Kevin Schrage and Jeff Stobbs won the Retreat From Moscow LeMons Rally with an almost-easy victory aboard their 1986 Cadillac Fleetwood Stretch Limousine. They earned major bonus points for the general hooptieness of their ride, a crusty old limo that cost them $700 and minimal headaches worrying about replacing anything. Their mantra was, more or less, “Let’s see what happens” and when the Rally route included both half-day runs through West Virginia’s mountain roads and a trip down Tail of the Dragon, what could be more entertaining than a rusty, crusty 27-foot limo with the world’s worst Initial D paint scheme?
The duo from North Dakota and Minnesota had run the first rally last summer in a crappy two-door ‘83 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. Upon returning from that adventure, the Biarritz promptly kicked the bucket. Luckily, they had a number of stupid ideas up their sleeve. “[Kevin] and I both like ridiculous cars,” Stobbs said. “A limo, a ridiculously small car, just about anything like that is always on our list.”
After seeing someone post a picture of a limo on the LeMons Rally Facebook coincident with the Biarritz’s demise, they found and couldn’t resist a CraigsList ad for a $1,000 Caddy Limo. When they picked it up last August for $700, they were greeted by a raccoon, which scampered from limo into the nearby woods, and surprised to learn the young owners had camped in it just a few weeks earlier in spite of obvious signs of encroaching wilderness.
Corn and other grains were shoved into every opening like the ashtrays and the headliner was full of rats’ nests. They spent most of their preparation ridding the Caddy of hantavirus and rat crap, although they also found “a lot of women’s underwear,” four unmatched flip-flops, and residual “debris” from what appeared to be a long-ago bachelorette party.
The parts combination under the hood perplexed Kevin and Jeff for a while until they figured out that the residual wiring for the original HT4100 V8 was unused and they had an Oldsmobile 307 instead with power steering from an ‘85 Eldorado. The Limo’s engine-swap history remains a mystery because they’re just not interested in it. “I’m not trying to keep this for posterity,” Stobbs said. “We had $1,000 cash in our pocket to get a car and if this one broke, we’d just go get a different one.”
The soft top was long ago wasted and visible rust holes in the rocker panels signify that structural rigidity is slightly lacking. Before the commencement of the rally, the LeMons Rally Facebook page posted a picture of the Tail of the Dragon sign at Deals Gap. Guessing this meant a trip down the Dragon, Stobbs set about making the Limo the “exact anthithesis of Initial D, which is all about downhill drifting.” He taped off the stripe from the Corolla AE86 using leftover three-inch painter’s tape and then spray-painted it until the rattle-can emptied, at which point he switched over to spray seal because it was what he had laying around. They tacked on the most obnoxious $60 eBay rear wing, which eventually fell off when they closed the trunk at a stop.
The only thing left in remotely good shape was the driver’s compartment, where the seats were still comfy although the two-seat cabin was, ironically, cramped. “You can’t ride in the back because you’ll die of carbon monoxide poisoning,” Stobbs said, “but the front seats are comfy.”
The long trip gave them plenty of time to discover the dynamics of a rusty old limo in a way seldom explored. “The car has its own ecosystem,” Stobbs said. “It’s not water-tight at all so it rains in the car. It’s not really coming through bad seals or anything, either, it just comes in through the metal.”
Kevin and Jeff guessed that the Limo was about 80 percent of the way toward just breaking in half, a thought that was not assuaged with the three-plus hours spent on Route 219 in West Virginia. “We heard a lot of big pops on that road,” Stobbs said. “But we would just laugh and keep going.”
Those twisty mountain roads were complicated by the fact that first gear had failed in the TH200R4 transmission. They were slightly fearful of breaking down on the two-lane mountain roads where someone could drive into a ravine and not be found for a couple decades, but the Limo hung together through that section of the rally and the Tail of the Dragon with only the occasional alarming sign that the driveshaft was the main structural element linking the front and rear. The exhaust fell off a handful of times, for good measure.
With overdrive soon gone, they ran more than half the rally on the transmission’s two remaining forward gears, then drove it home to Stobbs’ home in Rochester, Minnesota, laughing the entire way and surprised they still had the world’s crustiest running limo. “I don’t even know if we could sell it for scrap at this point, it’s so rusty,” Stobbs said. “It cracks even more on jack stands and we can’t put it on a lift.”
That said, Stobbs think it has one rally left in it, though they will first see if their fabricator they know, who they call Donny the Magic Welder, can cross-brace the chassis to hold it together through another 5,000 miles. If so, they’ll at least put a good first gear back in the transmission and then give a go to the Car Weak Rally from Monterey in August. Will it last the trip? Neither Kevin nor Jeff is sure, but they’re excited to see what adventures their low-buck limo will take them on. “The whole point is to drive the biggest piece of crap you could find as far as you can go,” Stobbs says. “Be as ridiculous and stupid as you can. Bring the most ridiculous and stupid thing you can…We think we’ve found it.”
In the meantime, you can find Jeff putting the battered old limo to work in Minnesota. “I use it like a pickup truck, kind of; I just cleaned out my garage into the back and drove it to the dump.”