The weekend of October 24-25 was the third running of the 24 Hours of LeMons at Motorsport Ranch in Houston, TX. TTAC was there for the insanity. And it was the fourth time our LeMons race car, a 1972 Datsun 240Z hit the track. I was an honorary “penalty” judge this time ’round (props to Autoblog’s Jonny Lieberman and LeMon’s Founder Jay Lamm for that), so I did the best I could for my teammates when they got black flagged. But I’m no crooked judge, Jonny said I was too nice to other teams, too. No matter, it wasn’t enough for us to come close to victory. Then again, the Datsun Z is the butt of many a LeMon’s joke. What’s up with that?
How could a little sports car with a fully independent suspension and a healthy six-pot motor perform so poorly? More to the point, perhaps you remember some of the “cheating” we did to our LeMon’s ringer: a milled down stock flywheel, 280ZX long block and disc brake upgrades and a smokin’ deal on a coil-over suspension at a Z-club silent auction. Everyone expected Z-cars to perform well in these races, but no matter who runs the Fairlady from the Land of The Rising Sun, it all ends in Epic Fail. And so it was this time: our car performed well the first day of racing, with the power to pull hard on damn near everyone in the straights too. But the competition is even better than last year, and the Z’s temperature gauge was none to happy about it. By Day Two, the head gasket said sayonara. So we paused, re-thought our action plans and finally packed it up to plan for next February’s race.
While I know that Z-cars are doomed to mediocrity because E30 BMW’s, Toyota Corolla FX hatchbacks (yes, really) and Foxbody Mustangs have taken the checkered flag, Jay Lamm’s own words about the Z-car tells the sad truth: Datsuns are out of date and hopelessly uncompetitive against modern vehicles. That’s sounds like a challenge to me, and TTAC’s crew chief Troy Hogan knows it. Rest assured, his (insane?) dedication to the Datsun brand means that one day a Z-car will come up a winner.
Eventually. But these events are fun for racers, brand loyal fanatics, and anyone who loved these cars (mostly 1980s and 1990s iron) when they were new. And enjoy seeing them get a new lease on life, or a stay of execution. And much like TTAC, the 24 Hours of LeMons is all about the product, stupid. Much like C/D, the BMW 3-series comes up a winner far too often. But that’s not the point.
If you haven’t seen a 24 Hours of LeMons race, go to one of next year’s events. The series is growing every year, mostly because of word of mouth and an unbelievably low cost of entry, relative to SCCA and NASA sanctioned motor sport events. Even if you don’t race, you’ll be hooked after one lap of $500 heaps making an absolute mess (mockery?) of your local road course.