LeMons: Why not race a forgettable late-model American car?

For the 24 Hours of LeMons, looking ahead is a fairly new experience. When the series started nearly a decade ago, few could have foreseen it lasting long enough to begin wondering what the next crop of great Index of Effluency candidates might look like. But here we are in 2016 and, as you’re likely aware, Detroit iron seems to have a leg up in pursuing the IOE. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the American cars we have yet to see that we’re anticipating coming of LeMons age in the near future.


Lincoln LS and/or Jaguar S-Type

We’ve heard on the Internet that you should “LS everything,” so why not choose the other-other LS for a LeMons car? You can get a 4.0-liter V8 LS and a manual LS (though you can’t get a V8 manual) and either is perfect for LeMons duty. Hell, you can even score a similarly depreciated, mechanically identical Jaguar S-Type from the time of Ford’s stewardship over the British marque. A fully optioned-out V8 LS ran close to $50,000 MSRP while the Jag with all the options ticked ran $62,000. Surely, someone waving 1 percent of the initial purchase price in cash could own their very own LeMons-worthy LS or S-Type. It might even finish a race. (Nah, we don’t actually think that, either.)


Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego

Ford’s attempt to ditch the Taurus nameplate probably couldn’t have gone much worse. Few connected the lukewarm design with the iconic Galaxie 500—and fewer still even that Mercury was even still in business to attempt reviving the Montego nameplate—and just like the LS, the Five Hundred is starting to turn up in junkyards regularly. That’s not always a surefire way to establish LeMons-worthiness, but it’s a strong indicator that The Hooptieness is real. Both cars got Ford’s trusty 3.0-liter Duratec V6, which actually has been a pretty reliable LeMons engine, and you can also find both cars with all-wheel drive for added complexity domination.


Oldsmobile Alero

An Alero was the very last Oldsmobile ever built and while we’ve seen at least one of its Pontiac Grand Am cousins, no Alero has yet raced LeMons. Surely, a rollcage and race seat will fix that whole “horribly unsafe crash test results” huff and the GM 60-degree V6 under the hood is just one of many LeMons-reliable GM V6s. For proper LeMons cred, bring all of your cousins to “Whoop Whoop” and chug Faygo all weekend in your JuggAlero. What could possibly go wrong?


Saturn Ion Redline

Saturn’s short-lived “Redline” trim upped the performance of their otherwise-mundane cars in the mid-2000s. The Ion version was mechanically identical to the contemporary Chevy Cobalt SS and, depending on what options you picked, it could make 241 front-tire-melting horsepower from its supercharged Ecotec engine. It was indeed a fast, obscure car and most of the small production run have surely been beat relentlessly into smithereens, as is the historical precedence for all Saturns. We’ve seen prices as low as $1,800 for one and surely the resourceful LeMons accountant could offset some of that cost by selling parts.


Buick Rendezvous

We’ve already slapped the Pontiac Aztek on these “LeMons Cars We Want to See” lists a bunch of times, but we’ve never mentioned that we’d be almost as eager for Buick’s completely forgettable (yet less unattractive) Aztek platform-mate. Both were built on an evolution, such as it is, of General Motors’ U-Body platform, which of course was the basis for the Dustbuster vans of the 1990s. With pedigree like that, we’re not sure how we haven’t seen dozens of these disposable luxury CUVs yet, but you can still be the first!


Bob Lutz ASCII portrait

Not sure how that got in here, but there it is.  I can do nothing about it except revel in alphanumeric hypnosis.


Chevy HHR

This is the first on this list of what we’ll call Rental Car Hell. Chevy’s knockoff of the Chrysler PT Cruiser (one of which has raced Lemons for several years itself) served a number of years as a fleet vehicle extraordinaire both as a rent-a-wreck and as a low-capacity panel van. The pedestrian versions used in fleets aren’t much to write home about, but well-used examples already border LeMons money now. Many of these were owned by the elderly and so are probably entirely unfamiliar with speeds above 38 mph. We’re not sure a LeMons race will much change that, but there’s only one way to find out.


Dodge Caliber

The Neon has done well in LeMons, so surely the Neon’s hulking, Rental Car Hell successor will do great. These wagons with their absurdly tough lines and incomprehensible marketing efforts mostly befuddled the car buying public, who of course thought the wretched HHR was slightly less hideous. Not that it mattered much; Calibers likewise populated rental fleets. Later-generation Neons and Calibers carry around considerably more weight than their predecessors and being lightweight is really the early Neons’ best asset. There’s certainly no fail here, then.

2012 Dodge Nitro

Dodge Nitro

Sure, it’s an SUV, but the uber-manly Nitro wanted nothing of its filthy, weak predecessors. The Nitro was all man like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando or the American Gladiator for which it was named. Some say it was so masculine that Truck Nutz wouldn’t attach to a Nitro because its virility frightened away even replica attachments. Naturally, they then ended up in rental fleets not because of their shortcomings, of course, but because a rental Nitro would toughen up their temporary drivers like the world’s least-goal-oriented bootcamp. LeMons personnel have occasionally gotten short-strawed in the rental-car lottery and while they can make do with most rentals, the Nitro was by far the most-reviled of all their regular rental cars in the series’ 10-year history. Naturally, this means that it’s a great LeMons car for some sick bastard(s).


Dodge Magnum

Also from the mid-2000s when Dodge felt the need to toughen-up their squishy image, the Magnum was the wagon that should have sucked less. These actually sold reasonably well and I remember seeing the Magnum—which my wife accurately refers to as “a Dodge Nitro that a T-Rex stood on”—regularly for several years. Now they’ve all simply vanished. Surely that kind of reliability record warrants a journey into LeMons. The prices are still a tad high, but you should be able to get a potent 3.5-liter V6 version with 250 theoretical horsepower for LeMons money before too long.


Daewoo Nubira

While we’ve been seeing cars designed and built by GM Korea aka Daewoo on American streets for many years— for example, the Chevy Aveo and Spark— the Daewoo name appeared on US-market cars for just a few short years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Daewoo Nubira was available here in sedan and wagon form, and its current market value hovers somewhere between zero and the current price of scrap metal. Under the hood, the Nubira came with the same 2.0 liter SOHC four used in the junkyard-common Chevy Cavalier and its J-body cousins, so replacement engines won’t be hard to find when if the one in your Nubira wagon shoots a couple of rods through the radiator.

What else are we missing? Surely, the coal field of the early 2000s Detroit lineups have some more diamonds we’ve overlooked.


Something to Say?

3 thoughts on “LeMons: Why not race a forgettable late-model American car?

  1. As sad as it makes me, I still drive my Ion Redline… and yes, it’s crossed my mind more than once to turn it into a Lemons car. But between fixing the leaking sunroof, the plastic parts that like to break (like the pedals, door trim, and just about everything else) and the horrible exhaust pipe design, it runs and drives like a champ. And yes, it’s fast… very fast. For Lemons.

    Somebody out there, please, make that happen.

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