Not content to just soil assorted racetracks with crapped-out “race cars,” the 24 Hours of LeMons expanded its offerings to public roads with the first LeMons Rally from August 16 to 20 through California and Nevada. Nearly four dozen crappy street cars—and a couple of misfit late-model Porsches—participated in the rally with varying degrees of success. Since nobody managed to die in Death Valley, we’ll chalk it up as a generic success. We’ll have more on several of the rally participants, but let’s take a look at the 10 “winners” (word used loosely here) and dishonorable mentions from the inaugural “Hell on Wheels” rally.
So what exactly was the LeMons Rally and how does one win at it? The basic idea was: Bring some kind of hooptie street car and drive it at legal speed on 1,500 miles of grueling public roads over five days. There was no prescribed route aside from mandatory checkpoints, like the Bad Water Basin in Death Valley National Park, with additional optional checkpoints along the way. To score points for each checkpoint, the team would have to take a picture of their car’s mascot, usually a small figure or icon of some sort, with the checkpoint item. The rally (mostly) left Monterey on Tuesday morning and headed through the Sierra Nevada Mountains into Nevada, then to Las Vegas via either Tonopah or Ely, then to Bakersfield via Death Valley and on to the finishing line at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk before a short jaunt to the finishing line at the Concour d’LeMons. Points were also awarded at a pre-rally inspection per the outlines on the rally’s site. Above are the final points standings.
OVERALL WINNER: Elphaba/1989 Ford Aerostar
The Lunar Lemon crew flew into the Bay Area from Georgia the day before the rally started with just a handful of cash to purchase a suitable rally vehicle. Just 10 hours before the race, Elphaba the Witch (the team’s mascot…this will be a theme) and her codrivers purchased a Ford Aerostar for $400 that had been sold at auction earlier in the week. Because LeMons Rally rules required that all cars have current insurance and registration, they were delayed starting the rally due to a required visit to the California Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for a tag.
Shortly after embarking around mid-day, a flat tire left them on the side of the road. While there was a spare tire, the jack had no handle. After some helpful rally teams helped them out, they then figured out the Aerostar’s battery had gone flat. And this was before they’d even gone 100 miles.
From there, chronic engine and transmission plagued the minivan, which was some serious concern when having to traverse mountain passes and go through the Hottest Place on Earth. The overheating eventually got bad enough that the Lunar Lemons Master Mechanics rigged up both a radiator-misting system and a liquid-cooled transmission cooler. The radiator mister involved a few feet big plastic tubing and a funnel that allowed the passenger or driver to pour water over the radiator from the relative comfort of the minivan. The transmission cooler was simply copper tubing wrapped around the transmission with a similar funnel/tubing setup that allowed cooling via bottled water.
The Lunar Lemons/Elphaba crew certainly weren’t doing any favors to the California water problems: The Aerostar’s rigged-up cooling system consumed two gallons of water for every gallon of gas by the time the van limped to the finish line at the Concours d’LeMons. That really only gives a broad overview of the troubles and repairs, which were so numerous they racked up enough points to give the beat-on, bought-10-hours-before-the-rally Ford Aerostar the first LeMons Rally win. The team split for their East Coast home after the rally while the newly christened “Moon Unit” Aerostar stayed behind in California to be turned into a 24 Hours of LeMons Racevan.
SECOND PLACE: Uno Libre/1978 Mercedes 300S
The second-place finisher also belonged to a team with a 24 Hours of LeMons car. While one-armed wrestler Uno Libre and his keepers intended to bring their Studebaker Lark 8 Index of Effluency winner to the rally, they ran into trouble converting their racing Stude back into a car for street use. However, a last-minute-find 1978 Mercedes 300D presented itself and there was of course no way not to run a diesel Merc of unknown quality into Death Valley.
The Merc arrived in California with just a road trip under 300,000 miles on its odometer and most Mercedes enthusiasts will insist the car is just getting broken in at that time. However, the clattering diesel engine was overheating before the rally even started and the team tried to rig up a water-misting system for its radiator (Convergent evolution on display here) for most of the first day before giving up and repurposing a huge Chevy Impala radiator to cool their diesel for the long haul.
The story of their second-place finish, however, really requires telling the story of the lone two-wheel entry, Kitt the Tiger and Jeff Frasca, who was dressed as Luigi, aboard a Yamaha TW200. That motorcycle ran fine through the first two days, but Death Valley nearly took it out of Kitty’s keeper. Exhausted by the extreme heat, Frasca made it past the park but was worn out to the extent of riding for 10 miles at a time and then resting until he felt well enough to rid eagain. One of those rests eventually turned to a nap, at which time Uno Libre’s Mercedes happened by.
While the TW200 rider wasn’t in quite as bad a shape as he first appeared—laying on the ground with eyes closed next to a parked bike—he wasn’t really up to continuing on with the rally. Uno Libre still scooped him up, put him in the Merc’s air conditioning, and helped hydrate him while one of the team members rode the motorcycle all the way to the day’s endpoint in Bakersfield. For their part in saving a fellow competitor from the rigors of aptly named Death Valley, Uno Libre picked up the maximum under the provision to award up to 1,000 points for things that were truly oustanding.
Well done, Uno Libre!
THIRD PLACE: Spiro Agnew/1959 Edsel Ranger
Third place went to Spiro Agnew’s 1959 Edsel Ranger. Spiro Agnew in this case was not the disgraced Republican vice president but of course rather
an elephant a hippo. Agnew’s namesake was nearly as notorious the Edsel, one of the most reviled cars of all time. Despite its rotten reputation, Spiro’s Edsel trudged on and on better than any 57-year-old car had a right to. Along with his brother David, HOT ROD Drag Week and Drag Weekend winner Jim Forbes codrove the Edsel and you’ll be able to read his dispatches—typed on a dashboard-mounted manual typewriter older than the car itself, of course—here on Roadkill very soon so we won’t ruin too much of the story here.
Despite some iffy brake performance coming down the Ebbetts Pass—and a tumble by Spiro on the switchbacks—the Forbes’ Edsel ran like a glove over 1,500 miles. Along the way, the trio also helped out a number of other rally competitors, including the rally-winning Aerostar, several times on their way to a hard-earned third place finish.
ORGANIZER’S CHOICE: Rainbowworm/1960 Humber Super Snipe
In addition to the podium spots, the LeMons Rally handed out three more trophies for outstanding parts of their rally-craft. The first of these went to the Rainbowworm’s 1960 Humber Super Snipe. Fans of the 24 Hours of LeMons will know this car well: This and its rolled-over predecessor Super Snipe have both earned Indexes of Effluency while racing (above). Most recently, this very Super Snipe beat the Rotsun handily at Buttonwillow Raceway last year. This was the only LeMons race car taken on the rally and aside from mascot Rainbowworm, car owner Alan Frisbee drove it completely solo.
While the Rootes Group long-roof didn’t have air conditioning, Frisbee instead set up a coolsuit with ice-cold water running through his shirt to keep his core cool in Death Valley. That worked well enough to keep the driver from overheating and the big inline six drove as nice as your grandma’s Toyota Camry. Unlike a modern appliance, however, the Snipe had a hand-crank start instead of one of those fancy mechanical starters the kids all love these days.
For his steadfastness with a rough-around-the-edges race car and solo driving, Frisbee and his Rainbowworm earned the inaugural Organizer’s Choice award.
RANDOM ACTS OF STUPIDITY: Shit Stain/1995 Hyundai Accent
The Organizer’s Choice award will be a recurring trophy, it was decided, and it’s likely that the first Random Acts of Stupidity may be a regular award at any future rallies. In this case, the 1995-ish Hyundai Accent that belonged to Shit Stain the Lizard had this essentially locked up moments after arriving. The Urf Racing Hyundai crew showed up the rally inspection area revving their econobox’s wretched toaster-oven-sized engine mercilessly with white smoke pouring out of the chimney-conduit tailpipe while the trunk-munted 8,000 BTU window air conditioner unit—powered by a generator worth easily 10 times what their rusty crapcan was worth—cranked ice-cold air into the cabin.
The Hyundai’s rally was plagued by too many stupid misadventures to begin listing, but problems with the car were not even on the radar for Shit Stain. The Accent ran and ran without issue throughout the rally. On the rally’s final day, Shit Stain managed to kidnap another mascot, the Soylent Green lizard belonging to the beautiful Volkswagen Beetle. The team then posted pictures of Soylent Green being tortured on the dashboard and then included it in their check-in photos. Since there were no provisions for that in the rules, LeMons Rally rewarded them with double points for their manic creavitity.
However, that wasn’t even the fever pitch of insanity for Shit Stain. Hundreds of miles on the road and heat-soaked brains in the Hyundai led the team to bolt a roadkilled squirrel to the Accent’s rusty hood. Because Car Week was in full swing in and around Monterey on the rally’s final day, that meant driving through ritzy gatherings with the “Flying Squirrel” flapping in the wind, much to the dismay of the Maserati-and-Bentley crowd gathered to sip wine and talk about cars as investments.
For their flippant gestures of not-giving-a-crap, the Urf crew are the undisputed earners of a trophy called the Random Acts of Stupidity.
GM CLEAN DIESEL MY ASS! TROPHY: Chili/1981 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz Diesel
The final trophy was handed out to one of the most perfect cars you could bring to any LeMons vent: an all-riginal 1981 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz and its firetruck mascot Chili. What better way could one travel besides in a plush American luxury car with 13 inches of foam in the seats and every bell and whistle at your command? That alone is not the award-worthy part; the choice of engine is: the Olds 5.7-liter diesel V8. If you’re familiar, you’ll know this is hands-down the worst engine built in the last 40 years, as it was essentially a slightly modified Olds 350 gasoline V8. They have a proclivity for cylinder head failure to the extent that a running Olds diesel is nearly impossible to find, let alone keep running. So it was clearly a brilliant idea for Chili and its keepers to drive to the rally’s start from the northern Great Plains in their diesel Caddy.
Somehow, the engine’s natural inclination toward overheating never came to fruition and while the engine struggled to go faster than 20 mph up the mountain passes on the first day, the Biarritz wheezed to the finish line to close the deal like Ace Rothstein, earning them the GM Clean Diesel My Ass! award.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Squid/1967 Jeep CJ5
In addition to the six trophies, the award ceremony included four dishonorable mentions. The first went to Squid the Frog’s 1967 Jeep CJ5, which went the entire rally through 115-degree temperatures without a roof or air conditioning or any such niceties. They had significant cooling issues for the entire day before the Death Valley trek and the Jeep’s minimal fuel range made it every foray through remote geographic sections extra adventurous.
Who wouldn’t want to manage this kind of easy, efficient driving over a 1,500-mile road trip? Despite the chores and uncertainty of driving the Jeep, Squid’s CJ5 made it through otherwise unfazed on the way to a fourth-place finish.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Hellachopter/1961 Chevy Apache
This 1961 Chevy Apache looks like it sees regular use around Bakersfield, from where the team and its Hellachopper mascot hail. The ratty old pickup was simply a tough old bastard of a truck and its keepers knocked it around like you do with an old truck. There was simply so much to like from a couple of guys who just piled their camping gear on their 55-year-old daily driver for nice Day at the Rally.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: TinTok/1989 Buick Century
When the rally organizers schemed up the LeMons Rally—and for that matter when Jay Lamm dreamed up the 24 Hours of LeMons—this is the exact car that both figured would show up in droves: General Motors’ ubiquitous, automotive-cockroach A-Body. For TinTok the Buick Century, that is a high honor and while these cars are everywhere, only a few enterprising souls have taken up the indestructible GM product.]. This team scraped together enough pocket change to buy this car, which had rear-ended a school bus prior to its service as a rally vehicle.
The car and the team were great and, most importantly, they documented all of it with great daily video recaps of their shenanigans. Their videos tell the stories about what made the rally so much for its competitors: Friends in close quarters covering 1,500 miles of roads that run the gamut from boring to dangerous, all the while doing stupid things under weird circumstances. For Tintok’s crew, that included an emergency room visit, two flat tires on the same day, and getting lost in Death Valley on a 115-degree afternoon. Watch all of their videos on the Jacuzzi Surfer channel right here.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Hank the Monkey/2000 Pontiac Aztek
Another car that is really ideal for duty in both LeMons Rally and LeMOns racing, Hank the Monkey’s first-genreation Pontiac Aztek was sufficiently late-model to seem like not the dumbest idea. However, Hank and his keepers—both big Breaking Bad fans, obviously—trekked all the way across the country from Pennsylvania to run the rally. Nobody else drove to the rally’s start from farther and few had as much fun as Hank, recreating Breaking Bad scenes and driving the entire rally distance with painter’s tape on the windshield as an homage to one of the great running gags from the TV show so the Aztek gets a well-earned Dishonorable Mention.
Chief Rally Perp Steve McDaniel, who might have exhausted himself a bit (above) running the show, also wanted to drop a few words on the rally directly to the
moronic brave competitors of the initial LeMons Rally:
“Greetings to all the survivors of the first-ever LeMons Rally, Hell on Wheels. It was certainly that. It was also perhaps the most fun and exciting adventure I have ever participated in. As the perpetrator of this lunacy, I would like to extend my sincere apologies for any lifelong damage, physical, or emotional hardships or broken relationships that I may have caused.
Nah, not really, Suck it up Buttertcup!
With that said, I want to thank everyone who came out to play with us. I rarely saw a sad face through the entire 1,500+ miles of endless challenges. Some scored more points than others, but I doubt anyone came away without experiences and memories they will never forget. Being chauffeured around in one of the most modern vehicles involved , although still a hard ride, was nothing to what most of you went through (douchewagons not included). As someone who has done way more than his share of stupidly long road trips in incredibly bad vehicles, you have all earned my deepest respect. It was a pleasure to share the road with you.
My biggest thanks go out to: John “Jay” Lamm or giving me the opportunity to loose some of my terrible ideas on to the unsuspecting masses. Eric Rood for putting in way more work than I told him he would have to do and as always doing an incredible Job. If not for him you guys, would still be waiting for me to sort out the scores from Day 2.And Roland Hahn for being the Hoke to my Ms. Daisy, being my sounding board and sense of reason, helping out with any and all things and being cool enough to not get pissy when I was being a stressed out Jackass. I couldn’t have done it without you.
There’s a long white line out there that nobody has found the end of; thanks to everyone for helping in the search.
Hope to see you all on the road again,
Steve McDaniel (Ballsasaurus)”
With a healthy reception from rally participants and lots of I-shoulda-gones from regular LeMons racers, a second LeMons Rally is already in the works. Check back here on Roadkill for any announcements about the next Rally as well as coverage of 24 Hours of LeMons races and features.