The Retreat From Moscow LeMons Rally has reached its conclusion after four grueling days and a couple thousand miles. With visits to Moscow (PA), Scranton, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Asheville, and Memphis in the books, the rally participants made final visits to Paris, Tennessee, and Waterloo, Alabama, before making it to Barber Motorsports Park for the awards ceremony on Friday, February 3. Here are the results from the first winter LeMons Rally.
The points totals look like this after four days of tabulating points that have led to smoke pouring out of the LeMons Rally computers.
Kevin Schrage and Jeff Stobbs racked up an impressive 1,895 points to win the rally on points, but the points were only part of their story. The pair from the Upper Midwest purchased this well-worn ’86 Cadillac Stretch Limo and applied some Initial D-style graphics that would allow delivery of a lot of tofu at once. Despite losing first gear and overdrive in the Caddy’s four-speed transmission almost immediately, Kevin and Jeff drove the 27-foot limo to just about all of the checkpoints.
Those checkpoints featured a run down the Tail of the Dragon and, as the pair told us, the more-challenging route on Day Two that included more than four hours of driving down the serpentine two-lane roads that traverse the hills of West Virginia. The Limo took it all in stride with relative comfort and the puny Olds 307 V8 ticked over without issue.
LeMons’ resident crazed builder Jeff “Speedycop” Bloch didn’t look like he’d make it to the rally’s beginning with his ’71 Reliant Regal after discovering the engine internals were caked in thick sludge. Bloch’s crew pressure-washed the Regal’s 700 cubic-centimeter inside and out just before embarking on the journey and called it good enough. The three-wheeler hadn’t run in more than a quarter-century so a 2,000-mile rally is more than a trial by fire.
Unfortunately, the Regal spent quite a bit of the rally distance on the trailer behind a tow vehicle that followed the Regal. However, after working out the bugs a bit on the opening two days of the rally, the crew—which included Bloch, David Mills, Christopher Albright, Brett Werts, and Nathan Maki—finally worked through overheating issues by adding a second radiator and fixing the clutch pressure plate. After that, it made its own run down the Tail of the Dragon and could even sustain 50 miles per hour or better on the highway. The utter insanity of bringing the car without any testing earned major points and Bloch’s team came home with a second-place finish in the rally.
Russian automaker Lada never sold road cars in the United States, but Canadians had the opportunity to buy Ladas in smal numbers. Manitoba native Evan Hasselstrom found a ’96 Lada Niva, which could be adequately described as a “Soviet Ford Bronco.” The four-cylinder engine was good, at most, for 80 horsepower, but the little 4×4 was renowned for its toughness. Hasselstrom and his co-driver Jeremy Hearn had to drive a huge distance just to reach the rally’s beginning and just an hour or two into the rally, fifth gear in the Niva’s tranmission called it quits. The other four gears continued to work, however, and the Niva pressed on.
During the Dragon and Waffles day, Hasselstrom and Hearn showed up at a Waffle House that was being demolished. While they wouldn’t be scoring any points for the waffles from that Waffle House, they instead offered the demolition crew $100 for the old sign, which scored them mega-points to finish third place in points. They affixed to the roof with ratchet straps and LeMons duct tape, as any proper rally team would.
Pennsylvanian Brian Gomes ran the first “Hell On Wheels” rally last summer in a Pontiac Aztek, but he found a great ’78 Ford Fairmont Futura to run in this rally closer to his home. Gomes posted some great updates from the rally’s checkpoints, including a gruesome mascot amputation video from the site of the first Civic War amputation in Philippi, West Virginia. [Ok, he cut the arm off plush “Hank the Monkey” and then stitched it back together as part of a day-long video story and it was awesome.] We guess these things happen when you drive 2,000 miles solo in a Malaise Era personal luxury coupe. He so entertained Rally staff that he earned the Random Acts of Stupidity trophy.
In addition to the “normal” trophies, Rally HQ handed out a special-for-the-occasion trophy. In this case, the Knoxvegas Lowballers’ diesel ’66 Mercedes 200D claimed this honor, which was coined the “Putting the ‘Smoke’ in Smoky Mountains” Award. The tractor-caliber four-cylinder diesel engine was good for probably somewhere around 60 horsepower, which is a bit suboptimal with the three-man crew and their gear pushing the weight probably over 4,000 pounds.
The smoky diesel left a curtain of smoke in most of the places it visited and the oil consumption was impressive, using something like a gallon of oil for every 150 miles. The engine’s piston rings were long gone by the time it rolled into Barber Motorsports Park, but the tough old mill kept churning out dozens of horsepower anyway.
The LeMons Rally also hands out four “Dishonorable Mention” trophies for those who distinguish themselves for general awesomeness. The Lunar Lemons team, who also race a Chevy Astro Van in the 24 Hours of LeMons, won the first LeMons Rally in their chronically overheating Ford Aerostar. This time around, they dug up a school bus three days before the rally’s start and spent most of their time converting it to a livable space. Like the winning limo team, they also drove it down the winding West Virginia roads and the Tail of the Dragon.
Several 24 Hours of Lemons teams opted to drive their street-registered race cars on the rally and while none of them was insulated or at all comfortable, the Sinical Racing Volkswagen Beetle was perhaps the most excruciating. The Honda Odyssey V6 stuffed in the back resonated the entire Bug chassis and the thin sheet metal also lets in a lot of wind. An electric space heater and ear muffs helped manage the engine’s drone and the chill, but the team still rotated in drivers from the team’s following conversion van just to keep from freezing or falling asleep out of exhaustion. The Beetle had never driven more than about 300 miles in a weekend during a race, so they were a little concerned about its durability, but the VW made the long haul.
The team’s adventure nearly included an international incident after a missed turn in Buffalo led to the Beetle stalling near the border Niagara border checkpoint. The Canadian authorities didn’t find it particularly amusing, but the Sinical crew escaped without being detained.
The Retreat From Moscow was a nod to Napoleon’s failed attempt to defeat Russia and the grueling retreat from the Russian capital in the dead of winter. Naturally, Rally organizers gave bonus points to any French cars and Stephen Kent’s Renault Encore not only miraculously survived the whole road trip, it also visited nearly every checkpoint on the rally while looking every bit the weird French import that it is.
Curiously enough, Greg Robichaud and John Boisvert ran much of the rally totally under the radar with their ’68 Plymouth Belvedere police car. They were entertaining folks and, well, just how cool are old cop cars? Very cool, especially when it’s a Belvedere.
LeMons Rally’s top prize is the Organizer’s Choice, which is given out to the team that really captures the overall craziness of attempting to drive 2,000 winter miles in some clapped-out and traffic-stopping heaps. Nobody stopped more traffic than Speedycop and his crew with their two entries: the second-place Robin and the “Speedycopter,” an Audi-powered Toyota Van with a Bell OH-58 Kiowa helicopter fitted to it.
The Speedycopter ran the first couple days without major incident, but a failed automatic transmission put them out of action. However, the drive down the Tail of the Dragon in the 46-year-old British trike will likely remain one of the weirdest vehicles to ever tackle that 11-mile, 300-turn stretch of two-lane blacktop.
Finnegan and Freiburger of course participated in the LeMons Rally and while they didn’t win, it wasn’t for lack of trying to pick up bonus points for an epic burnout and some other surprises. We won’t ruin all the surprises and twists and turns since the Roadkill crew shot an episode on the roadtrip, but the shortened ’78 Lincoln Continental—called the Missing Linc—made it to the rally endpoint at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
Of course, Roadkill weren’t going to take the haggard and moldy Lincoln home with them, so they auctioned it off at Barber for LeMons of Love, the official charity of the LeMons race. When bidding reached $1,000, the two bidders battling to buy the Missing Linc decided to settle their grievances with arm wrestling atop some of the waffles that made the haul with Finnegan and Freiburger. The winner? The Knoxvegas Lowballers, of course. We fully expect to see them add a rollcage to the Missing Linc to take it LeMons racing.
We’ll have more on the LeMons Winter Rally right here on Roadkill’s website very soon, and a full Roadkill episode and print story too!