We’re a few days past the finish of the 2018 Retreat From Moscow edition of the Lemons Rally and aside from maybe one car, everybody seems to have returned home with their hoopties safe. Or sent to the Crusher. We’ll cover many of those stories soon, but because the Lemons Rally can loosely be considered a “competition,” we have winners to recognize from this long haul across the Eastern United States.
Rally organizers have 10 trophies—six awards plus four “Dishonorable Mentions”—to hand out and if you followed any of it on Instagram via #LemonsRally or #RetreatFromMoscow, you know that most of the 66 paid entries could have taken home trophy. This was the best rally yet in terms of quality and quantity of truly terrible automobiles.
Not only did most survive 2,000 miles of roads in difficult conditions with questionable checkpoints along the way, many also jumped in the frigid Atlantic Ocean at Ocean City, Maryland, and attempted to make their rally mascots soar at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. [Read each recap from Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.]
They then conquered the Tail of the Dragon section of road across the North Carolina-Tennessee border after meeting at the famed Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Resort.
Here are the overall points standings. In addition to the points awarded for inspections and for reaching the checkpoints, the rally officials also handed out bonus points. Pulled a car out of the mud with your janky ride? That’s some points. Rode the Tail of the Dragon on a motorized cooler with a Trump mask on? More points. It keeps things from being too neat, tidy, and predictable because the Lemons Rally is anything but those three things.
Overall Winners – Straight Outta Crapton (1963 Chevy Impala)
Few had any doubts about who would win the rally after one the first-ever mid-rally engine swap. The Straight Outta Crapton ‘63 Impala began the rally with a six-cylinder engine that, had it been a person, would have carried Do Not Resuscitate paperwork in triplicate.
The Crapton crew has built countless low-rider and custom Impalas and this ‘63 was a parts car stored rocker-deep in overgrowth. Shortly before the rally, they pulled it out and set to work unlocking its seized Chevy 230. That entailed soaking the whole engine first in diesel and then in Marvel Mystery Oil for most of a month.
With the engine soaking, the Crapton team put it on some 13-inch wheels, added a “La Cucaracha” horn, pulled out a few dozen rat nests, and then put some non-hantavirus interior (with chain wheel, obviously) into it so they wouldn’t get splashed by road slush.
They pulled into Lemons Rally registration with the engine shrouding all of northeast Pennsylvania in diesel-caliber oil smoke. They seemed generally unconcerned with the non-existent piston rings and instead focused on adding ratchet straps to keep the delaminating hood from smashing the windshield, one of the few worthwhile items on the “parts car.”
The engine survived more than 1,000 miles on a healthy diet of The Entire Engine Treatment Shelf at the Parts Store. However, on the hill climb out from Day 3’s first checkpoint, the 230’s sound went from “wheezing and sad” to “rods clamoring for freedom.” The three team members all looked at each other in instant agreement. The engine was done.
With some help from The Big Bad, a Miata team on the rally who stayed to help them, they rented a box truck and trailer to haul the Impala. They then found someone selling a Chevy 250 in North Carolina that they could bolt in as a replacement.
Not giving up #1 We are thrashing away and gonna hit all the checkpoints we can after we get this motor in!!!! The motor swap going down in autozones parkinglot #teamstraightoutofcrapton #greatsmokymountains #RouteBook #LemonsRally #HellOnWheels #RoadTrip #Hoopties #WinterRally #Rally #Rallying #EastCoast #Pennsylvania #Virginia #Maryland #NorthCarolina #Tennessee #Alabama #virginiabeach #Charlotte #Nashville #Birmingham #LemonsWorld #HooptieScenes
What followed was a lightning-quick engine swap in an AutoZone parking lot somewhere in North Carolina. Not only did they have the entire engine swapped out in under four hours, they also had time for lunch and got a hug from the AutoZone manager. From there, it was just an easy coast on to Nashville and Birmingham by way of Paris, Tennessee.
Congratulations, Straight Outta Crapton!
Second Place – Lemons Department of Travesty (Ford Mustang)
The only thing crazier than a mid-rally engine swap might have been the LDOT cause. We very much appreciated their Mustang Crowd Plow™ theme, the Mr. Plow jacket from “The Simpsons,” and the birdseed spreader for Speedycop’s RustRunner. However, the real insanity came with four grown men in a convertible Ford Mustang for the rally’s entire duration.
And when we say “in a convertible,” we mean they ran all the miles with the top down. That included driving through snow and 20-degree temperatures all the way to North Carolina and then again through a downpour in Tennessee on the way into Nashville. Every stop found them shivering and cursing their own stubbornness and stupidity, but they stuck with it all the way to the end.
Third Place – Baltimorons (1958 Chevy Pickup)
The Baltimorons have raced the 24 Hours of Lemons for years in a BMW 3-Series, but the rally found them instead with the oldest vehicle on the rally. They had revived their ‘58 Chevy Pickup just a few weeks before the rally, sorting out brakes and the sundry broken things that come with a neglected old vehicle.
Somewhere in its long lifetime of use, the truck had gotten a run-of-the-mill Chevy 350. One might think that would liven it up, but instead, it remained a janky 60-year-old truck. Nevertheless, the Baltimorons loaded it heavy and hit just about every checkpoint on the rally without missing a beat.
The team raced in Lemons the weekend after the rally, as well, although they also spent a considerable amount of time swapping in a clutch in the Barber paddock, but they made it home to Maryland to complete an epic third-place trip.
This Jag Ain’t Our Cup of Tea Trophy – Jagxit (Jaguar XJ Executive/Saab 900)
For the trophy awarded and named specifically for the event, Jagxit earned it with a lump or two. Just a few days before the Retreat From Moscow, they scored this right-hand-drive 1975 Jaguar XJ Executive that was built in South Africa. That’s a rare-enough find, but this one looked in remarkably good shape.
The interior still looks ready to cart the recession-proof capitalist to and from the office circa 1979. Unfortunately, that’s where the good condition stopped. The driveshaft starting making utterly horrible noises almost immediately after starting the rally. Rather than press on with the risk of the driveshaft poking through the pristine interior, they opted to park the Jag.
But Jagxit had a backup plan: They swapped it out for their Saab 900, which they had scored for the low, low price of one cup of tea. It had formerly belonged to someone whose mechanics swore off working on it. The owner needed to get rid of it, so he delivered it to Jagxit for free. While waiting to take the train back to New York, he allowed them to buy him a $2.25 cup of tea.
And that $2.25 Saab turned out to be their own cup of tea, as well. It got them to the Tail of the Dragon, where they met up with the always-photogenic Lemons Rally staff, and then all the way to the rally’s finish. Nicely done!
Random Acts of Stupidity – The Pennsyltanas (Buick Roadmaster Wagon)
Our favorite award is the Random Acts of Stupidity and we don’t give it out lightly. In short, the Lemons Rally has a loose framework in which many participants see the many gaps as places from which to depart. This is a loosely collected road trip, after all, and some teams see it as a means to doing whatever it is that makes them happy on a road trip. To wit, one member of The Pennysltanas told us their goals were roughly (1) To make each other laugh, (2) To find some decent barbecue, (3) To eat ice cream every day, and (4) To have their hammered teal Buick Roadmaster drive itself to the salvage yard.
The quartet in the wagon—all of whom are HOT ROD Drag Week™ regulars—accomplished all those goals, as far as we know. However, like most Lemons Rally competitors, they’ve fallen victim to the Stockholm Syndrome of their crappy chariot and may be planning further stupidity instead of sending it for scrap. Nevertheless, they took on all the checkpoints and also managed to drive around with mannequin body parts bolted to the stack-style exhaust.
Their T-Rex costume made an appearance at the #LaunchYourMascot contest and then went on to a touching moment aboard the Outer Banks ferries (above). In short, we don’t think anybody had as much fun as these guys and as far as we know, everybody was having a lot of fun.
Organizer’s Choice – Three Legs Four Wheels, For Now (AMC Eagle)
As has become custom, Lemons Rally Boss Steve McDaniel awarded the Organizer’s Choice to the one car he’d gladly add to his own fleet of hoopties. In this case, the Three Legs Four Wheels, For Now entry won that honor, such as it is.
The team had dug it out of a backyard—as often happens—where they discovered that not only had the car had a fresh coat of paint before its long-term parking, it also had enjoyed some liberal application of body filler. Nevertheless, they didn’t hose it down at all and even if they had, the moss and grime stuck to the still-tacky paint would never have come off.
Not wanting to go hungry, the Three Legs team rigged up an inverter to the trunk, which powered a hot dog roller. Lemons Rally officials hesitated to eat from the interior of a car that probably exceeded even convenience stores in their “Do Not Eat From” levels, but the Eagle team allegedly ate from the roller without contracting any major bacterial infections.
Both they and the Eagle survived the entire week without too many setbacks and from what we understand, they plan to run the Route Sucky-Suck Rally with it in October, as well.
Dishonorable Mention – Dahlinboys (Dodge Van Club Cab)
After three rallies in 2016 and 2017, participants seem to have realized that that station wagons and vans afford the best opportunities to have fun with friends while maintaining a bit of personal space. The Dahlinboys ran last year’s Retreat From Moscow in their “Snowman Edition” Cadillac Eldorado. This year, they went bigger. After starting with a club-size Dodge Van, they hacked up the roof to make a crew-cab pickup out of it.
Naturally, that meant they had to include all the hallmarks of good pickup trucks like twin exhaust stacks in the bed, a beef jerky dispenser inside, patriotic van-ness, second-hand shag carpet, and a loveseat in the rear of the cab.
They suffered through some mechanical setbacks, but it was otherwise some first-rate rally material.
Dishonorable Mention – Slammer Donuts (Chevy Impala)
Before the rally, the Slammer Donuts crew found themselves at a local government auction with a couple hundred bucks burning a hole in their collective pocket. When a 2013 Chevy Impala came up, they plunked down a winning bid then made a cop-car lookalike that was entirely donut themed.
We’re not sure at all how they were only pulled over once, but they went the entire week dressed in convict stripes with donuts on them. We’re not sure the connection between inmates and donuts—usually it’s a cop-and-donut joke, isn’t it?—but their infectious attitude and willingness to help with their oh-so-new rally car earned them a Dishonorable Mention.
Dishonorable Mention – Support Team Duo (Ford Pinto Cruisin’ Wagon)
If you’ve been around some East Coast 24 Hours of Lemons races, you’ve probably seen this Ford Pinto Cruisin’ Wagon. It usually serves as a paddock support vehicle for the bright orange Ford Pinto race car. The couple who ran it on the rally have owned it for years and it represents the exact kind of car we love seeing on the rally. With window louvers and the porthole-style rear windows over the factory mural, the Cruisin’ Wagon is breathtakingly Malaise Era.
The Pinto’s owner built the best glider at the #LaunchYourMascot challenge on Day 2 by using a hotel shampoo dispenser to weight the nose. Oh, and they helped pull a four-door Chevy Nova out of a mud pit at one of the checkpoints.
Dishonorable Mention – Sinical Racing (Volkswagen Beetle and Volkswagen Vanagon)
By now, we’re probably all very familiar with Sinical Racing. Their Volkswagen Beetle with a Honda V6 ran last year’s rally and then raced at Barber. They intended to do the same thing this year, but they also added another old Volkswagen with the same 3.5-liter Honda V6: a Vanagon.
As with the Beetle, the installation was neatly done. The engine even fit tidily in the rear engine compartment with a subframe made from the same round tubing used on the Vanagon’s new ladder. The Honda V6 from the Odyssey makes well north of 250 horsepower, which was just enough to make the Vanagon downright frightening at highway speeds.
The end result was that even with more than 500 horsepower in the two-car caravan, the two crews were so busy fixing broken things, yelling (mostly) good-natured insults at each other, or trying to manage the sail-like Vanagon on the highway that they were often the last ones to the nights’ hotels.
That wraps up the trophy winners, but we’ll have plenty more stories to share from the other 50 teams soon. In the meantime, check out @LemonsRally on Instagram along with #LemonsRally and #RetreatFromMoscow to see more shenanigans from the road.
If you missed out on the Retreat From Moscow, fret not: You can run in either the Car Weeeeak Rally on the West Coast in August or the Route Sucky-Suck Rally along Route 66 in October and November. Get full details on those rallies here and stay tuned for updates on another potential rally in 2018.
Check out more photos of the winners in the gallery below!