When shopping for a car to thrash all weekend long on a hairy road course, most of us don’t consider the Nissan Prairie. Why not? The Team Sputnik ’86 Stanza Wagon proved at last month’s Southern Discomfort 24 Hours of LeMons that you don’t need an RX-7 or E30 to do well in low-buck endurance racing.
All the members of the team hail from the ex-USSR— hence the team name— and they are very proud of their race machine’s pass-through double-sliding doors. And we here at TTAC think the Stanza Wagon is actually a pretty cool vehicle.
And who wouldn’t be? Of course, the roll cage reduces its grocery-hauling abilities to some extent, but this Prairie can still haul a bigger Costco load than 99% of all road-race cars!
To create an atmosphere of mutual understanding, Team Sputnik gave this nice diecast Prairie as a judicial bribe during the BS Inspection.
The Sputnik Stanza Wagon was nothing more than a dead-stock 200,000-mile beater at the end of its useful life… with a roll cage. One of the front struts blew out before the car finished even one lap, the brakes acted up, and various nickel-and-dime breakdowns made for frequent pit stops.
Team Sputnik never gave up on their steed, however; they found a way to drive with the bad strut (no parts store within 500 miles had a Prairie strut available), and they kept grinding out laps. They weren’t the slowest thing on the track— quite— but their 1:08 best lap was about 7 seconds off the pace of the quickest cars.
Before they figured out that their wagon needed to be driven very cautiously with its bum suspension, Team Sputnik made a few appearances in the Penalty Box for spinouts and off-track excursions. Here we see them receiving the Bubb Rubb “Whistles Go Whoo-WHOO!” Penalty.
The battle for the Index of Effluency came down to three cars: the Sputnik Stanza Wagon, the NSF Racing 1962 Plymouth Fury, and the Speedycop And The Gang 1967 Parnelli Jones Ford Galaxie. The Stanza ran the most laps of the three (441 against the Fury’s 218 and the Galaxie’s 243), but the IOE balances the car’s accomplishment against its inherent terribleness; a stunningly bad car need not complete as many laps as a very bad car in order to grab the IOE. In the end, LeMons Chief Perp Jay Lamm decided that the Fury— which was essentially a vaguely car-shaped rust pile with barely functioning engine, transmission, and brakes— running 218 laps was nothing short of miraculous (the Galaxie was actually about 90% as bad under its pretty paint, but it didn’t run much at all during the first day’s race session). It was a tough decision, however, and Team Sputnik almost took the race’s top prize home with them. Another 20 or so laps for the Stanza Wagon probably would have done it.
But don’t count Team Sputnik out of the IOE race just yet! They’re going to work out some of the car’s bugs and return for another shot at some major trophy hardware.