The third-ever Lemons Rally wrapped up last weekend at Seaside City Hall in Seaside, California, with nearly all 52 participants reaching the end of the 2,100-mile route. The Monterey Car Weeeeak Rally, as it was known, put crappy old cars and their tenders through the wringer. All 52 cars have fantastic stories to tell and you can find many of them on Instagram by searching #LemonsRally. We used Instagram for the official scoring and we’ll post each team’s Instagram account by their write-up so you can see more of their stories.
The depth of this field—We’ll tell more teams’ stories soon—meant that narrowing everything down to just 11 awards took hours of debate between this author and Rally Boss Steve McDaniel. In the end, these are the 11 teams who took home awards, although probably two-thirds of the field was really in competition for them.
Dishonorable Mention – Christopher Cook and Jon Lyons (Toyota MR2/Ford Festiva Roadster)
When they set out from Monterey, Cook and Lyons were driving one of the newest cars on the rally. Surely, the first-generation MR2 would run just fine, even with an oil breather made from a parts-store oil quart and a filter. They had a swamp cooler-style setup in the MR2’s frunk and things looked good for the Warhol-painted Toyota. The duo was first on the road and farthest ahead of the field for each of the first two days. That doesn’t really get you extra points, but rest time at the hotel is a valuable enough commodity on this rally.
By the middle of Day 3, however, the entire bumper wore a thick sheen of oil. Things didn’t seem dire at the mid-day checkpoint in Granger, Washington, but they didn’t seem great, either. Somewhere between Granger and the night’s checkpoint (Bend, Oregon), however, the engine rattled to halt with a terminal failure.
Luckily, Chris Floren happened by shortly in his Ford Crown Victoria. That Panther had formerly served as Eyesore Racing’s tow pig so it was perfectly happy to flat-tow the MR2 about 50 miles to a scrapyard, after which Chris gave Cook and Lyons a ride to Bend. Did the MR2 duo give up?
Hell no! With some help from Amanda Silverstein in the Aussie-market Mini panel van, they found this Ford Festiva “Roadster” on CraigsList for $600 in Bend. Sold! From central Oregon, they cannonballed the Festiva the final day through California’s 100-degree Central Valley and then slid neatly into Monterey during Car Week with a car every bit as rare as what you’d see at Pebble Beach. Honorably dishonorable! (Instagram for more)
If you wanted a picture-perfect image of the ideal Lemons Rally car, this Lincoln Mark V Collector’s Edition is it. In 1979, this top-trim personal luxury coupe was the single most-expensive American car you could buy. Accordingly, Lincoln packed it with ridiculous features like a vinyl-covered Continental kit and a gold-colored grille. That’s 1970s opulence if we’ve ever seen it.
The Garffs celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary on the trip and the Lincoln—which they coined the #LincNessMonster—afforded them the opportunity to travel 2,000 miles in style with Leo McFluffypants, their mastiff and mascot.
Big car, big dog, and big annual celebration? You bet. They paid a couple thousand dollars for the Linc—less than what Roadkill paid for the Missing Linc—and almost all the features still worked on their Linc. For bringing a car (and a big friendly dog) that brought joy to everyone in the rally, the Garffs earned a Dishonorable Mention and hearty congratulations on 17 years!Pro tip: You absolutely cannot go wrong with a Malaise Era personal luxury coupe in these rallies. (Instagram for more)
Dishonorable Mention – Fail Inc./Donnie Petrunak, Stephan Hamacker, Paul Trout, and Riley Trout (1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser Wagon)
The Fail Inc. crew have run all three Lemons Rallies to this point, which is no small feat when you consider that at least part of the team—and this car—came from Daytona Beach, Florida. If you’re keeping track, that’s something like 2,800 miles just to reach the rally start. They Cutlass Cruiser is a one-owner car bought at an estate with a stack of paperwork, including the receipt showing a purchase price of $18,509.
The Cutlass ran flawlessly throughout the rally and when one team’s car was incapable of getting them home, Fail Inc. offered up the Cutlass Cruiser to get the team home. The wagon’s story from there? Well, we suspect you might see more of this car here on Roadkill.com. (Instagram for more)
Dishonorable Mention – David Rigmaiden (Chevy Kurbmaster “Faux Taco” truck)
We hesitate to say that Rigmaiden ran the rally solo since he had his trusty golden retriever with him. Other than that, however, Rigmaiden took his tired stepvan on the route by himself. It was a noble trip and one he could make with some semblance of comfort since he had built a kitchen and bunks in the back.
The truck’s top speed of about 60 miles per hour (downhill with a tailwind) limited pace so Rigmaiden simply took his time on the route. Tired? Take a nap in the back. Hungry? Cook some food. Cold? Well, drafty old stepvans are notorious for that so bundle up. Nevertheless, he needed some help a couple times from teams with a parking-lot carb rebuild and some troubleshooting.
In the end, it was hard to miss the giant “Faux Taco” truck with “HELL ON WHEELS” painted on the side at Seaside City Hall. We liked David’s grit, determination, and vehicle of choice, all of which merited a Dishonorable Mention. (Instagram for more)
OK, so this dynamic duo, who are brothers in law, didn’t have a “real” Manx, but their buggy lacked any kind of protection from the elements just the same. The pair started out each day as early as possible and then hit checkpoints on both possible routes to rack up maximum points. That meant insanely long days in the loud, hot, cramped quarters of a dune buggy.
The fight for the win came down to the last few checkpoints, but the “Band of Brothers in Law” managed to stick out. The Lemons scoring also grants 300 points for a Beetle-pan kit car, which made all the difference in the world. Congrats on the win! (Instagram for more)
Second Place – “Lemons Goddess”/Marc Maksimow/Charles Crittenden IV/Eric Gates (Citroen DS)
The saved-from-scrap Citroen might have finished second in points, but they won countless hearts not just with their car but with their laissez-faire attitude. They spent the first two days well behind the rest of the pack because—as one does in a French car—they took their time. A long dinner? But of course. One must have comfort! A side trip to a French car hoarder to add to Maksimow’s own impressive French collection? No doubt!
While it’s hard to miss the fantastic patina, the most important things on the Citroen worked well. No, not the engine. We speak of course about the hydraulic suspension with its famed “green-ball” fluid reservoirs and the supremely plush seats. Magnifique!
Naturally, all that comfort and leisure meant the three-man crew failed to see a hotel bed until they got to Bend because they had to sleep in the car to catch up. But style does not care for the pleasantries of life like “sleep.” You can sleep in hotels when you travel in a boring car. This? This is high art. (Instagram for more)
Third Place – Team Chili/Jeff Stobbs and Kevin Schrage (MG Midget)
After winning the Lemons Rally this winter in a nearly-cracked-in-half Cadillac Limo, Stobbs and Schrage took the opposite tack: They went as small as they thought they could. With both drivers well over six feet tall, that meant cramming two big guys and their travel gear into (and onto) a very tired British Leyland roadster that was, for all intents and purposes, only a slight improvement over horse-drawn coaches from the Renaissance.
Did we mention that they had to drive the Midget, named Bridget, from Minnesota to start the rally? And that it only had a kind-of-makeshift top? Yeah, this was an act of utter automotive masochism to begin with. Their rally began, as you might have guessed, at a European specialty shop in Monterey to replace bad U-joints and a sundry of other “British things.”
That also put them behind the rest of the rally competitors. They reached the first “overnight” stop in Crescent City, California, around 3:30 a.m. It then took them another 24 hours to get to Bremerton—because of “British-type things”—where they napped in a parking lot before hopping on the ferry to Seattle and booking it to the (very) optional checkpoint near the Canadian border.
And that’s where things went (more) wrong for Team Chili. While working back through morning Seattle traffic, the Midget slid on wet pavement and rear-ended a Dodge Dart. The modern Dart suffered nary a scratch, but the MG radiator went kaput. The fender took a knock, but the body was otherwise straight.
They soon found a radiator of unknown origin at a local radiator shop and rachet-strapped where the grille would normally be. The hood? Well, that stayed in Seattle. Roadkill approval? You’re darn tootin’.
The engine seemed to run better with a “new” radiator and the rest of the trip was relatively uneventful. The Concourse d’Lemons show brought the Midget a whole lot of attention. That included some love from NASCAR and Barrett-Jackson Auctions announcer Mike Joy (gray vest), who owns an MG. And by “love,” we mean pointing out the myriad ways the entire car was sketchy (aside from crash damage) before concluding “It’s terrifying. I love it.”
While Stobbs and Schrage obviously lack basic common sense, they had “jobs” to return home to so they borrowed Fail Inc’s Cutlass Wagon for the return trip to Minnesota. And the Midget? They sold it to automotive journalist, podcast host, Radwood founder, and my rally co-driver Bradley Brownell to drive to the Monterey Historics vintage races and then on home to Reno after the Car Weeeeak Rally. You haven’t heard the last of this car, we’re sure. (Instagram for more)
Lemons Rally Wayne’s World Schwing of Excellence – Mirthmobile AMC Pacer
Lemons organizers are still mystified about how nobody has made a Mirthmobile replica to race in the 24 Hours of Lemons, but this trio of young guys from Seattle blew that notion up already. Not only did they build a credible representation of the AMC Pacer from Wayne’s World, they also wore T-shirts emblazoned with movie quotes and references all week.
We found them somewhere in coastal Oregon getting new front tires put on the Pacer. They had set off from Washington before the rally without doing an alignment and found the tires wearing like crazy on one side. “Are you getting an alignment?” we asked them as they stood outside the tire shop. “No, we’d rather not know how bad it is.”
The team also stopped and helped several other competitors along the way, including David Rigmaiden and his Faux Taco truck’s carb rebuild. For displaying some excellent spirit and making the rally on time this year (unlike last summer), they took home the event-specific “Lemons Rally Wayne’s World Schwing of Excellence” trophy.
Shockingly Not Terrible Award – Paul Gerstenberger and Melvin Hoff (Opel Kadett Wagon)
Opel engines, let alone Kadett Wagons, are pretty rare in this country. While Roadkill’s editor Elana Scherr has one in her Opel GT, they remain a fairly specialized venture here. Paul Gerstenberger decided at some point that he was going to splice together a fuel-injection setup for his Kadett’s four-cylinder engine.
The whole thing looks like utter mad science and the open circuit boards in the glove box left some onlookers wide-eyed. Under the hood, the wiring looked like a disaster as it ran to a Nissan throttle body and a European-market Opel intake runner.
Now, here’s the thing about Lemons in any cases: Hooptie-looking fixes often work really well while supremely trick setups often fail spectacularly. Aside from a few minor stumbles, the Kadett ran like a champion. Gerstenberger and Hoff even figured out that the Rally’s mileage would put them just a few miles short of rolling over 100,000 on the odometer. So what did they do?
They detoured well out of their in northern Washington to take some North America’s most gorgeous roads. We admired their guts and that their sketchy wiring held up better than that on most Roadkill projects. (Instagram for more)
Random Acts of Stupidity – The Pirates/John O’Leary and Greg Urrutia (Volkswagen Bus)
We saw a lot of people having fun on the rally, but nobody wore a grin or stayed in character quite like The Pirates. O’Leary and Urrutia never broke character; maybe they believe they’re real pirates. Hell, maybe they really are pirates. Who knows?
All we know is that they plundered and raided the entire West Coast on this rally just hours after returning from another Volkswagen trip to Madison, Wisconsin, and then heading out on another rally right after to San Diego.
For their collective effort in maintaining character for five consecutive days, Rally organizers awarded them the Random Acts of Stupidity, a trophy held in the highest regard by competitors for helping everyone else have fun. And that’s kind of the whole point of the rallies. (Instagram for more)
Organizer’s Choice – St. Jimmy/Evan and Robyn Hasselstrom (GMC Jimmy)
The Organizer’s Choice is the top prize in Lemons Rally, essentially the analog to the 24 Hours of Lemons’ Index of Effluency. In a field with so many insane cars, it might seem strange to see this go to a bone-stock 2001 GM SUV. As you might guess, St. Jimmy’s story is not so straightforward.
The brother-and-sister team from Manitoba weren’t even sure they were taking part in the rally a week before it started. Evan’s Lada Niva—which had hauled home a Waffle House sign “acquired” on the Retreat From Moscow Rally—was basically in pieces, as were two other prospective rally entrants. They were about to give up when they found a GMC Jimmy on Kijiji (Canadian CraigList) for $250. That’s $199 in United States money at the current exchange rate if you’re wondering.
It ran, sort of, and they weren’t really sure what all the noises were, but they didn’t have time to find out either. So Evan and Robyn just hopped into the GMC and started driving toward California. Owing to its name and the name of the main character (St. Jimmy) in Green Day’s “American Idiot” concept album, they spray painted lyrics and song titles from the album all over the white SUV. They turned up in Monterey for the rally’s start looking tired but wearing their best American Idiot regalia.
From there, the Jimmy ran poorly, but Lemons people are fond of saying “GM products run poorly longer than a lot of cars run at all.” St. Jimmy’s experiences meted that out. The SUV ran—not flawlessly or well, but it ran—and the siblings explored side roads, detours, gravel paths, and even the Pacific Ocean whenever they could. Hotel rooms? Those are for suckers. Few large 24-hour big-box stores will chase you out of their parking lot if you sleep there, it turns out.
Of course, driving through rural Oregon in a car painted like it escaped from atop cinder blocks in East Saint Louis will get you some funny looks. And as it happened, one detour from Bend to I-5 in western Oregon nearly depleted St. Jimmy of gasoline. With the fuel gauge pointed well past “E,” they managed to find a backwoods boat dock with high-octane gas pumps at $4 per gallon. Beggars can’t be choosers and the gas got them back to some semblance of civilization.
When the rally ended, they still faced another 2,000 miles back home in St. Jimmy and wouldn’t you know it? The $250 SUV made it there. That spirit of exploring all avenues while scraping by? That’s the spirit of Lemons and the Hasselstrom siblings earned their Organizer’s Choice. (Instagram for more)
Think that’s it? You’ve got another thing coming. Well, several things coming. We saw so much good stuff at this rally that we’re going to try to bunch together a few good converging storylines. Check back right here for more coverage from the Lemons rally.