The Greatest New Lemons Cars of the 2017 Season

The twelfth 24 Hours of Lemons season is in the books, with 21 races in 14 states. We endured 111° heat in California, heavy snow in Georgia, dust storms in Arizona, torrential rain in New Jersey, and electricity-maddened fire ants in South Carolina. During our nationwide hooptie campaign of lowering race-track property values, dozens of teams introduced new race cars (or old ones so transformed that they amounted to new cars) that made us feel that all the sweat and shivers and bad road food was worth it. Here are some of our favorites.

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Keep in mind that those of us crushed under the iron heel of the cruel Lemons taskmaster might have overlooked a few deserving candidates; if so, let us know and we’ll consider doing a Hella Sweet Lemons Car of the Week feature later on.

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1983 Toyota Celica “Foryota” — Nut Sack Racing

If you’re trying to do some road-racing, the problem with the early-to-mid-1980s Toyota Celica is the truck-grade 20R or 22R four-cylinder engine. The R does great when you’re driving a Hilux loaded with AK74-waving guerillas in sub-Saharan Africa, but blows the hell up when you abuse it in our races. The staid and dignified Army men of Nut Sack Racing— you can recognize their seriousness in their team name— cracked open a couple of fifths of Military Special bourbon and brainstormed a doesn’t-even-look-good-on-paper idea: drop a Ford Windsor 302 and C4 3-speed automatic transmission into an ’82 Celica!

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Because the radiator closest to the cash register at Pick-n-Pull was too tall, they had to cut a big slice out of the hood to make it fit. It’s sluggish and handles like a garbage truck having a bad day at the landfill, but we love it anyway.

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1987 Buick Regal — Bros with Hoses

The Buick Grand National is one of the legendary muscle cars of the 1980s, and the Bros With Hoses team scored a Buick Regal with a genuine Grand National turbocharged 3.8 V6 swap, caged it, and brought it to the ‘Shine Country Classic at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

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It was both slow and unreliable, in stark contrast to the expectations of Turbo Buick fanatics worldwide, but the sight of the world’s most terrible Grand National so pleased us that we awarded the team the created-for-the-occasion Numbers-Matchin’ Southern Muscle Car trophy.

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1961 Volvo PV544 — Blue Swede

Lemons racing has always been welcoming to old Volvos. We’ve seen countless 740s and 240s, a handful of 140s and Amazons, and even a P1800. Prior to the 2017 season, though, nobody had raced a Volvo PV444/PV544. That changed at the Arizona D-Bags race in April, when a bunch of E30-driving Real Racers™ picked up an ex-drug-runner 1961 PV544 in a Mojave Desert tow yard and drove it to Index of Effluency glory under the name of Team Blue Swede.

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1963 Volvo PV544 — Tetanus ONSET

That PV544’s debut turned out to be a cruel burn for Lemons veteran Anton Lovett, who has competed in the series since he campaigned a strangely quick Chevy Cavalier wagon at Race #3 and has driven in more Lemons events (83) than any competitor in the history of the series. He bought a 1963 PV544 a couple of years back and had been working on race-prepping it for a couple years, in between trips to distant races and weeks spent working on his Cavalier Z24 convertible race car… but he got completely blindsided by the surprise appearance of the Blue Swede in April. The Tetanus ONSET Racing PV544 showed up at the Arse Sweat-a-Palooza in July in nowhere-near-ready-to-race condition, and the team thrashed it into shape to get on the track.

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The team gets extra coolness points for their Dagen-H theme, which included highly accurate Telstars outfits. We expect this car to be much faster and more reliable in 2018.

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1977 Cadillac Seville — Count’s Bloody Mess

Lemons has hosted a lot of TV and web shows over the years, and the experience generally isn’t that great. Needy producers, semi-scripted plots, and bad cars/driving are the norm. At one particularly low point, one show claimed that rampant cheating on the $500 cap by the competition was the reason that the show’s pro-driven Crown Vic did so poorly. This was somewhat questionable logic, given that they got beaten by a stock six-cylinder ’63 Ranchero. (We may be biased, but Finnegan and Freiburger’s 24 Laps of Lemons is probably the most entertaining and honest take on the race). With that background, Lemons staffers weren’t exactly thrilled when Counting Cars entered an early-2017 race in Arizona. But the team defied expectations, piloting an ex-circle track Cadillac to a respectable mid-pack finish. The mechanical prep was good, the expanding foam-based “Bloody Mess” theme looked great, the driving was consistent–even the producers didn’t drive everyone crazy.

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1984 Porsche 924 — It Won’t Get Better Unless You Pick At It Racing

We first saw the It Won’t Get Better Unless You Pick At It Porsche 924 at Inde Motorsports Ranch early in the year. At that race, the team “fixed” a fuel-injection issue with their complicated Porsche using a borrowed SU carburetor from a 1960s Mini and a block of wood. That sounds like an awful idea, but it worked well enough for the car to finish the race and earn a Heroic Fix trophy. They promised they’d be back with a different engine, however.

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They were right. At Buttonwillow Raceway six months later, they turned up with a clattering, naturally aspirated diesel engine. This was an engine designed by Volkswagen and used in some Volvos. Naturally, the It Won’t Get Better team dropped the heavy lump into the Porsche, where it clattered away like a Porsche tractor to earn the Most Kern County Porsche award.

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1978 Triumph “GT6” — DumpsterFire Racing

DumpsterFire Racing turned up at Gingerman Raceway in the spring with a real Triumph GT6. And by “real,” we mean “Triumph Spitfire with a GT6 roof grafted on.” Close enough. This team had somehow come to understand that British cars were great Lemons cars. This is sometimes true for teams full of old bearded dudes who have wrenched on British crap for decades. Unfortunately, DumpsterFire were a bunch of relative rookies to cars in general and they soon found themselves floundering in the Anglophile deep end. Somehow, they managed to get the car on track a bit amidst a bevy of predictably maddening British-car problems, which earned them Organizer’s Choice.

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1998 Cadillac DeVille — Holy Crap Racing

Speaking of unpredictable crapcans, few engines have proved more maddening than the Cadillac Northstar V8. This has been documented pretty widely, but Holy Crap Racing gambled on the Northstar in the churchgoing ’90s DeVille that they dug up. Lemons organizers expected devastating failures of the head gaskets, the automatic transmission, and/or the “Holy Roller” low-profile tires.

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Curiously, none of those things broke at all. The Northstar chugged along, although the copious stock-suspension body roll and marine-mammal weight kept it from being “quick.” They missed the Index of Effluency to another late-model Cadillac—the 2003 CTS with a carbureted 4.3-liter V6 from a Chevy S10—but took home a well-deserved Organizer’s Choice.

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1984 Cadillac Eldorado — Dahlinboysracing with Frankenphil

Longtime Lemons racers the Dahlinboys ran in the first Lemons Winter Rally with this Snowman-ized Cadillac Eldorado. It ran reasonably well throughout the Retreat From Moscow Rally, so they let Lemons Rally Boss Steve McDaniel talk them into installing a rollcage to go racing at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The High-Tech Cadillac V8 lasted exactly three laps, which led to an I Got Screwed trophy. However, we hope to see this wonderful machine back at a Lemons Rally and/or race in 2018.

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1981 Chevrolet Chevette — Frankenvette

In some spheres of the automotive world, “Frankenvette” probably means you’re going to see some tire-melting version of America’s Fiberglass Sports Car. In Lemons, it means someone has (again) hacked up a lowly Chevette for a greater purpose. This Frankenvette team stitched together an unholy amalgamation of Chevy S10, Ford Explorer, and probably a wheelbarrow or six for the sheet metal work. They debuted with the 4.3-liter V6 from an S10 under the hood and while they had some bugs, we love seeing people turn the pauper’s pauper car from the early ’80s into something terribly wonderful. This Frankenvette took home the “No Chevette In Our Chevette” race-specific trophy from New Jersey Motorsports Park.

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1967 Plymouth Valiant — Press The Button Max

A fine road-racing machine like a 1967 Plymouth Valiant doesn’t usually need a theme for Lemons. However, the type of team that typically brings a leaf-sprung, six-cylinder American car almost always slaps on a great theme like “Press the Button, Max.” That was the team name for this Valiant at New Jersey Motorsports Park, an ode to the period-correct comedy “The Great Race” with Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk. That won the team Organizer’s Choice.

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1996 Suzuki Mystery Box— Speedycop & The Gang of Outlaws

This was, admittedly, not a “new car” in 2017. Jeff “Speedycop” Bloch and his motorsports hot dog stand had raced previously dressed as a pop-up camper—aka Greatest Road Racer of All Time—at New Hampshire Motor Speedway several years ago. However, he refreshed the Suzuki X-90 underneath after several years racing with another team, then added the hot-dog stand and handed out free wieners during the race weekend. The best part? Speedycop finished 48th place overall in a 125-car field at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Yes, a hot dog stand whooped up on dozens of BMWs, Miatas, and cheaty Hondas en route to the Index of Effluency.

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Trippy Tippy Hippy Van — Speedycop & The Gang of Outlaws

The hot dog stand turned out to be Speedycop’s warm-up act for 2017. Less than two months later, he turned up at NCM Motorsports Park with the Trippy Tippy Hippy Van. Having already built an Upside-Down Camaro (which he just drove around San Francisco with Jay Leno), Speedycop one-upped things with a Volkswagen Vanagon on its side. The mental anguish this caused was pretty severe for observers, but that absolutely is Speedycop’s territory. This one took home the Index of Effluency, as well, having beat 17 other teams with quicker cars that weren’t sideways.

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You can read the whole story here along with a video walkaround. In short, Speedycop and his Gang of Outlaws put the VW van over another Volkswagen, this one a veteran VW Cabrio. Visibility turned out to be far better than one would first think and the extra bodywork didn’t seem to affect its speed (already pretty slow), handling (already pretty bad), or its overheating issues (already pretty significant).

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1984 Cadillac Coupe Seville — Save the Ta-Tas Racing

Lemons organizers have waited years for a bustleback Cadillac Seville and they at last got their wish at NCM Motorsports Park in Kentucky. Kind of. The Save The Ta-Tas Chevy Camaro has been ripping through the Midwestern Lemons races and when threatened with penalty laps, they asked Judge Phil if there was anything they could do to their cheaty F-Body. “You can turn it into a Cadillac Seville,” he said. The Ta-Tas crew said, “Done” (actually, they complained at first but eventually built the car— Judge Phil) and six months later, they turned up with a convincing Seville Coupe melded onto their Camaro.

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The team blew apart a clutch and a transmission during the race, but when it ran, the effect of seeing a Cadillac Seville flying past everything else on the straightaways was utterly perfect. As a result, the multiple race winners took home the Organizer’s Choice from NCM Motorsports Park. You can read more about this car right here.

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1993 Buick Regal — Popcorn Racin’

Because the Lemons organizers feel that front-wheel-drive General Motors luxury cars combine exquisite terribleness with patriotic fervor, we’re always happy to see a late-20th/early-21st-century Buick on the race track. Popcorn Racin’ picked up a 1993 Regal from the original owners, Bob and Yvonne, who were so excited about their beloved daily-driver becoming a race car that they came to watch it compete at the Southern Discomfort 2017 event. The Popcorn Racin’ team members are still working on the reliability part of endurance racing, and we’re sure they’ll dominate once they have that sorted.

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1956 Nash Metropolitan — Cheesybeard Racing

Pretty much since the very first Lemons race in 2006, everyone with even a peripheral connection to the series has spoken with one voice about the burning need for a Nash Metropolitan race car. The wheelbase is 85 inches, a whopping three inches longer than the Lemons minimum (sorry, MG Midget racers!), drivetrain components swap right out of dime-a-dozen MGBs, and you get that much-sought-after Wisconsin-England provenance. Finally, at the 2017 Vodden the Hell Are We Doing race at Thunderhill Raceway in California, CheesyBeard Racing brought a 1956 Nash Metropolitan.

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Unfortunately, the team put a lot of work into applying body filler and a cool-looking brown-and-yellow paint job and not enough into making it run. The Metropolitan didn’t manage to finish a lap under its own power at its debut race (it did, however, complete quite a few partial laps behind the wrecker). We expect to see a lot more of this fine racing machine in 2018.

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1991 Chevrolet S-10 — CRAPA

At the B.F.E. GP race in Colorado, Team Crapa arrived with this heavily modified 1991 Chevrolet S-10. It featured a Chevy 350 V8 swap, handmade four-link rear suspension and resulting stretched wheelbase, and a parody NAPA cap on the roof. The bugs hadn’t been fully sorted out by green-flag time (a common problem with challenging builds like this), and the team took home the I Got Screwed trophy.

1974 Chevrolet El Camino — Britzka Racing

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When choosing your team’s 24 Hours of Lemons car, why mess around? Get a 1974 Chevrolet El Camino, as Britzka Racing did in Colorado.

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1976 Triumph TR7 — Jet Lag Racing

Many examples of the Triumph TR7/TR8 have competed in our series, partly because you can always get someone’s abandoned project for the cost of a case of Natty Light but mostly because these super-cool English cars make their drivers feel just like James Bond. That is, if James Bond had spent all his time on his back beneath a disassembled British Leyland machine, a Whitworth spanner in his hands and a head full of befuddlement over the latest wiring evil perpetrated by The Prince of Darkness. Utah-based Jet Lag Racing brought their Speke-built 1976 TR7 to the B.F.E. GP, with character-building results.

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2007 Toyota Prius — Rattlesnake Electric Sport

Rattlesnake Electric Sport’s 2007 Prius was the subject of much whining when it debuted at the Thunderhill Arse-Sweat-Apalooza. Aside from being The Enemy to any red-blooded car guy, the 21st-century hybrid was surely too new and too expensive to be a true Lemons car. Not really, figured the Judges. Y’see, you can either complain about how every Prius is clogging the fast lane, or you can whine about how it’s unfair to bring one to a Lemons race–not both. So, Prius-haters were invited to try to beat the stock RES example heads-up. We’ll say that again: All these whiners had to do was defeat a bone stock Prius, in a roadrace. An 11th-out-of-78 finish for RES ensured that most did not.

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Best of all, the Rattlesnake Electric Sport guys gave their car a Smokey and the Bandit makeover for the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza… where they finished 33rd out of 170 entrants, beating most of the BMWs and Porsches.

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1962 Ford Ranchero — Los Huevos Rancheros

Tim Odell, founder and editor-in-chief at one of our favorite automotive publications, Hooniverse, raced a beautiful 1962 Ford Ranchero in 2015 and 2016 Lemons races. Then it got destroyed in a nasty Sears Point crash in 2016. Odell and his friends found a replacement ’62 Ranchero, happily, and got it caged and running in time for the 2017 season.

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The “Huevos Ranchero Mark II” boasts a 250-cubic-inch straight-six and four-on-the-floor transmission, a performance upgrade from the 200-cubic-inch engine and three-on-the-tree of its predecessor, and that was good enough to give the team the Index of Effluency win at the Arse Sweat-a-Palooza race.

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1963 Plymouth Valiant — Team Valiant Effort

You can’t go wrong with a Slant-6 Chrysler in Lemons, be it a rusty Plymouth that started life with a Leaning Tower of Power or a BMW E30 3-Series upgraded with a Slant-6 swap. Admittedly, this engine isn’t quite as reliable in road racing as it is on the street, leading one team to scrap their ’72 Valiant and replace it with a Datsun 200SX, but the members of Team Valiant Effort are determined to own Class C with their 1963 Plymouth Valiant, pushbutton automatic and all.

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1985 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham — Lemontarians

When presidential candidate Vermin Supreme served as Grand Marshal at the 2016 Halloween Hooptiefest, he inspired the Lemontarians to do a Vermin Supreme theme for the 2017 Thompson CT race. The theme included a too-realistic Vermin impersonator, and this Cadillac Sedan de Ville “presidential limo.” As convincing as the Vermin lookalike may have been, the real highlight was the Caddy, which featured a nasty-sounding smallblock V8 and manual transmission swap.

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1984 Nissan 720 — Like a Bat Outta Shell

The progenitors of Like a Bat Outta Shell went the easy route when preparing for Lemons at The Ridge Motorsports Park: They added a rollcage, safety equipment, and some minor items to turn their Nissan 720 Pickup into a pseudo-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme. Ironically, the killer minitruck graphics came with the car when the team captain bought it as a cheap daily driver. They also raced it on the 20-year-old tires it came with at the time and the lap times—10 seconds slower than any other car at the race—show that. The Nissan Pickup hauled home the Judges Choice trophy for their efforts.

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1991 Toyota Previa — Transcontinental Drifters

There’s an unofficial list of “Cars the Lemons staff wants to see,” but after 11 years and nearly 200 races, there aren’t too many that are still outstanding. Wartburg? Check. Renault Fuego Turbo? Yep. Rambler? We’ve had two of ’em. Heading into 2017, in fact, there was really only one machine that was obviously missing (well, aside from a Fiero-powered Ferrari 308, anyway): The Toyota Previa. The Previa is a bit of a cult favorite among enthusiasts: With a mid-engine layout, a semi dry-sump oiling system, and available AWD, supercharger, and manual transmission, it’s got all the stuff car nerds like. The only minor drawback is that all of those engineering tidbits are packaged in what is, frankly, a devastatingly slow minivan. Scores of ’90s kids, including Lemons co-organizer Nick Pon, grew up in Previas, and its omission from Lemons (which had already witnessed Dodge Caravans, Vanagons, and even the previous-generation Toyota Van from the ’80s) was glaring.

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The Portland OR-based Transcontinental Drifters set out to remedy the Previa shortage, but not before they’d already made a Lemons name for themselves with the Corvair/Jaguar mashup known as the Jagvair (featured in this 2015 roundup of great Lemons cars). Since the Jagvair was rather reliability-deficient, for the 2017 Pacific Northworst event, the Drifters decided to go with something newer and Japanese. But since they’re the kind of people that put Corvair bodies on Jag chassis, they weren’t going to pick a CRX or Celica–whether they knew that Lemons staffers wanted to see one, or if they arrived at that conclusion by virtue of their own weirdness, the Previa was the perfect choice. The van they chose was a quarter-million-mile All-Trac example that had been serving as a daily driver up until it was sidelined by a blown head gasket. They fixed the gasket, converted it to an El Camino (because why not), and went racing. Despite not having the supercharger or manual trans (the AWD, blower, and stick weren’t available together from the factory anyway), the Previachero soldiered through the race weekend without missing a beat, scoring the team the top Index of Effluency prize.

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1976 Chevrolet Corvette — Low Road Racing

Lemons’ first C3 Corvette came out of a forest somewhere deep in the Pacific Northwest and it was as bad as you’d expect for a free ’76 Corvette. When Low Road Racing’s Aaron Brooks dug into to build, he decided to maximize the sacrilege, since many of the rabid Corvette following would be upset at this car’s existence at all. So Brook ratcheted it up with a BMW inline-six engine and a German touring-car paint scheme. Why not go all-in?

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The ‘Vette debuted at The Ridge Motorsports Park, where it was a slam-dunk Organizer’s Choice winner in no small part because Lemons HQ once ran Corvette Magazine, where they would receive countless angry letters from readers upset about the minutiae of a given story. Lemons encourages and endorses this kind of sacrilege. You can read more about this car and see a walkaround of it right here.

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2005 Kia Amanti — Mock Grass Racing

Korean luxury! The just and fair judges of the 24 Hours of Lemons Supreme Court have ruled that they wish to see more Korean luxury cars in our races, and so they declared that the first teams to show up with a Suzuki Verona, Hyundai XG, Daewoo Leganza, or Kia Amanti would be put into the slowest best class. Mock Grass Racing, veteran Southern racers of an Astroturf-covered Kia Sephia, liked the sound of the Korean Luxury Class C Loophole, so they obtained a 2005 Kia Amanti for $250, paid $100 for a 100-footer black paint job from Shakey McSprayer’s House of Orange Peel, and brought it to the Lemons South Fall event.

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The car came with what turned out to be a blown head gasket and turned only 56 intermittent laps, but they were very luxurious laps.

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1972 Dodge Coronet — Team Coronautski II

In 2012, a gloriously rusted 1972 Dodge Coronet won the Index of Effluency at the Gator-O-Rama race at MSR Houston. We didn’t see much of this car after that, until a bunch calling themselves Team Coronautski II bought the car, swapped in a junkyard Magnum 5.9 and 5-speed truck transmission, and applied several cubic yards of Bondo and a purple paint job (making it what amounts to a new car, at least in our eyes). This was all part of a well-executed (if confusing) Soviet theme. The car hasn’t lived up to its full Mopar B-Body performance potential yet, but we anticipate great things from Team Coronautski II in 2018.

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1998 Chevrolet S-10 — Warboys

Mad Max themes have always been popular among 24 Hours of Lemons racers, for obvious reasons, and we’ve seen a very convincing (and race-winning) BMW-turned-Falcon-XB, any number of Lord Humungi, and even “Furry Road” outfits. Going with a more traditional “Fury Road” theme, the first-time racers of The War Boys turned their Chevrolet S-10 into a credible facsimile of Furiosa’s War Rig for the South Fall race.

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I live, I die, I live again!

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1978 Missing Linc — Knoxvegas Lowballers

Remember the Missing Linc shortened Lincoln Continental from Roadkill Episode 63? The Knoxvegas Lowballers, creators of the Ken Block Hooptiecorn Mustang, ended up winning the trackside auction for the Missing Linc at the season opener in Alabama, and they had it caged and ready for Lemons racing later in the year.

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Part of their preparation involved rigging up a GT500 Mustang blower atop the Linc’s Ford 400M engine. Even with the supercharger, it was the slowest car at the South Fall race, but who cares? Look at it!

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1987 Pontiac Parsilene — NSF/Sputnik Racing

It seemed that the Missing Linc had the Index of Effluency nailed down at that race, but the Hammurabically wise Lemons Supreme Court justices decreed early in the going that the IoE would be awarded to either the Missing Linc or the NSF Racing 1987 Pontiac Parisienne (spelled “Parsilene” on NSF’s entry form, because spelling them weird foreign words is hard), depending on which team turned the most laps. In the end, the staggeringly decrepit rattletrap of a Pontiac did 152 laps, versus the Missing Linc’s 139.

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The NSF Parsilene is the sort of race car that Lemons Chief Perpetrator Jay Lamm had in mind when he founded the series in 2006: a wretched heap of crap, preferably made by General Motors, that manages to run for most of a weekend.

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1987 Jeep Comanche — Petty Cash Racing

Team Petty Cash have raced their Petty Blue(ish) Jeep Cherokee in Lemons since 2009, racking up a pile of trophies. Earlier in the year, team members found one of 100 special edition Jeep Comanches with the same body kit found on the Archer Brothers’ SCCA-racing Comanches in the late 1980s. The Petty Cash faithful wanted to race that special edition in Lemons but couldn’t bring themselves to potentially ruin the super-rare Comanche. Instead, they found a clapped-out Comanche and built a homemade tribute to the Archers’ Comanches. The haggard old Comanche clobbered Class C at Buttonwillow Raceway in its debut.

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1991 Subaru 1800 — IceKing

This Subaru doesn’t look particularly exciting on its own, but it traveled all the way from Iceland to race at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in 2017. The forthcoming Icelandic car show features comedian PJ Karsjó doing absurd things with cars and these Icelandic maniacs shipped the Subaru to Maine, then towed/drove it cross-country. We’re assured many shenanigans ensued and unlike many shows Lemons deals with (but much like the Counting Cars guys in Arizona), the Icelandic TV crew were awesome and not a pain in the butt at all.

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1967 Ford Mustang Coop — Dead Horse Beaters

From the “randomly assembling parts that we already have” files, the Connecticut-based Dead Horse Beaters took a ’67 Mustang coupe shell and a modern-ish Honda Odyssey minivan drivetrain and “successfully” combined it all into a Lemons entry. The Honda V6 (and entire front subframe) was mounted behind the Mustang’s front seats, resulting in a 200+ horsepower mid-engined supercar. At least that’s what the specs said. There were some teething problems–related to the diagonally-mounted front fuel cell (to clear the Mustang steering gear and pedals), and the somewhat fixed-in-place Honda steering hardware attached to the rear wheels, among other things–but it was nonetheless a glorious example of backyard (and likely beer-fueled) engineering.

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1971 Volkswagen 411 — Tetanus Racing

Way back in 2010, Judge Phil aka Murilee Martin wrote about a 1971 Volkswagen 411 that he spotted parked on the street in his then-home of Alameda, California. Fast-forward seven years, and this very car ended up in the possession of Corey Dickman, mastermind behind the Race Rambler and Oldsmobile Omega. The 411 may be the second-worst car ever built (#1 is the 1986 Plymouth Reliant-K wagon), so the fact that Corey’s team managed to clatter around Buttonwillow Raceway Park for 104 laps was sufficient to score Index of Effluency glory at the Button Turrible race.

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Wisely deciding to wash his hands of the 411, Dickman sold the car to Jalopnik writer and Lemons veteran Stef Schrader, ripping her off by charging the inflated price of free for it. Stef’s Lemons experience goes way back to the earliest races at MSR Houston, when she was still a college student and raced in a Volkswagen Type 3 fastback with a profoundly creepy Puffalumps theme, and she felt that she could handle any misery a Type 4 could dish out. She was wrong, winning the I Got Screwed trophy at the Houston We Have a Problem race in November.

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1977 American Motors Hornet — Team Lowball

Team Lowball already dominates races (by Lemons standards) with their gen-u-ine Levi’s edition Gremlin X, so when they decided to add a final-year-of-production Hornet station wagon to their stable it just cemented the team’s excellence. Taking advantage of AMC/Chrysler’s woeful lack of R&D budget long-term commitment to good engine designs, the team grabbed one of the plentiful junkyard V8s and swapped it into the wagon. They then proceeded to overheat the brakes every 20 minutes–this was either due to the huge increase in tire-shredding horsepower, or the fact that the newer motor’s exhaust manifolds ran within millimeters of the front brake lines. This issue should be sorted for the 2018 season, so be prepared to see this car at the top of the list (of generally awesome Lemons cars).

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1987 Jaguar XJ6 “Jaggernaut” — TARP Racing Shenaniganizers

In 2010, a team with a Jaguar XJ6 won the Heroic Fix trophy for keeping their straight-six-powered car running for much of the weekend at the Mutually Assured Destruction of Omaha race. Then, at the 2017 Houston We Have a Problem race, this car returned to the fray… but something had changed.

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The car, by now in the hands of the Toxic Assets Racing Program and dubbed The Jaggernaut, had received a powerplant upgrade: a Cadillac 472-cubic-inch V8, torn from the engine compartment of a 1969 Sedan DeVille! With 375 horsepower and a Freightliner-grade 525 pound-feet-O-torque, you’d think this engine should make an XJ6 the fastest thing on any race track. The team didn’t have a tubing bender, so they put 19,000 hours into hand-stitching a beautiful pair of engine-swap headers and engine-swap oil pan. When the race started, though, things went sour quickly; first, the 472 spun a bearing while being backed off the trailer. The replacement 500-cubic-inch engine (that’s 550 pound-feet, by the way) went in and spent the weekend in a state of catastrophic overheating. 17 total laps.

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1993 Chrysler LeBaron – This Seemed Like a Better Idea When It Was Theoretical

Many Lemons cars have been cheap scores from tow auctions, but when Lemons legend Mike “Spank” Spangler threw out a $50 bid on this ’93 Chrysler LeBaron he didn’t actually expect to win. When the “good” news arrived that he was the new owner of a landau-roofed, button-tufted, Mitsubishi-motivated Chrysler luxury machine, Spank was unsure what to do. After a moment’s consideration, he did what any other series legend would do: He welded in a cage, drove from San Diego to MSR Houston, successfully completed the race, and sold the car on local Craigslist the following week. When those ’50s NASCAR guys said “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday,” they were obviously predicting the 1993 Chrysler LeBaron.

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2002 Pontiac Aztek — PIT CREW REVENGE

Like the Toyota Previa and Nash Metropolitan above, the Pontiac Aztek was another long-standing entry on the “Cars We Want In Lemons” list, but it took all the way until the penultimate race of 2017 to see one hit the track. The veteran team Pit Crew Revenge fielded this really-kinda-mint 2002 example, and instead of falling into Breaking Bad clichés, they dressed the Aztek up in Survivor regalia. Y’see, in the first season of Survivor, contest winner Richard Hatch (who was known for walking around in the buff) was awarded a brand-new Aztek as part of his prize.

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Several years after the Survivor triumph, Hatch served 51 months in federal prison for tax evasion–and yes, the then $27,074 Aztek (nearly $40k in 2017 dollars!) was one of the things that went unreported to the IRS. Long story short–this dude went to jail for four-plus years in part for not paying taxes on a Pontiac Aztek. If that’s not a Lemons theme, we don’t know what is. Pit Crew Revenge then put the icing on the cake by sourcing a new-old-stock factory tent (one of the features for which the Aztek has become known) and running the entire race with it in place. They won the Index of Effluency–and hopefully reported the $601 in prize money to the feds.

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1969 Corvair Monza — Thom’s Fault

Several Chevrolet Corvairs have competedif that’s the right word— in the 24 Hours of Lemons, but the Thom’s Fault 1969— that’s right, the final year of the Corvair— Chevy 350-swapped Corvair Monza is the only one that has managed to run all weekend long and not spin out once.

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1977 Lancia Scorpion — McDads/A FART Racing

Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws raced a Toyota MR2 with Lancia Scorpion body swap back in the early 2010s, but what about a real all-Lancia Scorpion? This was just a Lemons dream until McDad’s/A Fart Racing brought this car to a pair of California races in 2017. It suffered from some reliability issues (i.e., it ran about a third of the time), but by 1970s Lancia standards it was rock-solid reliable.

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1991 Sterling 827SL — Bodge Engineering

Remember Sterling? The Honda-Rover collaboration that had all the passion of the Acura Legend and all the reliability of the Rover 800? It goes without saying that this is exactly the kind of car we want to see in Lemons, and California’s Bodge Engineering finally came through with this Organizer’s Choice-winning, 300,000-mile Sterling 827SL. It managed to turn an amazing 239 laps at the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza, which is 629 punishing miles (and about 627 more miles than any rational observer expected). We predict that Spec Sterling will be the Next Big Thing in 2018.

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1968 Ford Mustang — The Mild Horses

The Mild Horses scored this 1968 Ford Mustang from the scrap pile and made the most of what they had laying around. That meant, it turns out, the Ford 460 cubic-inch V8 and automatic transmission from a late 1970s Ford F-250. They basically dropped it right into the original six-cylinder Mustang without changing much. It still had four-wheel drum brakes and the fragile 8-inch Ford rear end.

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The Mild Horses struggled with just about every part of the car over the weekend at Road Atlanta, but they accomplished their goals with it: Get it on the track and don’t finish dead-last to earn the Heroic Fix trophy. The team discussed its return with disc brakes and another ill-advised engine swap in 2018.

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1998 Buick LeSabre — Days of Blunder

Ironically, a great Lemons car doesn’t always need a silly theme, a crazy engine swap, or a checkered history of ownership. Days of Blunder turned up to Road Atlanta with this church-parking-lot-clean Buick LeSabre that they’d scored from someone on a firearms-trading website (They paid cash but had to wait the guy out for a while). Nobody in their right mind would road race something like this, which makes it perfect for Lemons in the same way as a sideways Volkswagen Vanagon or a drum-brake Mustang with a big-block Ford V8.

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We hope this inspires you to build a racing machine sufficiently spectacular to make our Greatest Lemons Cars of 2018 list. If you need a crash course in top-notch 24 Hours of Lemons cars throughout the history of the series, head here for the Greatest Lemons Cars of All Time Canon (as of the end of 2015). You can also check out the best new Lemons cars of 2016, the best new Lemons cars of 2014, the best new Lemons cars of 2013, the best new Lemons cars of 2012, the best new Lemons cars of 2011, the best new Lemons cars of 2010 (Part I, Part II, Part III), and the best new Lemons cars of 2009. For photographs, videos and stories from every Lemons race since the beginning, go here.

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The 2018 Lemons season kicks off at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on February 2, and we follow that up with our Arizona race two weeks later. Check out the schedule and make your plans accordingly.

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover