I don’t read MotorAuthority, not considering them to be much of an authority on motorized items of any kind, but when notorious rockstar Blake Z. Rong and “CarGuyDad” Kamil Kaluski both gave me the heads-up on a Singaporean warehouse trying to sell 150 brand new RHD Neons for $1,350 each, I had to take a look.
These are brand-new, Chrysler-badged, right-hand-drive Neons. Most export-spec Neons were fully-equipped, and indeed all the ones in these photos appear to have body-color bumpers. On the other hand, you can plainly see a steel wheel in the photo, and I’ve read that some export Neons had a 1.8L engine in place of the US-market two-liters.
Nearly everybody who looks at the photo, including the author of the MotorAuthority piece, has made a crack about a “spec series”. The original Neon Challenge was a spectacularly successful spec series, the NASA Spec Neon class had a small but devoted following, and the Neon has won plenty of victories in Showroom Stock, Improved Touring, and D Street Prepared trim. Could these 150 Neons be the basis of a low-budget American racing series?
Hard to believe those are all racing Neons, huh? Whatever its faults as a street car, the Neon made for a great racer. It’s simple, light, rigid enough, not all that difficult to service, and a joy to drive. The DOHC head let the revs reach a range that the fragile pistons and rods weren’t really ready for, but other than that the Neon was born to compete.
Let’s assume the mystery Neon seller would let us have the cars in lots of fewer than the original 150 — maybe twenty or thirty at a time. What would it cost to race a $1,350 brand-new Neon? To begin with, it would have to be shipped to the United States and clear Customs as a race car. Figure $750 a piece for that, so now we are at $2,100 each. The interiors and accessories would have to be removed — twenty hours of mildly skilled labor, for a total of perhaps $1,000 each — and a roll cage would have to go in — about $1,600 for a shipped and installed Autopower cage. Now we are at $4.700 each. At a minimum, each car would need four new spec tires at a cost of perhaps $600. Some rubber components would be leaking or missing, so figure $500 for that. You’ll need a racing seat at $500 and a small suite of tow hooks, kill switches, and the like, for another $500.
Just like that, our $1,350 Neon has become a $6,800 race car, and we still don’t have a fuel cell, a racing paintjob, or any of the extras commonly associated with a race car. That, by the way, is why LeMons racers aren’t really even close to $500 propositions. Still, when you compare it to the $80,000 Continental Challenge racers that start life as $22,000 Mazdas or Hondas, it’s a hell of a bargain.
If I were financing the enterprise, I would offer prepared Neon racers for $9,999 each with a small package of spares, and clear maybe two grand per car. That’s not an inspiring profit margin by the standards of Goldman Sachs or General Motors, but it would put cars on the track. For the people who don’t have ten grand in cash plus a tow vehicle and a full crew, I would offer prepared vehicles for perhaps $1500 a weekend, with the renter assuming all liability for damage and excess wear.
Could such a series succeed? Probably not. The cars would be annoyingly slow in any modern NASA or SCCA race; the difference between a stockish Neon and an ITA-prepped example is about ten seconds a lap at most tracks. Although these would be brand-new engines and rust-free, crash-free, twist-free shells, many people would still probably rather take their chances making a Spec Miata from a $3000 used car. The economy sucks right now and people aren’t climbing over each other to race amateur series anyway. It would take a very optimistic, very wealthy, very long-term-approach type of fellow to put his money behind such a thing.
There is a way to make it work, however, and it’s so simple I’m surprised nobody’s thought of it yet. Jay Lamm could incorporate Spec Singaporean Neon into LeMons. Existing LeMons teams might really enjoy the chance to move to the aforementioned rust-free, twist-free shells. There could be a separate trophy, and LeMons would be helped, not harmed, by the specter of two dozen brightly-colored Neons running around the track at a middling pace. A few teams might even get into the rent-a-ride business. It could work.
What do you say, Mr. Lamm? Are you ready for a new Neon Challenge? If you are, and you decide to buy thirty of them, you only need to worry about selling twenty-nine of them.