team dug this car out of mothballs in 2014 to give it a new powerplant (a small-block Chevy V8, of course) and the be-all-end-all Days of Thunder tribute in the history of LeMons with “Mello Hellno” and a bevy of other great joke sponsors.
We’ve talked at length about this car, but the basic idea is that these Pennsylvanians adapted a turbocharged Saab motor to their Nissan 300ZX. Not only is that kind of thinking generally very far outside the box even for LeMons, the crazy idea actually worked. Rust in the Wind have racked up three overall wins in their 300ZX that has all the hallmarks of solid LeMons cars: strange engine swap, overly complicated aerodynamics, crazy junkyard parts applications all over the car, and a hood fashioned from a rusty old wheelbarrow.
In the right hands, BMW’s E30 chassis (which includes all 3-Series from 1984-1991) is a force to be reckoned with in LeMons. With completely stock parts, they have excellent brakes and handling while the M20 straight-six engine occupies that delicate performance isthmus between power and efficiency that produces endurance racing success. However, that’s all rather boring for this list and LeMons organizers love it when teams replace OEM powerplants with the same configuration, albeit with less power, poorer efficiency, and increased weight. And for that reason, we love the E30/6, which you might guess correctly is an E30 with a Chrysler 225 cubic-inch Slant Six shoved under its Bavarian bonnet. After some initial and expected teething troubles, the E30/6 developed into a decent race car. It certainly wasn’t anywhere near as quick as a stock E30, but the grocery-getter mill under the hood was good enough to get them a long-coveted Class C win in 2015.
As we’ll see, Team Babel’s ark-ified Toyota MR2 is the second-best car-turned-boat in LeMons, but that doesn’t make this one any less impressive. Many a great LeMons car has required woodworking, but Team Babel’s takes the proverbial cake. Not only was the MR2 quite a sight, it also managed an impressive 13th-place finish, which is terrific for a car with the aerodynamics of, well, a boat.
The Superfly-themed Grand Prix features many of those weird quirks of that weird era between muscle cars and the Malaise Era: Big engine that makes real power along with styling that only looks good after high doses of methaqualone. When the team got this 455-powered beast, it was leaking all kinds of fluid and was generally a miserable hooptie. A bit of paint and some TLC turned it into a big-block rocket, logging insane laptimes at Gingerman Raceway while the mixing-bowl headlights and custom grille loomed in lesser cars’ rearview mirrors.
Pete Peterson brought LeMons’ first MGB and while there have been many since, none have lived as much as the Killer ZomBee. Famously rolled in a massive tumble at Thunderhill, the Bee became straight-ish again in Peterson’s driveway after much wailing with ratchet straps, hammers, and four-letter words. Six years later, dozens of idiots have gotten their first taste of LeMons in the car over countless races that have included a Class C win, an Index of Effluency, and a couple thousand race miles on an engine that Peterson “borrowed” from his wife’s MGB-GT. Did we mention that Pete uses the wrinkled MG as his daily driver?
The B-Team had raced their “Kill Phil” BMW E30 for a few years before turning up with this Lotus Elite packed with a Small-Block Chevy under its fiberglass bonnet. The SBC doesn’t have the world’s best reliability record, but compared with the Elite’s stock Lotus 907 engine, the 350 may as well be a million-mile Detroit Diesel. Sure, the B-Team gave up on the whole Colin Chapman mantra, but dang does the Chotus go like stink. Until it starts dropping parts on the track, anyway.
The Fuego is the second-most LeMony LeMons car that’s ever run LeMons. Sure, it didn’t have things like “brakes” or “horsepower at the wheels” and spent most of its time “on jack stands” or “having fires extinguished,” but someone had the absolute stones to even attempt to race a car this bad and that’s amazing in and of itself. Even more amazing: After several races, Interceptor Motorsports finally made the car run all weekend to take an Index of Effluency trophy home to the Turbo Zone.
LeMons builder Brandon Spears could easily be on this list for either of his Mercedes Index of Effluency winners, but the Jetta-rossa is the hooptie that drew organizers’ attention. Spears dragged his horrible Volkswagen, which wore Testarossa-style door cladding, around the country to coat race tracks with an equal-parts mix of motor oil, body parts, and engine internals. However, teammate and LeMons Supreme Court Justice Steve McDaniel upped the ante by converting the Jetta into a tourist-trap-grade Tiki bar with details obsessively fussed over down to the rollcage padding.
Auto journalist Mike Austin turned up with this overly complicated Volkswagen long-roof at Gingerman in April 2010 and, after being laughed at by race organizers, proceeded to park the all-wheel-drive Quantum in 9th place overall and win the Index of Effluency. A couple of class wins later, Austin sold the Quantum, still powered by its original naturally aspirated five-cylinder engine, to a Chicago-based team. After that team blew up the 10-valve engine, they dropped in a turbocharged Audi 20-valve engine that made this a weaponized Audi Fox cousin. The Quantum recently changed hands again and that Mike Austin guy? He took some sort of editor-in-chief job almost five years to the day after his IOE win. Coincidence? We think not.
Early 1960s Mopar seldom shows up in LeMons, but when it does, the old Dodges and Plymouths have fared pretty well. Escape Velocity’s Slant-Six-powered Dart has endured ups and downs, but the Leaning Tower of Power hooked up with a push-button transmission has made their early A-Body a sterling example of LeMons effluency.
If dropping an American straight-six engine into a BMW isn’t in your sacrilege wheelhouse like the E30/6, why not graft body panels from a salvaged old American hooptie instead? The Bavarian Ranchero tucked all of the seams from a 1973 Ford Ranchero into the E30 unibody, giving them probably the most competent Ranchero road racer in history. Unfortunately the team left in the BMW straight-six instead of opting for a far-more-effluent Ford 200, but we still like what we’ve seen from this team’s Sawzall-and-body-filler unit.
The Faster Farms Belvedere is one of the true survivors of LeMons, still bearing a topography of dents from the very crash-y early days of LeMons at the claustrophobic Altamont Raceway Park “road course.” The Belvedere is one of many the owner has had and while their bowling-ball-activated active-aero wing was permabanned long before ever being attempted on a racetrack, the car and team were the initial (and to date only) recipients of a LeMons Lifetime (Under)achievement Award.
Who wouldn’t want to race an authentic minitruck in LeMons? Licensed to Ill’s owner, Jesse Cortez, took over this 283-swapped truck from his uncle and turned it into a slamming minitruck. After adding a rollcage and some seats, the Minitruck rolls on still today, getting some extra traction (not to mention kickin’ beats) from the subs in the truck’s bed. It has The Boom!
British Leyland products aren’t particularly renowned for their resiliency so it’s no surprise that this team dropped the Buick 215-based Rover 3500 V8 and instead threw a 4.0-liter Lexus 1UZ-FE in the old SD1 to make a RoLex. The power bump is substantial and while the build took lots of wiring and rewiring—most of it trackside at Thunderhill in 2014—it still runs very much like Rover. You can take the England out of a Rover, but you can only kind-of make a Rolex watch out of garbage.
Iowa’s LemonAid Racing use their Geo Metro to raise funds for a local charity, which LeMoneers love to help with when we can. However, their yellow Metro has gone from a repeat Class C and Index of Effluency winner with the stock G10 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine to a LeMons-grade E30 slayer. After more than a year of fabricating and tinkering, the team showed up at Autobahn Country Club in 2014 with a BMW straight-six somehow wedged under the hood of their econobox. Sure, it weighs more than a stock BMW after the modifications, but the Metro has proven extremely capable, winning Class B and only just missing out on being the first car to win Index of Effluency and all three classes. The car that beat them to it? Also a six-cylinder Geo Metro, but we’ll get to that eventually.
The 1204 was almost kind of like the French Mini, except it lacked refinement or any measure of success outside of ubiquity in its home country. Naturally, that meant it would become a cousin to the Chrysler Omnirizon platform. LeMons madman Mike “Spank” Spangler got his hands on one of the few sold here and naturally turned it into a race car. He then sold it to LeMons’ unofficial bacon czar, an eccentric man from northwest Pennsylvania known affectionately in the LeMons paddock as “Soggy.” What does this have to do with the Simca? It has inextricably linked a terribly incapable and finicky race car with some of the world’s most delicious bacon.
Rusty Tear Racing/Car and Driver – “Seven Lap Fiero”
Quite a few LeMons cars from the early days of the series still compete, with much-bent sheetmetal and scars from the bash-n-crash days of Altamont Motor Speedway. This 1985 Pontiac Fiero— one of the most LeMony cars ever built— started out in the hands of LeMons Supreme Court Justice, IOE winner, and Autoblog Editor-In-Chief Mike Austin, who had his long-suffering sister tow it out from Michigan in a blizzard and then killed the transmission after five laps at its debut race. The car then went back to the Midwest, where it got banged around some more at the notorious Lamest Day race at Nelson Ledges. Austin then swindled the poor saps at Rusty Tear Racing into buying this profoundly terrible car, where it now competes at East Coast tracks.
Like several cars on this list, I’m not sure what’s crazier: spending the time to cut up a Mitsubishi Mirage to make a central driving position or that doing so worked well enough for this team to win a race overall. This Texas team, however, did exactly that at one of the many early races at MSR Houston. The actual center-drive conversion is one of the most-seamless pieces of LeMons engineering we’ve come across and with a crowded racetrack, the extra visibility surely pays dividends. So why haven’t dozens of additional teams replicated this brilliance?
Lloyd Alexander sounds like your septuagenarian neighbor who weeds his garden in tighty-whiteys, but it turns out that Lloyd was an extremely obscure West German car builder in the 1950s (and not related to the British car company of the same name). That’s actually not entirely unlike a septuagenarian neighbor, on reflection. We’re not sure they were even sold in the U.S., but the Pink Lloyd team got their hands on at least the shell of one. It’s probably a blessing that it no longer had the 596 cc, 25-horsepower engine, so the team instead powered it with a Subaru four-cylinder and somehow decided on Fiat X1/9 suspension components to get it through corners. As you do. Neither every worked particularly well, but kudos to Pink Lloyd for digging up what might be the most obscure car to run LeMons.
Malcolm Bricklin’s namesake may very well be the very peak of effluency and Hella Shitty got their hands on one of the early “rare (surviving) ones” with a 360-cubic-inch AMC V8. The build took forever, in no small part because gullwing-door modifications were made necessary in case of a rollover. And while “SV” stands for “safety vehicle,” the panel gaps and general dicey nature of its construction left the Hella Shitty crew with many sleepless nights and wondering for how long after its build in Canada a typical SV-1 was really safe. The car was only partially done when it debuted at Thunderhill in 2015, though we are assured of a more triumphant return to the same track in 2016. Of course, in mentioning Malcolm Bricklin, we should also add in passing that the only Yugo GV in series history lasted about three turns before ending up on its roof.
In case you hadn’t picked up on it yet, LeMons is all about oversized American iron. Heavy Metal’s open-top, aircraft-carrier-size Ford LTD was insanely fast, probably because of the trunk-mounted spoiler. Those always make you faster. If LeMons is on your mind but you don’t know what to race, you just can’t go wrong with a 1970s-action-movie-chase-scene-tires-squealing–bad-dudes-honking-out-on-the-steering-wheel American car.
This 740 was the first car powered by a Volvo Redblock engine to win a LeMons race, just beating out the Model T GT at Miller Motorspots Park in 2014. That’s not the exciting part, though. The exciting part is that it ran its first LeMons race decorated as a giant, rolling birthday cake with the big squared-off nose plowing the desert air at Buttonwillow Raceway Park.
3PM’s Citroën is the team’s third-best car and while it still has yet to run correctly in two races, the S&M-themed SM is really too perfect. It still has the original hydropneumatic suspension and Maserati V6, neither of which make it particularly reliable or easy to work on. Nevertheless, this crew always seem to manage to get their janky heaps to run well after a modicum of headaches so we should see a DOMINATING performance on the track eventually.
Zero Budget have created a mythology around themselves as complete and utter masochists. Their first LeMons car was a diesel Chevette and their enthusiasm for the little diesel Isuzu enginess became apparent when they turned up with an even-worse Chevette cousin. The I-Mark is likely the ugliest car ever to race LeMons in its original paint, which makes it actually rather gorgeous by crapcan standards. After an Index of Effluency win and several races with the slowest lap times (but still beating plenty of BMWs and Civics), the I-Mark bit the rust with a crash at a Carolina Motorsports Park race. Zero Budget’s current race car fleet includes the aforementioned Chevette, a 1975 Chrysler Cordoba, and the Worst LeMons Car of All Time Plymouth Reliant.
Idle Clatter’s first car was a Mercedes W123 Diese, built to resemble the spaceship from Futurama, that sees a lot of street miles between races. For an encore, the team dropped a battered Toyota Hilux body over another W123 diesel, giving the impression to the average squinting LeMons racer that it was the unkillable Hilux from Top Gear UK’s production and later a Pizza Planet truck from Toy Story. The Merc diesel, like Idle Clatter’s pair, is a solid LeMons choice as they’re built very tough and withstand the rigors of endurance racing remarkably well.
The Pikers’ Saab is the property of eclectic car collector Mike Harrell and perhaps the most normal thing about it is its tribute to traditional stage-rally Saabs. Like most of his race cars (including a right-hand drive MG Metro), Harrell’s two-stroke, three-cylinder 96 has a license plate. He tends to draw strange looks when towing his race car Saab 96 700 miles with his other road car Saab 96, which of course has the big-block Taunus V4 in it, though both have column-shifted four-speed manual transmissions. Don’t accuse the Pikers of taking it easy, though; they have in the past literally driven the wheels off the ol’ gal.
Custom bodywork can get you noticed in leMons and this BMW E21’s exaggerated 1980s DTM-style bodywork is really first-rate. The immense box flares jut out like misshapen wings while the front splitter can remove your ankle from a quarter-mile away. Add a nice swept-back spoiler and you have a gloriously cartoonish BMW. If you positively must race a BMW, this is an acceptable approach.
LeMons’ first flathead engine sat under the beautifully sculpted bonnet of this Hudson Hornet. The hulking 308 cubic-inch straight-six just pounded out lap after lap at its 2013 debut at The Ridge Motorsports Park in Washington, earning its keepers an Index of Effluency. Like a good many LeMons cars, the Hornet looks incredible from a couple hundred feet, but the bodywork had taken a solid beating from the sands of time. Regardless, it sure looks the part of a mid-century race car and it makes a nice racket, too.
Spank of course began his LeMons career with a Mini, which still runs occasionally, but he has pulled out all the stops in campaigning his Mini Moke. If you’re not familiar, it’s basically a Mini sans bodywork or reason and while it was designed for light off-road work, the Moke has proven to be a reasonably decent road racer. This particular Moke has in its LeMons career been a lunar rover, a whitewater raft, a land-speed-record bicycle, and a pretty convincing backhoe. Like Pete Peterson’s MGB and Spank’s own tin-top Mini, the Moke has also served as several first-time LeMoneers’ introduction to the series.
As ever in LeMons, Speedycop took to answering the question nobody has likely ever asked: “What would happen if I road-raced a Donked-out car?” Curiously, Speedycop actually built his Bonneville Donk rather than buying an already-completed one. Some 24-inch CraigsList rims, spring cups, a gallon of tractor paint, and some low-profile tires were all he needed to make the Donk happen. Surprisingly, the huge wheels, tall gearing, and gutless Malaise Era engine made the car remarkably fuel-efficient with Speedycop’s crew extracting three hours from the stock fuel tank en route to an Index of Effluency win.
After struggling with a finicky (as though there is any other kind) Fiat X1/9, the Italian Stallions finally figured out how to dominate in LeMons: Stuff a maligned one-liter Moto Guzzi V-twin into the miniscule engine bay of a tin-can-sized Fiat 600 they had pulled out of the salvage yard it had been polluting for two decades. This, however, wasn’t without precedent; one of the team members had read about Fiat’s attempts to race a Moto Guzzi-powered Fiat, which had gone about as well as you think it might have. Despite this obvious historical handicap, the Stallions found that the big-bore Guzzi heaped out 65 horsepower, which would have actually propelled the little Fiat pretty well if not for the cylinder-head temperatures hovering around 400 degrees. Nevertheless, they crawled around Buttonwillow Raceway Park, beating more 60 other cars simply by keeping the blazing-hot engine running and winning the IOE. Like the Angry Hamsters’ Honda Z600, the Moto Guzzi-Fiat fell afoul of the minimum-wheelbase rules and sadly wasn’t able to be developed further.
Owing to a team lineup with drivers of varying heights, Hella Shitty designed their Volkswagen Beetle with two drivers seats, each with matching sets of controls linked mechanically like some old airplanes. Unfortunately for the team, the Beetle’s original air-cooled engine could barely get the little Volkswagen up Sears Point’s massive hills so the California team went back to the drawing board. They came back shortly thereafter with a Subaru engine behind the rear axle. That gave the little Beetle plenty of oomph and has propelled the car at rather mind-bending speed to wins in Class C and Class B, along with an Index of Effluency.
When you’ve steamrolled the competition in back-to-back years with a 4,000-pound Mercedes S500, the only logical thing to do for any real LeMons team is to graft 1950s Cadillac body panels onto the car. Sure, it added even more weight and gave the aerodynamics of a brick, but you just can’t make a massive Mercedes any more luxurious than by adding proper Cadillac lines to it.
When the Pabst Blue Racing Maxima nuked its stock Nissan V6 after its first race, the Milwaukee team decided that rather than simply replace the motor, they’d upgrade. This was done, naturally, by affixing an entire Cadillac front-wheel-drive subframe with Northstar V8 to the rear wheels with the intake mounted just above the Maxima’s rainbow-PBR-lapping wolf mural. Mid-engine Northstar race car, just like Cadillac dreamed it up 15 years ago. Not content to just run the drivetrain as-is, the team also made a modern-day, LeMons-grade push-button transmission with each gear of the four-speed automatic selectable via toggle switches. The short exhaust on the 270-horsepower V8 sounded great, but PBR blew through at least one engine per race and while there are plenty of super-cheap, Northstar-equipped Caddys in the junkyard, it turns out most are there because the engines are bad.
The 1949 “bathtub” Nash is certainly one of the most-catching cars to have ever run LeMons. Like everything else they’ve ever raced, NSF plucked the Airflyte from a decades-long resting place in a gator-infested corner of Florida’s interior swamp. The frame and powerplant were long gone at that point, replaced with an also-swamp-rotted 1969 Corvette frame and a run-of-the-mill Chevy 350. The little bathtub debuted at Carolina Motorsports Park in September 2015, running away with the Index of Effluency while almost entirely failing to turn any of its corners. As this is written, plans are being formed for the Nash to tour the country much as the K-It-Forward Plymouth Reliant did in 2013, hopefully to better outcome. Want to race this car? Sign up now!
While California’s Flaming A-Holes have campaigned a stock-ish Mazda RX-7 for years, their 2013 race at Sears Point remains a high point for British hooptie racers. Not only did the A-Holes’ V12 Jaguar XJ-S win Class C, their bone-stock Hillman Imp also won an easy Index of Effluency. The rear-engined Rootes Group product might have coaxed 50 horsepower from its canted-over Coventry Climax, an engine renowned both for its origin as a water pump and for its redesign into a fire-breathing Formula 1 championship-winning powerplant. The Imp’s version leans closer to the first application, but that didn’t stop the occasional guest driver from hanging the Imp’s tail out.
It’s pretty simple: If you’re not the kind of person who finds a felt-covered, horse-bearing, 25-foot personal luxury coupe festooned with a cowboy entertaining, then we’re not really sure why you’re reading this list.
This old Rambler Marlin is a true piece of work, having been subjected to drastic weight-saving measures by turning all its body panels into Swiss cheese. It’s still plenty heavy, thanks in no small part to the 454 cubic-inch Chevy V8 from an pickup truck tossed into it. The end result is a bizarre-looking piece of obscure and strange muscle car-ness that is fairly competent on a road course. At one time, this car was set up with a pair of junkyard Eaton superchargers from cast-off Buick 3800 engines, but an unfortunate backfire-induced blower explosion put an end to this fine idea.
The Flying Pigs first debuted in LeMons with a turbocharged Ford Lima engine spitting flames from a Porsche with Darth Vader on the roof (got all that?), but their second build raised the LeMons stakes. Carrying massive plywood wings and wearing an air-catching snout, the bright-pink Fox Body is hard to miss on the racetrack. And while you would think those things would handicap the car, it has won a race outright and finished in the Top 10 more times than you can shake a side of bacon at. Some pig, indeed.
Homes Simpson on the roof of a ubiquitous GM A-Body is pretty good, but the best part of this is that this team includes several professional uranium workers. No other theme could ever be more fitting since they are, literally, a team of Homer Simpsons.
LeMons organizers revile Volkswagen vans, in no small part because the series used to own one as its official vehicle. So when the Westafarians rolled through inspection with a fitting amount of blue-ish smoke pouring out of their Westafari’s open top, there was much eye-rolling. However, the dreadlocked team members had cooked up something bizarrely fascinating: a 200-horsepower VR6 swap from a Volkswagen GTI. The brick-like Vanagon scooted pretty well with that powerplant, but while the team have since reverted back to a traditional air-cooled Wasserboxer for later races, it’s still far from the slowest vehicle on track.
The Cannonball Bandits are LeMons’ lovable losers, an extraordinary term of endearment in a field often devoid of “winners” (by the measure of society anyway). Today, the Bandits run a Toyota Supra powered by a (series of blown-up) 5.3-liter GM Vortec truck engines. Before that, however, the Bandits ran a Corolla and the original Supra engine with some of the most incredibly entertaining and irreverent, themes ever in LeMons: the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, a rolling tribute to Tiger Woods’ mistress, the Space Shuttle, and the Canadian Border Patrol actually chasing a “box truck” full of border-fence-crashing Canadian immigrants. Not enough mischief for you? The team also hangs out in the paddock in skimpy male swimwear.
Many great LeMons entries roll into inspections completely out of the blue and catch the judicial panel completely off-guard and this may be the most incredible example of it. Looking like a GMC Sonoma with four feet chopped from the bed, the NAFM Racing “truck” is actually Pontiac-Fiero based, sporting the supercharged 3.8-liter V6 from a Buick Regal behind the driver and chopped-up GM truck bodywork. Just for kicks, the builders grafted on an Oldsmobile Bravada grille because once you’ve gone that far, why not raid the junkyard completely?
LeMons has seen a few “natural disaster” cars pulled from receded hurricane floods and so forth, but Colorado’s crazy LeMons collective combined a flood-salvaged Renault Le Car with another flood-salvaged Infiniti I30 to make a LeMons-grade Group 5 rally car replica. The entire Infiniti front subframe with Nissan V6 was mounted to the Le Car’s rear axle and while the handling was a bit sketchy at its first outing, Sordik’s non-turbo “R5 turbo” proved relatively quick at its last High Plains Raceway outing. It even ran a 15.25-second quarter-mile at Bandimere Speedway on street tires.
Seriously, just look at this thing. Just about any car that’s pushing the 4,200-pound weight limit is going to be revered in LeMons, not least of all when its emissions-strangled 460 cubic-inch V8 makes about as much horsepower as a modern rental-spec Toyota Camry. Still, the Tunachuckers (whose previous car was a wicked Volvo Amazon) big maroon Ford is just the car to aspire to for new LeMons racers. Disregard the naysayers who speak ill of crapped-up old fuel tanks or rod-flinging V8s.
The Pit Crew Revenge team name belongs to Chris Overzet (pink suit, above), a man so dedicated to LeMons that he wears a proper tattoo on his arm. Without a doubt, more drivers have gotten their LeMons introduction in his fleet of rental race cars than anywher eelse, but his Casino–inspired Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz remains one of the greatest hoopties he has campaigned. The big 1980s front-driver looked perfectly New Wave strolling majestically at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, where it bashed in competitors’ kneecaps on the way to an Index of Effluency.
As we’ll see in a bit, Jeff “Speedycop” Bloch started pushing the limits of sanity with his builds, but after he’d done that for a while, Bloch turned to picture-perfect film car replicas. He absolutely crushed it with a Jurassic Park Ford Explorer copy, but his Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation was simply incredible. Down to the tiniest detail, he converted a 1980s Ford LTD into the very car that drives Clark Griswold to (and beyond) the brink of sanity. The mechanical components were, incidentally, paid very little heed in preparation and it turned out to be a non-issue. The LTD ran like a glove all weekend at its only race at Carolina Motorsports Park, earning Speedycop another Index of Effluency.
The Texas rotary
cultists enthusiasts are favorites among LeMons organizers for their shadetree solutions to things that weren’t really problems to begin with. They first used the exhaust of their obnoxiously loud (by design) second-generation Mazda RX-7 to smoke meat during races, then upped the ante by turning the exhaust into the world’s sketchiest moonshine still. They followed that up with a barn-find Mazda RX-2, where “barn find” means “An entire barn has crashed down on this hooptie.” That car won an Index of Effluency but was totaled in its next race. Sensory Assault’s piece de resistance, however, was a flame-broiled third-generation RX-7, which was powered by a supremely cheaty bridge-ported and turbocharged rotary engine that made well over 300 horsepower and earned them 2,000,000,007 penalty laps.
Dead brands are one of the many hallmarks of the 24 Hours of LeMons and NSF Racing managed to bring the first-ever Studebaker to LeMons. The swamp-pulled Stude leaned like a Pisan tower on its stock suspension and the untouched-for-decades fuel tank clogged enough filters to knock Wix’s share prices up a few points, but the swapped-in Mopar 360 V8 (NSF are crazy Mopar types) thought little because it’s an engine. Despite this, the thoughtless lump of iron had no problem propelling the Silver Hawk to an IOE at Barber Motorsports Park just a few weeks before IndyCar’s big-dollar show rolled into town.
What do you do when the car you’re building falls afoul of the minimum-wheelbase rules just before you dig into it? Why, you lengthen the wheelbase, of course. Team Apathy’s “Saanda” is a remarkable compilation of the best things in LeMons: tiny car, big power, homebrewed aerodynamics, ample body rust, massive box flares, and a general air of “Yeah, what?” about its construction. The rear wheels get their power from a mid-mounted, turbocharged Saab engine that puts out about 200 horsepower. The Saanda spent many of its first weekends on jack stands, but once Team Apathy got it sorted, the little beast proved remarkably competent on a road course, albeit a handful on occasion.
After many years of running the My Little Pony Ford Mustang, Directionally Challenged transplanted the Fox Body’s running gear onto the remnants of a 1964 Scout while the bright-blue pony car got eaten by the Crusher. Sure, this Scout was not going to tramp through the Back 40 anytime soon, but its Ford Aerostar suspension and assorted other junkyard mish-mash certainly made the lowered off-roader look mean on the racetrack. Well, it did until the 5.0-liter V8 ejected a slurry of water and emulsified oil all over the engine bay.
Viva La France! The brave souls who brought this horribly slow mid-1960s Peugeot have raced a very tired Toyota MR2 for many years, but they opted instead to chase Index of Effluency with this clattering old Pug for one race. Some Internet source suggest the car’s 1.6-liter engine should have made high-double-digit horsepower, but the PeugeotDaddy drivers would probably consider themselves lucky if it put down more than 50 ponies to the wobbly French wheels. Nevertheless, the 404 debuted at the LeMons race that set the Guinness Record for World’s Largest Motor Race at Thunderhill Raceway Park. It never set the world alight with speed (The car actually set its quickest lap under full-course caution when it didn’t have to move over for other car…and that lap was still a minute slower than anyone else’s), but it turned lap after glacially paced lap with its drivers sawing away at its four-on-the-tree column shifter. PeugeotDaddy turned in an obvious IOE performance and a notably crazy French car collector purchased the car shortly thereafter for his collection, clearly for its provenance.
Those familar with Pontiac’s sleek 1964 concept car penned by John DeLorean might recognize this extremely LeMon-y approximation. Leave it up to LeMons legend Dave Morrow to recreate the Corvette-like Pontiac using bits of Opel GT frankenstein’d to a BMW E36. Looks aren’t everything, though, as Morrow powered his XP-833 with an overhead-cam Pontiac straight-six, just like the one in the original Banshee! To slam home the relative period-correctness, the team re-enacted DeLoren’s cocaine-trafficking arrest during BS Inspection at Barber Motorsports Park. As LeMons organizers have come to expect, Morrows’ bizarre creation worked better than anyone figured it possibly could, crushing its Class C competition by 40 laps.
How does a completely stock Honda Civic make this list? Because the car’s owners have redesigned it with a different ridiculous roof-mounted object nearly every time it has raced. Roof-mounted bombs, a Conestoga wagon, a zeppelin, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and even roof-mounted sod have sullied the Civic’s otherwise-commendable aerodynamic profile for the Wonderment Consortium.
The old Mopar was really a heap atop the heaps in the early days of LeMons. Not only was it a massive four-door land yacht, the Fury was somehow competitive in those Mad Max-ian early races. The can’t-miss-it orange paint scheme was seemingly everywhere, politely occupying its considerable portion of Altamont’s Speedway’s miniscule “road course.” When the series eventually outgrew the tiny speedways, the Fury was left completely out of its element, a bellowing hippo among newly freed gazelles on the road-course savannah. Nevertheless, when the winds are at last calm around Altamont, some LeMoneers claim you can still faintly hear the Fury’s Mopar V8 echoing softly off the nearby hills.
You’d have to squint and look in just the right places on this car to know you’re actually viewing a heavily modified late 1970s Alfa Romeo Spider. Such is the incredible bodywork done by LeMons builder Darren Besic, who may have built the odd Alfa or two for “Real Racing” alongside the Opel Breadwagon and “Launcha Splatos” LeMons cars. This is really one of the most beautiful LeMons cars ever built and while we don’t typically gush over race car replicas in LeMons, this is an utterly gorgeous, loving tribute to the Alpine Renault A210s that ran at Le Mans in the 1960s.
The Casual Racing Society might be the very team that embodies LeMons attitude. Their window-louvered Ford Capri looks great from about 60 feet away and their themes are always pretty high-minded and bizarre, like Mad Maxel Tov (Think Road Warrior with Orthodox Jews), Dungeons and Dragsters, Starsky and the Bandit, Beevil Mnievil, and of course Buck Yeager and the Casual Sound Barrier Society. More importantly, they have little-to-no interest in “competing” or “racing” or “having a car that runs.” Rather, they enjoy the social atmosphere and will take the occasional turn around the racetrack. It’s not unusual to find them sitting in street clothes in their paddock space next to their Capri (which they recently replaced after a foray in that pesky “racing” business ended poorly for the first car) with nothing wrong with the car other than the fact that they were hungry and they happened to have some sandwiches that needed eating and the race will be fine without them for an hour while they soak in some rays so have a seat and talk about anything other than the terrible racket coming from that BMW that’s on fire over there.
Los Bastardos from Texas may be the one team in LeMons to have worked so hard to make a horrible jumble of bad race car parts work only to have it end so poorly. Like many teams, their 50-year-old Renault Dauphine got the lowered-with-modern-engine treatment and like many teams, the car was not quite done in time for its first race (though the team brought it to the track anyway to show off their
poor judgment prize). When they managed to finish it after hundreds of hours of labor, the mid-mounted Ford Duratec V6 from a Mercury Sable blew the hell up, spewing flaming oil all over the rear of the car and rendering the French steel as useful as the Maginot Line. Despite the flameout, the build thread is worth a read.
LeMons Legends NSF Racing have dredged an incredible variety of cars from Florida’s swamps from Chrysler Sebrings to Plymouth Furys (plural). But perhaps none looked so perfectly out of place on a racetrack as their W136 1945 Mercedes 170. Yes, this car was built in Germany during the same year that World War II ended and NSF powered it (barely) with the 1.8-liter engine from an MGB. If only they’d raced it on V-E Day. Suicide doors, bumper flags, massive flared fenders: This was surely far beyond what Jay Lamm ever dreamed up for LeMons. Ultimately, the 170’s ancient chassis design unraveled the weekend plans when a low-speed skid essentially jacked the rear swingaxle suspension enough to pitch the Merc onto its curved lid. Despite a few dents, everyone was fine and LeMons, for the first and almost certainly last time, awarded Index of Effluency to a rolled-over car just a few moments after awarding the I Got Screwed trophy to the driver to put the Merc on its roof.
Team Fairlylame – 1964 Ford Fairlane 500 sedan
You can pick up a cosmetically-challenged 1960s Detroit sedan for peanuts just about anywhere in the country, yet many racers persist in racing tedious Fox Mustangs and Acura Integras. Team Fairlylame wanted a real race car, so they picked up this beautiful gold ’64 Fairlane, caged it, and won the top prize at Sebring last year (admittedly, there have been some less-successful race weekends for the car, before and since). Running a 289-cubic-inch V8 and “three-by-the-knee” manual transmission, the Fairlylame car has no flaws.
Somehow, some way, this is the only retired United States Postal Service vehicle to have ever raced in LeMons. How there haven’t been 50 Grumman LLVs, we have no idea. Anyway, E + MC Hammered’s hooptie only started its life as a DJ-5 Postal Jeep and by the time it showed up to race, it was just a tiny bit different from its original service life. The team lengthened the frame to accommodate a Ford 302 V8 and swapped in the rear axle from a Toyota 4Runner, among a proper Parts Lego of garage engineering. This menacing beast went postal (to butcher a pun) with absurd pace at its Thunderhill debut in 2012, but it unfortunately never returned for a second helping.
Many LeMoneers have approximated the legendary Le Mans winning Mazda 787B using Mazda Miatas or RX-7s, but Washington’s Speedchimp Racing went completely nuts by instead using a proper mid-engine chassis for their 787B replica. Yes, the Porsche 914 can still be found in abundance for scrap value and when freshened up with a Mazda 13B rotary engine, a coat of paint, and hours upon hours of incredibly patient bodywork, it certainly looks the part. Speedchimp’s 787B only just debuted this year basically in unfinished form, so we look forward to seeing this ripping little Wankel monster on the West Coast in 2016.
Possessing both the unique ability to occupy two corners simultaneously and to flex noticeably in the middle, the Town Car Limo remains one of the greatest LeMons cars ever simply for Pit Crew Revenge owner Chris Overzet’s audacity to run a car too long for a racetrack’s flatbed towtruck. Early LeMons races included a hearse, but the Town Car limo is in a class by itself for its regal and race-hindering traits, acknowledged by running its early “Rolling Chicane Limo Service” paint scheme. Jonny Lieberman famously set the LeMons Limo’s brakes on fire because he ruins everything.
When you run a European import salvage yard, most people would think you would cherry-pick the pile for, say, a nice BMW E30 or a Porsche 944. That would have been too easy for the European Auto Salvage Yard crew, who instead slapped a fins and some LeMons-grade Porsche 908 bodywork onto a Porsche 914. After a race or two on the terrible air-cooled engine, EASY upped the ante with a 2.0-liter ABA engine from a Volkswagen Golf. That gave the mid-engined Porsche a big jump in power and while it’s never been particularly reliable, it certainly gives a lot of smiles per mile in LeMons while making a tremendous racket. Generally, the Gulf race livery is overplayed in LeMons, but when those colors adorn such a beautiful little bad idea, organizers cut it a little slack.
A handful of teams have tried their luck in LeMons with Chevy’s rear-engined beast, usually with an incredible chain of horrific failures shortly following their first attempts at making laps. The Transcontinental Drifters’ first race in 2014 went that way, “fixing” the Corvair’s original engine using cutting tools borrowed from The Ridge Motosports Park’s safety crew. That’s not the craziest thing they’ve done, though. After determining that Corvair engine was toast, the team did the most sensible thing they could think of: They took the old blown-up motor from the car’s rear and installed a 4.0-liter Jaguar inline-six engine from an XJ-s in the front of the Corvair. With a paint scheme modeled after a dismal modern race car, how could that plan possibly go awry? As it turns out, the Jagvair was neither the slowest car at its 2015 debut nor was it the least reliable. Maybe Transcontinental Drifters are onto something.
Depreciation. It’s a wonderful word in LeMons that slams home the absurd worth tied to what was, in retrospect, utter garbage. For two-ton Miata racers Pendejo Racing, “depreciation” is the name of the game. Their V12-powered Mercedes S600 was purchased from the U.S. government after its seizure from a Peruvian diplomat in a drug-related arrest, but their 1980s Maserati defines depreciation. Once revered as fine Italian luxury, the Quattroporte now seems hopelessly dated (even for its time) and performed even more hopelessly when Pendejo attempted to race it. Nevertheless, Pendejo persevered in complete luxury with the entire plush Italian coachwork reinstalled around the car’s rollcage and race seat. If you can’t have performance, stick with elegance.
Speaking of Italian beaters, this old Alfa Spider is perhaps the last surviving car from the very first LeMons race in 2006 at Altamont. Built by renowned Alfa Romeo builder Conrad Stevenson, the Ecurie Ecrappe Alfa looked for many years after those early pinball-racing years like it already been to The Crusher and somehow been saved after that. An uncountable number of dents pocked the Italian sheetmetal from nose to tail, but Stevenson’s recent “minor refresh” gave some nice, shiny bodywork. He also replaced the tired old 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with the banshee-wailing 3.0-liter V6 and has restored it to the status of excellent Italian grayhound.
The braintrust at Evil Genius Racing, whose owner is the chief tech inspector for LeMons, dreamed up something incredible with Balto. The Evil Genius folks cast out the body-damaged Miata’s iron-block 1.6-liter four-pot and the five-speed gearbox. In their places, they slapped in a high-performance two-stroke snowmobile engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT), whose belt-drive turns the stock Miata driveshaft. The whole drivetrain weighs in somewhere around 100 pounds and puts out around 100 horsepower. While that doesn’t sound impressive, Balto tips the scales at just over 1,200 pounds. Not only is it the world’s only pull-start Miata, but this little beast absolutely screams around racetracks at an incredible pace, scarcely lifting at corners that are taken slowly in cars with a half-ton more weight over the wheels. The noise is detrimental to drivers’ hearing, sure, but good gravy does it run.
Formed by moderators from a Toyota MR2 forum, the Mod Squad team have been around LeMons since nearly the beginning with an ever-crumbling series of first- and second-generationToyota MR2s. However, they also brought LeMons’ first third-generation MR2 Spyder and unlike most car clubs that bring “their” car to LeMons, Mod Squad had no intention of retaining their Spyder’s agility. Instead, they bought an MR2 that had been wrapped around light pole, straightened it, and then shrouded it in a boxy Volkswagen Vanagon body painted in apropros Magnum P.I. T.C. Island Hopper paint scheme. It sure looks odd with the driver sitting essentially in the middle of the Vanagon, but the effect just adds to the Vanagon’s palpable effluence.
Professional race driver Tommy Kendall once called LeMons the “second-most innovative racing series,” though I think he may have been referring to Team Petty Cash’s post-race drink specials. Nevertheless, LeMons teams have never shied away from trying new things and Texas’ Hoonatic Racing broke the barrier with the first (and to date only) all-electric LeMons car. The first version’s top speed was around 12 miles per hour (not an exaggeration), but subsequent versions could hit about 60 mph for four laps or so before needing a four-hour recharge. While that may not sound terribly impressive, they didn’t finish last. Their final attempt at racing the electric Datsun was curtailed when LeMons finally permabanned their janky-beyond-words, “Tesla-inspired” supercharger, but Hoonatic are nothing if not persistent. Don’t be surprised if they turn up with something at least as crazy (though hopefully with a greater sense of self-preservation).
Finding any Warsaw Pact car for a reasonable price has become significantly difficult recently, but when Autoweek editor Rory Carroll bought this Lada Signet in 2009 for LeMons, there was no such thing as a collector premium for oddball gray-market imports like this one. Like most of the cars above, there wasn’t a whole lot unique about it except the apparently completely false assertion that Fiat parts are interchangeable with Lada, since the Soviet car was based on the Fiat 124. Somehow Carroll and his team cobbled it together for the now-notorious Longest Day 24-hour race at Nelson Ledges Road Course, where it stamped to a glorious proletariat-pride-welling Index of Effluency win. At Gingerman Raceway the following spring, contact with a bourgeois Camaro knocked if from racing permanently, although there are whispers and not-so-subtle hints that Carroll has it stored in Detroit somewhere.
Flathead engines are heavy and tend not to deliver much power, so they’re a natural for road racing, right? This truck was thrown together in an insanely short amount of time and then proceeded to tortoise along at its first race to earn an Index of Effluency. Fearing the Dodge’s flathead inline-six was toast at its second race, Grumpy Cat’s Colorado-based owner found a vehicle with a spare— an ex-Stapleton Airport tug— and brought it to High Plains Raceway, where the truck’s original motor died. The team spent most of the weekend dropping the tug’s engine into the pickup, but the ol’ Dodge could surely push back a 747 from the gate at Bluecifer’s home.
Most of the cars on this list should really need no explanation, but the Internet outrage over road-racing a genuinely $1,000 Rolls-Royce (the LeMons Supreme Court offered a Double the Budget Loophole for Rolls-Royces) was palpable. As it turns out, a supremely luxurious, two-tone-brown Rolls-Royce is the least-capable road-racing car of all time. Between the car’s inherent Britishness, its feet of suspension travel to allow comfortable proletarian steamrolling, and its general lack of parts in any meaningful way, this Roller provided Three Pedal Mafia abundant headaches. But look at its stately manner; that kind of hyper-comfort cannot be overstated. Presence is everything in the right and just quest for effluency.
By now, you’ve probably figured out the LeMons formula here: Buy some horrible, obscure shell of a half-century-old hooptie and put modern running gear underneath it. It sounds almost too easy. Well, dear readers, it’s a lot tougher than it sounds and when you choose to power your Renault 4CV with an Audi Fox engine for some cryptic reason, things don’t get any easier. Nevertheless, Colorado’s Rocket Surgery Racing did exactly that and while the car was not really completed in time for its 2010 debut, the half-baked French car still won the Index of Effluency. You may also have seen Rocket Surgery’s Chevy-powered Checker Marathon running around Colorado races and, at least once, driving up Pikes Peak.
The story behind LeMons’ only East German racing entrant is long and pretty amazing, but here’s the short version of it. The team who entered an Eagle Premier (!) at the 2009 Nelson Ledges race also wanted to give away their two-stroke, three-cylinder East German Wartburg 311. LeMons made an essay contest of it, which was won by Big Apple to Big Easy (BABE) Rally competitor Jim Thwaite. Thwaite proceeded to show up to Nelson Ledges, make the non-running Wartburg run, tow it home to New Jersey, spend most of a year swapping in a less-crappy Subaru EJ engine, and then proceed to dominate an Index of Effluency win in this terrible old jalopy. If ever there was a textbook definition of effluence, this is it.
The Geo Metro, it turns out, is the serious(ly insane) LeMons garage engineer’s dream chassis. Abundant and cheap, no fewer than four teams have hacked the econoboxes up to make beastly frankencars. The Midwest’s Charnal House were the first to drop a big car engine in one, throwing the 220-horsepower Ford Taurus SHO V6 behind the driver. The project’s initial genius was automotive-fiction writer Crab Spirits, who might be the best junkyard engineer in LeMons. The MetSHO, as it’s commonly called, is an amalgamation of cast-off parts that includes, among so many other things, square tubing from a basketball-hoop pole and part of a golf-course fence. Somehow it all works and the Gaguar/NoPro car has become one of the quicker cars in the Midwest.
The Turbo Taxi remains likely the single most-excessive LeMons build of all time. The car’s builders got a bit carried away with the design and blew well past the $500 budget, but in doing so they built something truly spectacular. The engine was plumbed with a pair of massive turbos and controlled by a Megasquirt injection system that displayed data in real time via massive monitors in the cockpit. As the turbo wastegates were plumbed just a few inches from the driver, that meant the massive whooshing sound from the turbos just about blew drivers’ eardrums out. The car’s last ride is one of the great LeMons onboard videos and, sadly, the team couldn’t sell the car and parted it out a year ago.
The ultimate sacrilege: A Porsche 911 in LeMons. How purists heads spun at the notion and how the $500 CAR MY ASS!!!1! crowd have crowed. As it turns out, a rolled 1983 Porsche 911 with damage to every body panel is, in fact, worthless. The 1.8-liter turbodiesel engine from a Volkswagen Jetta actually makes enough torque to get the car—called Ferkel the Nein-11—out of corners. It’s unlikely to win races, but the Porsche is apparently much stronger than was originally thought, having been repaired in short order following a massive crash at Sonoma Raceway in 2015.
LeMons Legend Speedycop first raced this X-90 entirely himself at Gingerman Raceway in 2012, winning Class C with only a crew to help him refuel. A few weeks later, the X-90 showed up at New Hampshire Motor Speedway draped entirely in a pop-up camper. The self-propelled camper is among the most stunning visuals ever at a LeMons race— which is no small feat— and Speedycop took home the Index of Effluency for its strong effort in New Hampshire.
Racing a Citroën is crazy enough, but in 2010, Mike “Spank” Spangler drove his extremely dicey DS solo from San Diego to Palm Beach for the season-ending race. That long road trip by himself was more of an endurance race than the 24-hour event that followed. Nevertheless, Spank made it to Palm Beach and, while the Citroën never ran particularly well there, he did what any intelligent person would do: He gave it to the Timing & Scoring guy.
LeMons and Dave Morrow first crossed path at the notorious Nelson Ledges race, where he was elbow-deep in mud, surrounded by Chevy 350 parts from the Snoopy-bedecked GMC Van he was attemping to race. Morrow vowed to return with a better, crazier racevan at his second race: mid-engined and, for the hell of it, with a pair of junkyard turbos hung from the 350. Dave is a man of his word and indeed brought a twin-turbo, mid-engine Snoopy van to Gingerman Raceway in 2010. Sure, it all caught fire, but Morrow established himself as proper LeMons material with a stream of entries that included a Bradley GT, a Buick Reatta, a Pontiac GTO Judge-ified Toyota Supra, and an AMC Gremlin. However, he returned to his racevan roots this summer with a proper GM U-Body van, running a supercharged 3.8-liter GM V6 that made the U-van surprisingly capable en route to an Index of Effluency and a Class C win.
It’s rare for people to consider LeMons in any kind of traditional racing sense, but for all their obvious insanity, the Knoxvegas Lowballers have a method to their madness. Building their first car under the spiritual influence of the Charnal House MetSHO, the Lowballers took a Geo Metro and made it a mid-engined beast using a Ford V6, though opting for the Duratec V6 instead of the high-revving SHO mill. They became legends in LeMons not just because of completely epic themes, but because their V6 Metro became the first-ever car in LeMons to win all three classes and Index of Effluency. If that weren’t enough, they’ve followed up that epic build with a Mazda MPV that features two more Duratec V6s linked with synchronized manual transmissions. The engineering and fabrication work on the MPV alone would make most professional race shops jealous.
We first ran across the Bust-A-Nut crew with their six-wheeled Rambo GMC Sonoma and while that was awesome, nothing prepared us for what was to come. Like many teams, bored engineers decided to tackle the big question in life: How ridiculous can we make a Mazda MX-6? Answer: Infinity. Infinity ridiculous. The car has always been pretty mediocre, but who really cares when it is Santa’s Sleigh(er), a gigantic plywood-framed blimp, B.A. Baracus, or the evil Midwestern invasive Asian carp species? Want to win trophies in LeMons? Attach massive, drag-inducing absurdities to your humdrum race car.
The Bernal Dads have been around in LeMons forever with their Volvo 245 wagon and when they wanted to bring something else, they still brought a Volvo 245 (albeit wrapped around a Mazda Miata). The extra sheet metal sapped a bit of performance, but the team eventually tired of its antics and sold it to some motorcycle racers. Two Many Wheels replaced the Volvo body with a Halloween-slash-boxed-wine theme bearing a massive tank of “Frankenzia” to the race in California’s wine country at Sonoma Raceway. Not content to race that, one team member spent months in his garage hand-forming a ridiculous fiberglass body kit replica of Hardcastle and McCormick’s Coyote X, which later received a Honda 3.5-liter V6 out of an Odyssey minivan.
The “Splatos” is the poor man’s Lancia Stratos, that incredible mid-engined Italian missile of 1970s stage rally, made from a Fiat X1/9 chassis and a proper parts-bin raiding of Alfa Romeo parts, primarily the screaming 3.0-liter V6. The Splatos, prepared by renowned Alfa builders Mike and Darren Besic, actually captures pretty closely the specs of the original homologation-special Stratos. Weighing in at a ton or less with 190 horsepower on tap, the Splatos makes hay with the best of them. After a few races to tune the suspension, the Splatos went on to win a race at Road America, besting the chopped-top Ford Probe built by Bill Riley’s pro race shop. Got a chunk of time to kill? This video of the race-winning Skid Marks Racing dicing with the Splatos is one of the best-ever racing snippets from LeMons.
If you’ve never seen the Model T GT up close in person, you owe it to yourself to check it out at a race. This racecar is exactly that: a purpose-built vehicle with absolutely no pretense. The frame is Model A with a short truck bed on it, the suspension is Ford Pinto, the engine is 5.0-liter Ford V8, and the ATL fuel cell is behind the driver. And that’s about it. The Model T GT is unparalleled in its ability to win races. If the transmission doesn’t break, whether or not it wins depends entirely on who drives it. Since it’s basically rented out to whatever team wants a crack at it, the skill varies, but three different rental teams have driven it to victory lane.
Sure, this combination never actually worked, but given that LeMons loves to see Corvette purists whipped into a fury by their mere appearance in LeMons, this was a goldmine. LeMons legend Spank mated two of the most reviled GM products of all time—the 1984 Corvette and the Oldsmobile 350 diesel engine—into a supercar with only evil powers. Just to infuriate fuel- and tire-burning Corvette faithful, Spank also converted the engine to biodiesel, running the handful of laps the CorVegge managed under the power of off-brand veggie oil. Spank threw the CorVegge on a dyno at Thunderhill in 2013, where it made a whopping 77 horsepower.
Apocrophally, the Nutjob guys built the rollcage for the Civic Wagovan on the streets of Brooklyn with extension cords draped out of their apartment building’s window. The actual truth is slightly more tame: They caged the car in a garage but did build the roof-mounted stuff on the street using the aforementioned extension cords. If that’s not crazy enough, the team proceeded to drive hundreds of miles to races with their roof accoutrements without a trailer. Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots adorned the car before a replica of the Empire State Building made its way to Palm Beach in 2010. The high point, though, was driving on the highway from New York to Chicago with the Civic decked out as the Bluth Family Staircar from Arrested Development and then racing for 14-1/2 hours. You’re gonna get hop-ons that way.
What else can you say? It’s a damned road-racing boat. The East Coast gear-jammers are known for their complete and total dedication to themes with their multi-vehicle team and the Sea Sprite-draped-over-an-S10-frame remains one of the most incredible visuals in LeMons history. Curiously enough, the S10’s 4.3-liter V6 propels The Boat along at a good clip and the rugged truck chassis—radically lightened with only a fiberglass hull and rollcage instead of heavy bodywork and bed—takes the punishment of endurance racing rather well. The end result was a nautical vessel that routinely beat dozens of BMWs, Miatas, and Nissan Z cars up and down the East Coast. Of course, it would be entertaining enough if it was just a boat, but the team also have built pit vehicles out of a jet-ski and a race-seat-equipped mobility scooter.
After garnering attention with several of his more noticeable builds, Speedycop upped the ante by draping a fourth-generation Camaro body upside-down over a de-bodied Ford Festiva. The Upside-Down Camaro was a huge hit, perhaps netting more Internet fames (LeMons’ most important method of victory payout) than any other car in series history. No, it wasn’t fast, but the little Festiva motor propelled the brain-melting mess around New Jersey Motorsports Park effortlessly on the way to the Index of Effluency.
This car only raced a couple times in LeMons in the South, but it left the same unshakable impression on those who raced against it: This is the biggest mindf**k of them all. The car is simply a Ford Crown Victoria with the body removed and with a Ford F-150 body put backwards on the Crown Vic frame. The driver’s “windshield” is an F-150 back window frame and the truck fenders are cut to clear the turning wheels. The result is that the Azz Backwards truck looks like it’s barreling down on passing drivers and any on-track photos require about 10 seconds to decipher.
The Gnome’s builders were LeMons pioneers of crazy garage building, taking a super light penalty box and giving it the power of a superlight sportbike. From its auspicious beginnings as a front-drive car with a differential made out two plungers stuck together with jammed-in grease to its later mid-engined iteration with the Honda CBR900RR engine screaming directly into drivers’ ears, the Gnome was a winner. Not just in the sense of its existence, either: The Metro Gnome won multiple races with its absurd pace. Several TV and film production guys ran the Metro Gnome, so it’s no surprise their videos are great when things go well and when things don’t. The original team eventually sold the Metro Gnome to veteran racers The Fat and the Furious, who have continued to race and wrench on the little subcompact rocket.
Let’s be honest. Anybody who’s ever thought about building a LeMons car has at some point considered the possibility of constructing a homebrewed twin-engined car. If a beer or four doesn’t wash away that thought, then your mind trying to wrap around the required physics will flush it. The problem, then, is surely overthinking the problem. Stick Figure Racing—who’d previously raced a stock Toyota MR2—decided that the simple solution would work best: Take the back half of a mid-engined MR2 and the front half of a front-engined Toyota Corolla GT-S and then weld them together. Simple enough and once you get past the color-coded cockpit, it’s a relatively easy, fun car to race. Moreover, the MRolla and its sister FX32 (Corolla FX16 + MR2) have proven reliable with multiple class wins and an Index of Effluency.
It is entirely possible that LeMons would look much different if not for the Porcubimmer team, whose play on the old “What’s the difference between a porcupine and a BMW?” joke was really the first outlandishly themed car in LeMons. The quills were resplendent and a later retheme as “Prickstine” was similarly well done, even making an appearance at SEMA. However, the real masterpiece came a few years later with the E30’s metamorphosis “The Homer,” a near-perfect replica of the famed car that Homer Simpson designed on The Simpsons. Expecting a cease-and-desist order, the Porcubimmer crew were instead invited to FOX Studios where The Simpsons is made, taking show staff for rides in The Homer and even getting Simpsons‘ creator Matt Groening to autograph their incredible machine.
If the Porcubimmer crew invented the idea of absurd-but-capable race cars, Eyesore Racing surely perfected that concept. Starting with what essentially amounted to a collection of Mazda Miata garbage, Eyesore built one of the most capable LeMons car ever and have won six races. It’s worth investigating the build’s entire documentation on MotoIQ, but the short version involves lots of scavenging, a stock 1.6-liter Miata engine, a turbocharger from a Mexican-market Dodge minivan with some Home Depot plumbing, a team captain who happens to be the Engineering Manager for Mazda North America, and the collected brainpower of about 35 hard-science PhDs distributed among the team members.
If ever there was one car that completely embodied LeMons’ raison d’être, then Spank’s exercise in cognitive dissonance is that one car. A teammate of Spank’s gave him some of her security company’s old fleet Prii and while he would later race one in completely stock form, Spank instead hacked this one up and mated it with the V-twin engine of a Harley Sportster from one of the less-desirable years. It ran far better than it had any right to, although the ride quality is best described as “like riding a reciprocating saw as it cuts through rebar.” It surely sounds much better than a typical Prius.
Speedycop – Spirit of LeMons (Toyota Spacevan + Cessna 310)
Of all Speedycop Jeff Bloch’s incredible feats of garage engineering, the Spirit of LeMons is surely his greatest work. The plane started its life as a 1956 Cessna 310, left derelict and totally unrestorable at an East Coast airport. Bloch paid a couple thousand dollars for it and then spent a day with his crew at the airport removing the wings—no small feat as any airplane mechanic will tell you—to transport it. From there, there was only the small roadblocks of finding a Toyota Space Van (most of which have all been pulverized), cutting the Space Van’s body off, cutting a Space Van-sized space in the Cessna fuselage, mating the two elements, welding in a LeMons-approved rollcage structure, and then polishing the aluminum airplane skin to a fine sheen.
When it was all ready, Bloch showed up to race at Carolina Motorsports Park in Spring 2013 in full aviation gear and the Spirit of LeMons ran flawlessly. Despite the Toyota van’s complete lack of power, the Cessna’s smooth aerodynamics meant it was potentially quick in a straight line and the engine ran flawlessly all weekend. It was a slam-dunk IOE in the plane’s only race for fear of damaging the thousands of hours Bloch and his team spent building the car. Bloch registered the plane for the street in Maryland and has since taken it to auctions, car shows, cars and coffee, and autocrosses. He claims it gets fantastic highway mileage, thanks to its miniscule coefficient of drag.
Nobody ever built as many custom parts to make a crazy idea work as Marc Labranche for his radial-engined MR2. If you have the time, the 50-page build thread is amazing and still probably only scratches the surface on the work Labranche put into powering a car with a 540 cubic-inch, five-cylinder aviation engine designed in the late 1930s. Originally designed to run with magnetos and carburetion on 73-octane fuel, Labranche used his technical expertise to run an elegant custom aftermarket fuel-injection setup. And that was just to make the engine run on pump gas. To have it transmit that power, Labranche’s initial chain-drive system failed after one lap, requiring a complete re-engineering and lots of machining and modifying parts.
It would have actually been a properly fast racecar, but the Subaru transmission had a bum fourth gear. With the engine operating in a very narrow powerband (Redline was 1800 RPM, although there was a step-up gearing box to spin the transmission at a usable RPM), it was basically impossible to shift from third to fifth without stalling, meaning top speed was somewhere around 65 miles per hour. With the massive engine hard-mounted to the unibody, 65 miles per hour was plenty to make Labranche feel like his dental work was coming loose. Ultimately, one of the custom-built shafts broke from the massive torque load after about 25 laps.
Labranche was upstaged for the Index of Effluency at that particular race, but it remains incredibly impressive that the car moved at all under its own power. He sold the engine, which he’d never altered irreversibly, but kept the chassis. The old MR2 is now powered by the 3.5-liter V6 from a crashed Sienna and Labranche uses the setup to prototype aftermarket engine-management systems he designs. Labranche planned to follow up his crazy build with a turbine-powered car, but life intervened. As far as we know, Labranche still has the turbine, though…