Lemons Rally: The Winners and More From the ‘Great Lakes Mistake’ Rally

The Great Lakes Mistake edition of the Lemons Rally wound up its 2,700-mile navigation of the Upper Midwest, Ontario, and the Rust Belt on July 7. Somehow, all but one Rally car finished the strenuous route and while we could wax poetic about all of the happenings, you can see most of them yourselves by searching #LemonsRally on Instagram. You can check that out later, but here are all 10 of your winners from the Great Lakes Mistake Rally.


As outlined before, you score points in the Rally at the beginning based on your car, its condition, its general terribleness, and the terribleness of its crew. Along the route, you can also score points for hitting checkpoints outlined in the Route Book, for doing other dumb things, for making videos, and for generally being stupid/crazy/awesome. You can get the whole points breakdown here.


Besides trophies for the top three in points, Lemons Rally also awards four “Dishonorable Mentions,” one Random Acts of Stupidity, one Organizer’s choice, and one trophy named for a particular participant and their absurdity. Here are the Great Lakes Mistakes trophy winners.


Dishonorable Mention – Santos Speed Shop Day Care & Assisted Living, VW Golf TDI
We first met Paul Santos on the 2017 Retreat From Moscow Rally in his 500,000-kilometer Volkswagen Golf TDI. His roof-mounted Lemons at the time were actually car seats, but he upped the ante this year with an oversized Acme-style magnet on the roof, a la “Pinky and the Brain,” and now more than 600,000 kilometers on the original drivetrain.

He compounded that with his rally mascot Pinky driving RC trucks, which was made for some quality checkpoint fodder along with the magnet frequently directed at oversized roadside objects—exactly the kind of juxtaposition we like seeing at checkpoints, mind you.


However, Paul wasn’t just an entertaining guy. He also skipped a whole bunch of checkpoints to make sure the Fargonites Fiat 131 made it to safety after a breakdown. And did we mention that he drove the entire rally solo?


Dishonorable Mention – Shore Leave Sailors, VW Jetta TDI
Bill and Jonathan Herde took the mileage record by a wide margin, having driven to and from the Great Lakes Mistake from San Diego, California. The father and son had originally planned to run the Monterey Car Weeeeak Rally (much) closer to home, but Jonathan got sailing orders in the Navy that would prohibit that. So the duo set to work on the old Volkswagen Jetta TDI that had suffered through multiple crashes, rebuilds, and repaints.


They added some proper Naval accouterments like an anchor and a foghorn powered by a trunk-mounted air tank. Their battery ran out of electrons and they had some alternator issues on the return trip to California, but for their longest of long hauls, they took home a Dishonorable Mention. Bill has the TDI engine earmarked for another project, a ‘62 Willys pickup, that we may see yet at a Lemons Rally.


Dishonorable Mention – Jean-Claude Van Van, GMC Vandura
Clayton and Bethany Fowler really had no plans to run a Lemons Rally, but a few weeks before the Great Lakes Mistake, they watched the Roadkill episode that found Finnegan and Freiburger flailing on the bizarre Missing Linc 1979 Lincoln Continental during a Lemons Rally. The Fowlers looked at each other and decided they needed to try their hand at the rally with the V6-powered GMC Vandura in their Ontario yard.


Unfortunately, the van wasn’t remotely running at the time. In true Roadkill fashion, however, they got the shorty van—earmarked as a work van for Bethany’s welding business—ready in just a couple short weeks. And when they turned up, everybody at registration stopped what they were doing and grinned ear to ear. In a crowd of car people, it’s hard to deny the coolness of a Vandura, especially one with #NothingGoodHappensInAVan stickered on the side.


Bethany brought her welding gear, as well, anticipating the need to help other teams repair their heaps on the side of the road. Instead, she only broke it out twice to (A) weld a Swedish meatball cooker together for a Volvo 740 and (B) to fix the Overall Winner trophy after the overall winner ran over it.


Dishonorable Mention/Lemons Dad of the Year – Sir Jackie Stewart’s Coin Purse Racing, Chevy Suburban
While perhaps nothing looks remarkable about a 2000 Chevy Suburban, the real awesomeness was inside. Scott McMichael—who has raced a Ford EXP in the 24 Hours of Lemons for a few years—brought his two elementary-school-aged sons with him on the road trip. Things could have gone badly with 2,700 miles of “Are we there yet?!” Instead, Scott gave his kids an awesome road trip into Canada for some great father-son time. Rather than give an ordinary Dishonorable Mention, Rally organizers rechristened the trophy the Lemons Father of the Year for McMichael.

#lemonsrally #greatlakesmistake #racin_g73 #dadley

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It certainly wasn’t easy, but the fun included plenty of activities in the car, snacks, stops for playgrounds, and rewards for good behavior like diecast cars (Also works well for motivating Lemons staff) and skipping out on some parts of the route to swim at the hotel pool. Maybe the kids will remember the trip when they’re older, maybe they won’t, but we sure appreciate that kind of awesome parenting.


Winner On Points – One Lap for Dogs, Sears Body VW Dune Buggy
As with last summer’s West Coast rally, the winner drove a Volkswagen Kit Car. Brian Gomez solo-drove the entire six-day, 2,700-mile route in “Dune Truggy,” a two-seater Sears-sold buggy with a truck bed. The bass-boat-flake finish makes for a wonderful sight and per the Rally rules, the VW kit was worth 300 points at the rally beginning. However, things were certainly not easy for Gomez and his struggles justified the extra points.


The first two days went well enough, but Day 3 of the rally brought a massive rainstorm that was rather unpleasant in the open-side buggy, aggravated in no small part by the Truggy’s non-functioning windshield wipers. The rain also fried some of the kit car’s electronics and the starter shortly stopped working. That meant push-starts only for three full days and Gomez had to leave the air-cooled engine idling at checkpoints. Nobody messed with the car, perhaps because it was just too weird for most people.


Eventually, the kit-car quality caught up with Gomez on the final day of the rally. However the fuel system was bodged together, it began producing lots of fumes that wrapped around the windshield directly into Brian’s face. But there’s always a Lemony solution: A home improvement-store trip yielded a traffic cone and some flexible downspout piping while an old coffee cup made for a roof-mounted breathing apparatus. Ingenuity!

After claiming the trophy, Gomez, of course, went to bumpstart the Truggy in reverse. He forgot the trophy was still sitting on the fender and, well, just watch the video. Thankfully, the Bethany Fowler had brought her welding in Jean-Claude Van Van so the winner’s trophy was patched up in just a few minutes.


Second Place – In Hot Pursuit, Ford Crown Victoria
As you’ll see, the Lemons Rally is becoming a pretty family-friendly event. For In Hot Pursuit, that meant Ryan Krugler tasking his son Logan and daughter Charlee with preparing one of the coolest Crown Vics we’ve ever seen. Krugler builds and maintains police cars for a living and had one cast-off car that needed an engine.


Logan swapped in a “new” Modular V8 while both kids lifted it and then fabricated all of the rally-ready racks. The 3D-printed hubcaps and badges were a personal favorite among Rally organizers.


When it came time to rally, they also committed to everything: In Hot Pursuit was the only Rally team to hit every single one of the 74 checkpoints on the route. In total, they logged something like 3,400 miles on the route by going out of the way to hit the checkpoints and also find some of their own. That’s a well-earned second place.


Third Place – The Awkward Corner, Chevy Corvette
Thomas Pyrek and Tricia Murphy entertained everyone all week with their Boba Fett-themed Chevy Corvette. Perhaps inspired by the Boba Fett C7 Corvette or perhaps just wanting to one-up it, the duo gave it a proper Star Wars bounty-hunted paint scheme and blasted Natalie Portman’s SNL rap.

Pyrek wore his Boba Fett getup for the entire week, which is pretty brave in a car with little interior space like a C4 Corvette. The car proved popular and was probably—along with the lifted Crown Vic—about as “cool” as a Lemons Rally car gets. You can also find Pyrek racing his Honda Odyssey minivan in 24 Hours of Lemons races.


Long Live the King – Unsafe at Any Speed, Volvo 740 Wagon
We appreciate a good station wagon, especially a Volvo, and these three young dudes (and one dad) jumped into the Lemons world with both feet. They shoved themselves into the 740 Wagon they’d bought with a blown head gasket and painted as a Swedish Ambassador vehicle.

They turned up to registration with the Swedish National Anthem blaring and with Swedish flags to hand out as an act of international goodwill while also toting along a bizarre-o photo of King Gustav. The Volvo ran flawlessly all weekend—aside from a non-start issue caused by the automatic shifter not being in Park—and tagged along with veteran 24 Hours of Lemons racers Racing 4 Nickels in their Honda Civic.

At rally’s end, they commissioned a Swedish meatball cooker for the Volvo’s exhaust manifold. Bethany Fowler broke out her welder from Jean-Claude Van Van (see above) and tacked together the basket.


The cooker only worked a bit, but rally organizers appreciated the ingenuity and gave them the event-specific Long Live the King Trophy.


Random Acts of Stupidity – Make Canada Dry Again, Acura RL
The Random Acts of Stupidity is a tradition that goes back to the first Hell On Wheels Rally in 2016 and Rally Boss Steve McDaniel awards it to the team who does the dumbest thing(s) on the route. This was a no-brainer for the Make Canada Dry Again Acura RL, whose occupants decided to stump for Donald Trump as Canadian Prime Minister in the upcoming 2019 elections.


Lemons Rally organizers were sure this was a one-way ticket home from the Canadian border, but those pleasant border patrol agents let them in, somehow. Nobody really was sure if the Trump theme was done in jest or in seriousness. That extra bit of Poe’s Law to the paint scheme really made it that much better.


The car itself was pretty to’ up: The engine had 270,000 miles, questionable head gaskets, badly blown rear shocks to the point that the fully loaded Acura literally dragged its ass all over Canada, and a dashboard full of all the warning lights. Still, the RL made it home and the Canada Dry Ginger Ale cans taped to the car were opened in celebration at the rally’s completion. Unsurprisingly, they merely fizzled a bit.


Organizer’s Choice – Stricht Acht Rally Racers, Mercedes Benz 250
That brings us at last to the Organizer’s Choice, which is kind of the top award in Lemons Rally. It went to Strich Acht Rally Racers, a reference to the nickname for the Mercedes-Benz W114. The team—Michael and Elisabeth Zavarin with Yuri Shnirnam, all veteran 24 Hours of Lemons racers—dug the car up at the last minute. It seemed kind of ok with the durable, twin-carb M114 inline-six engine and a pretty cushy interior. What could possibly go wrong?

For two days, not much did go wrong. The old Merc hurtled along with the grace and speed of a leisurely locomotive. But deep into Canada, the steering’s rusty idler arm snapped suddenly. They knew they’d never find one for a W114 anywhere in rural Ontario, so they dropped into the auto parts store to buy a piece of 2-¼” exhaust piping to sleeve the idler arm. They drove it around town from shop to shop at 10 miles per hour, getting turned away from all of them except one. A Ford dealership offered to weld in the exhaust-pipe sleeve between jobs. A few hours later, they were underway with the kludged steering working fine.


Not long after, temperatures started running high, so they cranked the heat and fans, then “borrowed” a fuse in the fuse box for the headlights to wire the fan to stay on constantly. That kept the overheating demons at bay enough, so they finished the last 1,600 miles of the Summer Rally with the heat blasting out of the vents and a fuse about to burn down constantly.


And that’s not all. The twin-carb setup never worked particularly well, but they eventually figured out one had a massive leak and the other wasn’t working at all until the car got to highway(ish) speeds. The team disassembled the car and then replaced the crumbled, leaking gasket with gasket-maker. What could go wrong? Eventually, the carb sucked some of the gasket-maker into it, which clogged up the works. That necessitated a second roadside carb rebuild, which worked enough.


Throughout all this, they kind of disappeared from Rally organizer’s radar for long stretches of time with no cell reception in Canada. Nevertheless, all of the kludged fixes held and the clattering mess of a Benz drove itself to the finish line.


Sound like a good time for you, your friends, and/or your family? You can still sign up for the next Lemons Rally, the Monterey Car Weeeeak Rally from August 21-25 in California. The rally leaves from and returns to Seaside, California, with overnight stops in San Pedro, Yuma (Arizona), and then back through the California desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Get that rally information and register for it right here.

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover