The 2014 season of the 24 Hours of LeMons was the best one yet, with 20 races all over the country, the world-record largest endurance road race in history (the Guinness folks just declared it as the official record holder), floods, ice, pitch darkness, and—of course—the greatest crop of new-to-the-series race cars we could ever hope to see. 2013 had some great machinery, as did 2012 and 2011, but nothing like what we saw during the last 12 months. Here we go, the new cars (or cars modified so heavily that they might as well have been new) from the 2014 season!
You can’t go wrong with British sports cars in LeMons—everybody knows that—and so it was something of a mystery that we saw zero Jensen-Healeys during the first eight years of the series. You can get an ugly example for cheap and the “Torqueless Wonder” Lotus 907 engine seems well-suited for screaming around a road course, so we knew it was just a matter of time before some team took the plunge. That team was Bangers N Mash, which showed up to the Return of the LeMonites race at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah with this car.
We’d only had one Lotus 907–powered car in LeMons before this (a Lotus Elite that threw a couple of rods at Road America), so we figured, hey, small sample size, maybe this engine will hold together. Nope! However, Bangers N Mash managed to find another 907 after ventilating theirs, winning a trophy in the process.
Then, at the season-ender at Sears Point last month, we got a second Jensen-Healey, this >Goldmember-themed ’73 run by The Old Crows. This car finished in 49th position (out of 175 entries) and turned some respectable lap times only about 5 to 10 seconds slower than the quickest cars.
No doubt due to its winter-or-summer hood-scoop option, the Super Grover took the Index of Effluency trophy at that race.
But we weren’t done with Rovers after that. The Utah race saw the Flaming A-Holes show up with this dog-themed (Rover, get it?) SD1, winning the not-so-coveted I Got Screwed trophy for their entirely predictable weekend of fuel-delivery and electrical-system woes.
It turns out that cheap SD1s are all over the place if you know where to look, and so the LeMons Legends of Pit Crew Revenge Racing unearthed one in California and proceeded to swap in a Lexus V-8, in order to call it a RoLex (you had to be there, I guess). The only flaw in this plan was that starting your swap of a horrendously complicated modern V-8, with all its computers and miles of wiring harness, at the race track means that you might not have it running until the last 15 minutes. Such was the case with the RoLex at the record-setting Thunderhill race.
We’ve seen a Ford Cortina in LeMons before, but that car had a Pinto engine. The Three Pedal Mafia 1968 Cortina, which appeared at the Real Hoopties of New Jersey race, had both proper pushrod Kent power and crazy graphics from its 1970s racing career. We hope they’ll consider a Hairy Old Cortina theme in 2015.
You say three Rovers in LeMons isn’t enough? So do we, and so it was a good thing that Team Odin dredged up an SD1 from the vilest depths of Craigslist and brought it to the Pacific Northworst race. You might think that swapping a mid-’90s supercharged Buick 3800 V-6 would solve the SD1’s reliability problems (well, actually, you wouldn’t think that, if you’re us), but such was not the case.
Another excellent LeMons car choice is the Jaguar XJ-S, because it’s hard to beat a V-12 engine for sheer awesomeness. The Double Jeopardy ’86 XJ-S showed up at the Chicago race and spent just about the entire weekend haunted by Joe Lucas, Prince of Darkness.
Quick, what British car was purchased by Brian Jones as soon as he got his first big paycheck from his gig with the Rolling Stones? That’s right, a Humber Super Snipe! We’d seen a Super Snipe in LeMons, but it rolled over and was obliterated at the 2012 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza race. Team Tinworm, however, didn’t give up on the Super Snipe Wagon Dream, and the team found a replacement car (the Southern California desert has a lot of weird stuff), made it run, caged it, and brought it to the Button Turrible race. This 1964 car may be the newest (non-Warsaw Pact) car with a hand-crank-starter option.
Not exactly a pure-blooded British car but close enough for us, this Datsun 280Z became a very convincing replica of the Jaguar E-type hearse from the film Harold and Maude in the hands of Team 5150.
The team managed to find a few genuine E-type body parts for this project, and they took home the Organizer’s Choice award at the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza race.
In LeMons, French cars are even rarer than British cars, and we were pleased to see several new members of the Force de Frappe introduced to the 24 Hours of LeMons world in 2014. The first one was the Renault 10 (badged as a Dacia 1100), entered by the Certified LeMons Madman known as Spank at the Button Turrible race in June.
Since the Dacia is a 1960s Romanian car, Spank’s team brought goats, chickens, a not-so-credible Nadia Comăneci imitator, and black-market American blue jeans and cigarettes.
Not long after that, for the B.F.E. GP in Colorado, Sordik Racing took a Renault Le Car (the American-market version of the Renault 5) and an Infiniti I30—both of which had been completely buried in river silt during the 2013 Colorado floods—and did some cutting and pasting.
When they were done, they had a mid-engined, 190-hp Renault R5 Turbo replica, built for well under the LeMons budgetary limit. It had some handling and braking problems that still need to be sorted out (I came close to stuffing it into the wall at the dragstrip a few months later, when Sordik Racing let me drive it), but this car has the potential to be very quick at future races.
Also bringing great pride to fans of French race cars, Interceptor Motorsports arrived at the South Carolina race with a car we’d been >begging teams to bring for years: a 1982 Renault Fuego Turbo. Three new Renaults in one season!
Interceptor Motorsports clawed their way to a triumphant total of 19 laps at that race (generally finishing a single lap, breaking down, getting towed, fixing the car, and repeating the process), which we decided merited the Most Heroic Fix award.
We’re not done with the French cars yet. At the Vodden the Hell Are We Doing race at Thunderhill Raceway in California, Team Peugeot Daddy swept aside the Index of Effluency competition with the first Peugeot 404 in LeMons history. Cue La Marseillaise and run the Tricolor up the flagpole!
Even though we tend to picture boring BMW E30s and Porsche 944s when we think of German cars in the 24 Hours of LeMons, a team has many fine Teutonic machines to choose from if they want a real race car. For example, the Mercedes-Benz C107, a favorite of low-level bagmen and dealers in white powders for much of the 1970s and 1980s. The Syndicate brought their 1976 450SLC to the 2013 Gator-O-Rama race, but they couldn’t get the roll cage through the tech inspection in time to hit the track. So, the car made its race debut at the 2014 North Dallas Hooptie, where The Syndicate won the Index of Effluency for finishing in P19 out of 67 entries.
Normally, we wouldn’t think of a 1983 Porsche 911SC as a suitable 24 Hours of LeMons car. However, Hella Shitty Racing bought a rollover-victim 911 as an engine-donor for a street-car project, sold off enough parts to get the price down to zero, and then installed a German engine with a fanatically devoted following: a Volkswagen TDI diesel, pulled from a 300,000-mile Jetta that was then parted out and scrapped. The result was Ferkel the Nein-11, and it proved to be both slow and unreliable at the Sears Pointless race in the spring.
But then Ferkel, universally acknowledged to be the worst-sounding 911 in racing history, pulled off a Class C win at its second race, earning a promotion to the probably-out-of-reach-for-Ferkel Class B. Can six-hour stints make up for lack of horsepower? We’ll find out in 2015.
This was a fairly popular swap for Baja Bugs in the 1970s.
We’ve seen a half-dozen or so Opel GTs over the years in LeMons racing, and we’re always eager to welcome another one. Team Phoenix brought this little orange devil to the Sears Point season-ender and—after taking about 20 hours to fix the damage resulting from a shed wheel—won the created-just-for-the-occasion Longest Simple Fix trophy.
An Opel we had never seen in LeMons prior to the 2014 season was the Manta. Finally, the B.F.E. GP race saw the first example of the breed, thanks to Zitronen Racing. An easy Organizer’s Choice decision.
While this series has seen quite a few vans on race tracks, no team had seen fit to compete with a genuine air-cooled Volkswagen T2 Transporter. That is, until Despicable Racing found this ’73 VW Bus, decorated it up like a Minion, and brought it to the Gator-O-Rama race.
For reasons that must have made sense at the time, Despicable Racing chopped the roof off their van (which meant they had to do an all-night thrash to get the crash structure good enough to be allowed onto the track) and moved the driver to the center of the vehicle (we’re not sure why, but it sure looks cool). Was it slow? Yes indeed! Did it win? Yes, the team took home the much-prized Organizer’s Choice trophy.
One of the coolest-looking LeMons racers we’ve ever seen is this chopped and slammed Volkswagen Vanagon (actually a heavily modified Vanagon body perched atop a Toyota MR2), which made its debut at the Halloween Hooptiefest in New Hampshire.
Adding 800 pounds and a lot of extra aerodynamic drag doesn’t make your MR2 any faster, but it does get you an Organizer’s Choice trophy. Well done, Mod Squad Racing!
Just taking an overall win at a LeMons race isn’t going to get you past the velvet rope into this exclusive group of cars . . . unless the car is the first-ever Audi to accomplish the feat. After many dozens of Audis, competing in the first 116 LeMons races, failed to get an overall win for the four-ringed marque, the Copyright Laws 1990 Audi 90 managed to get the win at the B.F.E. GP. Yes, it took a bunch of dealership mechanics with a no-frills V-6/front-wheel-drive associate-professor-type Audi to do what all those A4 1.8Ts and insane V-8–swapped Quattro monsters could never do.
Also pulling off a completely unexpected win, Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws set aside their normal shambolic team-organization style for a race and miraculously took the overall win at the Cure For Gingervitis race. After years of trying for such a victory with all manner of overpowered V-8 cars (e.g., Lincoln Continental Mark VIII, Lexus SC400, Ford Crown Victoria), it was a fuel-efficient, Cadillac-fin-equipped Honda Civic that got the job done.
Movie cars! We had some stunning ones in 2014, starting with the ‘Shine Country Classic in Alabama, where the Knoxvegas Lowballers catapulted instantly from being known as a team with an ill-advised engine swap in their Geo Metro to achieving renown as one of the top Legends of LeMons. They did this by turning their Ford Duratec V-6–powered Metro into a spectacular replica of The Snowman’s 18-wheeler from >Smokey and the Bandit.
Not only that, but the team sorted out the problems in their overpowered “Kenworth” (after a half-dozen prior races of spending 95 percent of their time spinning wrenches) and became fast. They won the Index of Effluency at Barber, then went on to take a Class C win at the South Fall race.
Not content to stick with the Snowman Kenworth theme until everyone became bored of it, the Lowballers re-themed with this menacing >Maximum Overdrive rig on their “truck” later in the season, and rumor has it that they’re upping their game even further for the Alabama race next month.
The Bandit’s Pontiac Trans Am is a perennial LeMons theme, but prior to 2014 all the LeMons Bandits drove Screaming Chicken-enhanced Saturns and BMWs instead of proper second-gen GM F-bodies. Finally, the aptly named Team Smokey & The Bandits assembled this 100-footer replica of The Bandit’s car, using thousands of pop rivets and a smorgasbord of discarded Firebird and Camaro parts.
The best part was the hand-painted Screaming Chicken on the hood.
Another movie car we’d always wanted to see on a LeMons track is Cheech’s Chevy Impala from >Up In Smoke. Team Trouble Brewing didn’t find a ’64 Chevy coupe, but they did turn their Mazda RX-7 into an impressively accurate replica of Cheech’s famous lowrider for the Pacific Northworst race.
LeMons racers love the Mad Max movies, especially >The Road Warrior. We thought it was going to be hard to top the Falcon XB-ized BMW of Road Warrior Racing, but ERM Racing did a very good job of it at the Halloween Hooptiefest race. They took a 1980s Ford Mustang, swapped in a Nissan 280ZX drivetrain (because they had one), and then performed a building-the-Pyramids-type fabrication thrash to convert the car to Australia-correct right-hand-drive, using European Ford Granada parts.
The car didn’t look all that similar to Max’s Falcon XB, but the team’s costumes were top-notch and we loved the RHD conversion.
About the only team to get their movie cars into the Knoxvegas Lowballers’ league in 2014 was, of course, Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws. First, they built a down-to-the-tiniest-detail-accurate >Jurassic Park Ford Explorer for the There Goes the Neighborhood race in New Jersey.
The Jurassic Explorer was merely a warm-up for this: A damn-near-perfect Wagon Queen Family Truckster, as seen in >National Lampoon’s Vacation. Starting with a 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire, just as George Barris did when building the original Family Truckster for the film, the Gang of Outlaws got everything right… and then took this machine onto the Carolina Motorsports Park track for some wheel-to-wheel racing.
For this, Speedycop took home another Index of Effluency trophy.
Now, most race series would be content to have just those six excellent movie cars racing with them, but not the 24 Hours of LeMons! The Super Fly Pimpmobile has been sorely lacking from the road-racing world since 1972 (when the movie was released), and so Team Can You Dig It? turned this ’72 Pontiac Grand Prix into a knockout Super Fly Pimpmobile for the Where the Elite Meet to Cheat race in Michigan.
What could look better on a race track? Nothing! For this, the Organizer’s Choice trophy went to Can You Dig It?
The Pimpmobile takes us to the subject of old Detroit cars, which are always good to see in LeMons racing. We had plenty of such cars begin their racing careers during the 2014 season, and the first to appear was this first-year-of-production 1975 Chrysler Cordoba. Campaigned by Zero Budget Racing (the team that brought us the IOE-winning Diesel Chevette and Isuzu I-Mark Diesel), this Ricardo Montalban–approved Chrysler took the Organizer’s Choice award at the Alabama race.
It was a banner year for Malaise Era Mopars. At the Where the Elite Meet To Cheat race, Team Sheen brought this 1981 Dodge Mirada along with their ho-hum Acura Integra (which just barely beat the Mirada, 303 total laps to 300).
Full Corinthian Leather interior and all, the Mirada grabbed the Index of Effluency for Team Sheen.
Also representing the Malaise Era, the Inglorious Bastards Pinto Express team put together this replica of 1972 Ford Pinto campaigned by >Car and Driver in the 1974 IMSA Goodrich Radial Challenge. They even let Car and Driver veteran Don Sherman take it out for a stint on the race track.
Pintos are not uncommon in LeMons, but how about the sight of a Pinto Cruising Wagon battling its Pinto Runabout teammate at Sears Point? Raced by the same team that brought us the Model T GT (and the descendents of my first LeMons team), this pair of brown Pintos reminds us of the era of Ford’s nadir.
Another Malaise Era representative that looks right at home in a LeMons race is the Chevrolet Citation X-11. The team captain of the Lemontarians used his beloved X-11 as a honeymoon car when he got married 20 years ago, and so he picked up another one to race at the Halloween Hooptiefest in New Hampshire.
Really old American cars go with the 24 Hours of LeMons the way blown head gaskets go with Honda B engines, and we had some excellent ones make their debuts in 2014. This 1960 Chevy Corvair sedan came to the Pacific Northworst race, winning the Most Heroic Fix award for the Transcontinental Drifters (who took our bad advice about making a five-cylinder engine after throwing a connecting rod.
Racing a half-century-old American car gives a LeMons team a big head start on an Index of Effluency trophy, and that’s just how it sorted out for Panting Polar Bear Racing and their pink 1961 Rambler Classic at the Sears Pointless race.
Three-on-the-tree transmission, 196-cubic-inch six, 78.5 horsepower and all, the Panting Polar Bear Rambler beat 83 other cars—including many BMWs and Porsches—while winning the top prize of LeMons racing.
One of the cars—well, in this case, trucks—beaten by the Rambler at the Sears Pointless race was this 1964 International Harvester Scout. Directionally Challenged Racing assembled it out of a junkyard grab bag of donor vehicles, including Ford Mustang running gear and Ford Aerostar suspension.
The Scouts of Troop 302 (car number 302 wasn’t available) glommed the Organizer’s Choice prize for their road-racing Scout.
Those crazy Californians make Rust Belt racers envious, what with their endless supply of cheap, rust-free old Detroit cars. Team GMObiles brought this 1970 Chevrolet El Camino, squishy worn-out original suspension and all, to the season-ender at Sears Point.
The oldest newcomer to LeMons racing in 2014 was the Grumpy Cat Racing 1950 Dodge pickup. In fact, this truck is tied with the NSF Racing 1950 Mercedes-Benz 170S for the honor of being the oldest vehicle to race in LeMons (we aren’t counting the Model T GT here, because it has only a symbolic quantity of 1927 parts). The Grumpy Cat Dodge showed up to the Return of the LeMonites race about a week after it was awakened from a 40-year abandonment, but it ran pretty well and took the Index of Effluency at that race.
At the Colorado race, the old Dodge finally blew up its Chrysler flathead six engine, but the team came prepared with an engine donor: this Chrysler flathead-powered ex-TWA airport tug from the now-defunct Stapleton Airport. The swap worked (eventually), and the Grumpy Cat Dodge finished the race.
At the South Fall race we encountered an old American car that was, in fact, an old Canadian car: the NSF Racing 1960 Ford Frontenac. A Ford Falcon with maple-leaf logos all over the place and a Canada-only grille, this car was marketed with the puzzling slogan “The Eventful Frontenac”.
We gave NSF the Organizer’s Choice for this fine automobile. Wouldn’t you?
It’s possible to race a newer Detroit car in LeMons and still make the Greatest Cars of the Season list. One way to do this is to do what Silversleeves Racing did: Take your ’84 Corvette (complete with Cross-Fire Injection and Doug Nash 4+3 transmission) and turn it into a frighteningly correct Barbie Corvette, including a doll in the original retail packaging. Sure, Barbie’s mean pink machine got beaten by such cars as a Dodge Caravan and a Peugeot 505, but at least she still has Ken.
Another great modern-ish American car that first competed in the 2014 LeMons season was the Speedycop twin-engined ninth-generation Lincoln Continental. Now, we’ve seen twin-engined LeMons cars before, but nothing this insane. 9.2 liters, 16 cylinders, all-wheel-drive, 520 horsepower. Sadly, it didn’t run so well at the Real Hoopties of New Jersey, but we expect great things from this masterpiece of low-budget engineering in 2015.
Not every Japanese car in LeMons is a Honda Civic or Nissan Z-car, though sometimes it seems that way. Why choose one of those boring cars when you could race just about the only V-6/five-speed early-1990s Toyota Camry left in the country? KamiKamry Racing won the Most Heroic Fix trophy in Colorado for the extreme measures they took to keep this car running.
Remember the Subaru RX? Nobody does, of course, and that makes it an ideal 24 Hours of LeMons car. 8-Bit Racing brought their as-’80s-as-pastel-leg-warmers RX to the Utah race.
As tends to happen to Subarus in this series, the 8-Bit Racing RX nuked its engine early in the weekend. The team earned the Judges’ Choice award for grabbing a not-quite-a-bolt-in junkyard engine and getting the car fixed in time to catch the checkered flag.
It was a measure of how great the cars were at this race that the Mormon Meteor didn’t even win a trophy. At most LeMons races, this would have been an easy Organizer’s Choice winner.
With all the hundreds of Civics, CRXs, and Integras that race in our series, it took until 2014 for a team to bring a first-generation example to a race. The Resistance raced this beautiful ’75 at the North Dallas Hooptie, winning the Heroic Fix award for a never-say-die series of repairs. The Resistance then went on to win the Index of Effluency at the Gator-O-Rama.
One of our favorite cars of 2014 actually made its first LeMons appearance way back in 2010; the Bust-a-Nut Racing Mazda MX-6 has been completely re-themed many times over the years, appearing as the demonic “Sleigher” Santa sleigh, a giant blimp, and Mr. T’s head. For the Michigan fall race, Bust-A-Nut Racing turned their Mazda into a very threatening Asian carp.
We’ve saved the weirdest-looking race car for last: Spank’s Caterpillar 416F Backhoe Loader, winner of the Organizer’s Choice at the Vodden the Hell Are We Doing race. Underneath all that backhoe hardware is Spank’s much-pasted-together Austin Mini Moke, and the sight of the thing made everyone do double-takes all weekend.
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