LeMons South Winners: Good and Bad Engine Swaps

We took over a South Carolina town and paraded 113 LeMons car down Main Street on Friday, and on Saturday and Sunday we raced. As always, there were too many great stories for us to tell them all here— you’ll need to go to a race yourself to get the whole picture— but we’ll hit the high points for you. The theme of the weekend was engine swaps; we saw engine-swapped cars take wins in two of the three classes, another knock everybody out with its greatness (if not its actual performance), and two more fail in glorious fashion. Meanwhile, two other trophy winners had crazy body swaps. Clearly, there’s no problem in LeMons that racers can’t solve (or make worse) with a Sawzall and a welder, so let’s check out how that worked in practice last weekend at Carolina Motorsports Park!

ClassA1The big news of the weekend was the astonishing Class A win and overall victory of the Knoxvegas Lowballers and their radically modified Geo Metro. Instead of the original 53-horsepower three-banger that drove this Metro’s front wheels back in 1990, the Lowballers have shoehorned in the entire front-drive powertrain of a 1999 Ford Contour SVT into the back of their microscopic hatchback, giving them 200 screaming Duratec V6 horses driving the rear wheels.

Metro Gnome 1We’d seen a Geo Metro with ridiculous engine swap take an overall LeMons win before. Way back in 2008, the Metro Gnome, which featured a Honda CBR900RR motorcycle engine driving the front wheels via a super-janky chain-drive (with toilet-plunger grease seal keeping the differential lubed), took the win on laps at the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza race in California.

IMG_3584Most of the time, though, weird engine swaps don’t work out quite so well for LeMons teams (it turns out that automobile manufacturers know what they’re doing for the most part), and that’s how things went at first for the Knoxvegas Lowballers. At their first LeMons race, the 2013 Southern Discomfort race, their mid-engine Duratec swap was a total disaster, so bad that one team member was forced to cannibalize the engine from his daily-driver Contour to keep the Geo running for another few laps. But the team kept working on their car, solving problems with each race, and the Metro went from laughingstock to contender during the next couple of years. During that time, the Geo won Class C, Class B, the Index of Effluency, and now Class A, making it the first 24 Hours of LeMons car to win all three classes. This is an achievement sought by many and thought impossible by most, and now the Knoxvegas Lowballers have done it.

IMG_2101During this period, the Lowballers have upped their game by adding two more Contour SVT-engined race cars (including a 2000 Mazda MPV minivan with two engines and two 5-speeds), and they’ve converted them into credible bubble-window-equipped 1970s-style custom vans to boot. We’ve seen quite a few similarly maniacal engine swaps in this series, and the Lowballers seem to be leading the field in LeMons engine-swap engineering.

_MG_2587Winning Class C (the slowest, and therefore most important, of the three LeMons classes) was the E30/6 team and their BMW E30 3-Series… which features an engine swap calculated to enrage BMW purists everywhere: a Chrysler Slant-6 engine with pushbutton-shifted automatic transmission.

IMG_7503The E30/6 team has been chasing a Class C win for several years, plagued by engine problems (it turns out that the Slant-6, while bulletproof on the street, gets oiling woes when abused on a road course all weekend long) and other headaches, but this time they finally pulled it off. They won Class C by a strong 14 laps over the Austin Powerless Austin Marina, also beating a supercharged AMC Gremlin, a 1964 Ford Fairlane, a Triumph TR8, and a 1975 Ford LTD Landau with a thirsty 460-cubic-inch engine.

OrgChoice4The star of the weekend was the NSF Racing 1949 Nash Airflyte. This Florida team has raced some of the greatest cars we’ve ever seen in LeMons history, including the world’s rustiest ’62 Plymouth Fury, a genuine Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, a ’56 Ford Crown Victoria, and many more (they’re also responsible for the worst car in LeMons history), and this time they managed to drag a terrifyingly rusty Bathtub Nash out of some fetid Everglades alligator pond.

OrgChoice3The NSF Nash was so rusty that it had no frame left, so the team managed to find a basket-case C3 Corvette and welded its chassis to what remained of the Nash’s structure. They added a random junkyard small-block engine and automatic transmission, caged the car, and came to the track. The tires rubbed on various chassis and body components and the car weighed far more than the suspension could deal with, but the Nash went out and turned some laps, in between pit stops to fix stuff.

IMG_1138After a mishap that put the Airflyte on its side in the dirt, the car’s structure got bent in some unaccustomed directions, but NSF can fix anything given a big enough hammer.

OrgChoice2Engine swap, chassis swap, everything swap, and by the end of the weekend all the not-in-great-shape-to-begin-with Corvette running gear was thoroughly trashed.

_MG_2454Still, the NSF Nash turned an impressive-for-the-first-time-out 42 laps, which is nearly 112 brutal miles under race conditions. For this, we awarded NSF Racing the much-coveted Organizer’s Choice trophy.

IGotScrewed2Not all engine-swapped cars at this race did so well, unfortunately. The Scuderia Fluffball Fiat 128, which features the “big-block” engine out of a Fiat X1/9, suffered Italian-car-stereotype-reinforcing failures of everything, completing a mere 11 laps. The team spent the entire weekend in a more or less fruitless wrenching frenzy, earning the not-so-coveted I Got Screwed award. Hey, at least they beat the Come Monday Motorsports Porsche 928, which nuked its engine on the very first lap.

SweetHomeVladivostok1Another engine-swapped car that didn’t do so well was the Team Sputnik Lotus Elite, which sports a GM 3800 V6 out of a late-1990s Chevy Camaro. It’s possible that this swap will work out well in the long run, but it took Sputnik just about all weekend just to get the car through the tech inspection, and when their Lotus finally clattered onto the track it was both slow and unreliable. 14 total laps, but we expect better things the next time we see this combination of super-lightweight British sports car and classic Detroit pushrod power.

IMG_1179For the Russian-inflected chaos that was the Team Sputnik paddock compound (and all the complaints about the mess we heard from CMP management), we awarded the team the created-for-the-occasion Sweet Home Vladivostok trophy.

IOE2The top prize of 24 Hours of LeMons racing is the Index of Effluency, and it is awarded to the team that accomplishes the most with a car that shouldn’t be anywhere near a race track. In this case, that car was a truck… which started life as a car. Meet the Idle Clatter Racing “Toyocedes 300SR5D” pickup, which came off the assembly line as a Mercedes-Benz W123 diesel sedan.

_MG_1693The Idle Clatter members just love their Mercedes turbodiesel engines, and they started their LeMons careers with a slightly less silly-looking diesel Benz.

IOE1Not satisfied with just the one oil-burning big German, they picked up another and proceeded to graft on body panels from a Toyota Hilux, fabricating a very realistic-looking bed out back.

IMG_0975This race, Idle Clatter turned their Toyocedes into a very convincing Pizza Planet delivery truck, and they chugged around the track all weekend long. They weren’t anywhere close to fast, but they finished 50th out of 113 entries, beating plenty of BMWs, Miatas, Mustangs, and other allegedly quick cars. Congratulations, Idle Clatter!

_MG_2553The next stop for LeMons will be Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, the weekend of October 3-4, so come check out the action if you’re in the area. In the meantime, be sure to check in here for all your Roadkill/LeMons features!

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover