By on March 25, 2013

Sajeev writes:

One of the more (in)famous vehicles in junk car racing recently visited the big boneyard in the sky. It’s particularly sad for me, as this vehicle helped me back into the driver’s seat when I needed all the help I could get. The tenacious handling, phenomenal power complete with a BULLITT-worthy soundtrack in a brown station wagon; it was all positively insane. A sad tale indeed, but worth sharing from start to finish. So here’s Mr. Brian Pollock, owner of this brutally competitive Ford Fairmont Wagon, to tell the tale.

Brian writes:

It started by accident: I was killing time browsing a local Mustang forum and saw a post titled “The 24 hours of LeMons is coming to Texas”. I confirmed the information and called my friend Dave, who bluntly told me, “I won’t let you not do this.” Next call was to another friend, Marty, because he’d been autocrossing before and we needed a guy who had some idea how to make a car turn. We applied for the race and started talking about potential cars. We settled on the world’s rattiest fox Mustang. The car was terrible in every way, but it finished the race in a remarkable 35th place and we were hooked.

By the end of the second race we had figured out how to make the car stop and turn and were talking about building a second car instead of a V8 swap in the Mustang. The hunt was on for a cheap, unusual Fox body. I really had my heart set on either a fox LTD, a Fairmont sedan, or the holy grail of oddball foxes, the 1980-82 fox-box Thunderbird. I ignored the guy who contacted me with the wagon while I waited for something else, but time, the lack of a better (worse?) option and the wagon’s steadily lowering price convinced me otherwise. One trip to Waco and $150 made it mine.

YouTube Preview Image

(Start the video at 2:15 for maximum effect.)

Now we needed parts, lots of them. How do you build a fast LeMons car on anything resembling a $500 budget? You do research, lots of it. You figure out what parts from what depreciated wrecks will make your depreciated wreck better. You figure out who the nearest car crusher is and you follow the fluctuating price of scrap steel. You live on Craigslist. You buy cars from sketchy tweekers so you can get the right master cylinder. Then you list that car on Craigslist so his buddies can buy a fender, or window, or something, so when it makes its final trip across the scales you get back in the black. You do that a lot. I stopped counting, but my running guess is we’ve been through somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 parts cars to build three LeMons cars.

Sometimes you’ll be forced to buy used car parts instead of used parts cars. Try to avoid this. If you can’t, buy in bulk. I needed a set of pistons and found what I was looking for in a damaged short block. I bought the whole short block, two aluminum intakes, a pair of wheels, a nitrous system, and a Mustang. After selling what I didn’t need, I got what I wanted for free and turned a profit.

Now you have to figure out how to assemble these bits into a car. Learn to weld. You’ll need piles of metallic detritus. Our seat brackets are made from frame sections from a wrecked trailer. Rear spring locators are old header collectors. The sheet metal covering the fuel cell is a ’69 Camaro hood. The access door has been a tool box, a fruitcake pan, and a metal box from a nut and bolt assortment. Another team covers their cell with the top of an old dryer. License plates are invaluable, we use them for everything, including the switch panel.

Your labor is free. Use it: we put around four-hundred man hours a year maintaining the car when we’re not racing.

We debuted the Fairmont wagon in October of 2009. We blew up the motor in practice Friday. We worked all night assembling another and getting it in the car. It blew up mid-day. By Sunday morning we had a borrowed car repaired and through tech, but I was too tired to drive. We won the LeMons “I Got Screwed” award.

For what seemed like forever, the Fairmont spent more time with the engine out than it did on track. It took until November of the following year to finish a race. When it did, our 22nd place finish came with the top prize in LeMons, “The Index of Effluency” and a check for $1501.

2011 Racing Season: it started with a series of unpredictable oil pressure issues. In three races we had one oil pump seize, one break, and we mysteriously lost oil pressure on the track but got it back while putting the car on the trailer. By June we had the Fairmont in pretty good shape but our “Arrive and Drive” drivers were lacking. By the end of the year we had our act somewhat together. We finished the year with a class “B” win and 11th overall.

2012 Racing Season: the year we almost made it. At Texas World Speedway (TWS) in February we led for the first four hours and had two laps on the field when a rear shock broke. One driver spun, and a control arm bolt broke. We finished 4th and won class B again this time with a $500 check. In March, we were in 2nd place in Chumpcar on the first day (Saturday) when we burned through the brakes: we finished 7th overall. We were leading day two’s (Sunday) race when another weird oil pressure issue popped up. We parked the Fairmont and found a cracked pick up screen swinging in the pan.

May brought LeMons to Eagle’s Canyon Raceway (ECR). We did an emergency re-ring job instead of practice, and had driver issues. I never looked at the final results. September in Houston had rain. I should mention that a heavy, stiffly sprung station wagon is undriveable in the rain. In the wet we were fighting to stay in the low 20s, when it dried up we dragged up to 8th place. Chumpcar came back to TWS in December. We just weren’t competitive there with that series: Saturday 12th place, Sunday DNF with a broken T-5 transmission.

Which brings us to the end of the line: Lap 2 of the 24 Hours of LeMons season ender at ECR. After a minor in-and-out penalty for going 2 wheels off, we were in 3rd place and about to lap the leader. We came up on him fast and spooked the driver into missing his turn in point.

YouTube Preview Image

He went wide and looked like he was giving up the inside line. He lost control and came across the track in to the Fairmont’s left rear tire. The crash did extensive damage to the rear end and rear suspension mounts. We limped the car around the track until mid-day Sunday when it finally became undriveable.

In the end it wasn’t the crash that took out the wagon. The 1978 Fairmont was Ford’s clean sheet design during a fuel crisis, and the nationwide 55 mph speed limit. I doubt the fox chassis was intended to peg its 85 mph speedometer, certainly not to come down the steep banking at Texas World Speedway at a stomping 135 miles per hour.

Three years of racing just wore out the car. Everything from the cage forward bent, shifted, and sagged. The car droops when it goes on the lift and collapses when it comes down. It’s just not safe to drive anymore. Marty summed it up best while disassembling it:

“I’ve had more fun with this car than anything else in my life.”

We built the car, not as a joke, per se, but to be preposterous. We knew we could make it fast, and we knew we didn’t want another Mustang. There were 11 Mustangs in our Mustang’s last race. From the beginning we set out to have a winning car, but mechanical issues held us back for a long time. We prided ourselves on being able to out run the sports cars.

Loaded with junk, the last remnants of the Fairmont wagon went over the scales for $200, $50 more than I paid for it.

One of my favorite moments was coming up on a pack of three 944s and two Miatas just before a multi-turn complex at ECR. It took me two corners to pass 4 of the cars and one more to get the 5th. I don’t consider myself to be anything more than a competent driver, so I loved being able to get off line and pass cars that have some business being on a race track.

People generally loved the car…but some hated it.

We were even accused of cheating! Ratted out for our roller rockers when the motor was disassembled on the trailer, in a race where we didn’t complete more than 25 laps, of all things! We had the fox body’s historical successor, the Taurus SHO teams vote us for “The People’s Curse,” which Jay Lamm quickly, logically ignored.

I guess people couldn’t understand how a station wagon could out handle a Porsche.

They didn’t figure the hundreds of hours we put into the car in a year and our creative ways of solving problems, they assumed we were throwing money at it.

We did get a lot of positive comments on the car. At every race we would meet new people who wanted to introduce themselves and talk about the car.  (including myself – SM) I heard a number of people laugh as it rolled out on the track, only to be amazed once they saw it run. We got word from strangers all over the country who loved the car and wanted to drive it someday.

The comments from friends who heard of its demise meant a lot to me.

Todd Nelson: This is a sad day indeed…for you. For the rest of us, we will no longer have to live with the image of being overtaken – often rapidly – by an old, brown, beat-up relic from yesteryear…with tremendous horsepower. I’ll pour one out with ya at the next race.

Douglas Narby: I remember the first time I saw the wagon (from our 240SX) I said on the radio “I am going to pass this wagon”. A more experienced teammate came back with something along the lines of “good luck with that”. He was right. Great job while it lasted, y’all!

Mark Da Silva: The wagon was amazing! You guys know the huge amount of time that damn boat made our BMW E30 work overtime just to keep up! I had the privilege to drive it at ECR too, so it’s a shame to put the car into retirement!

 

 Good bye, Fairmont Wagon.  We’ll miss you. – SM

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38 Comments on “Super Piston Slap: The Life and Death of a Proper LeMons Car...”


  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    [sniff] Because wagons are cool.

    During the brief period between my obtaining a driver’s license and my parents selling their Mercury Zephyr wagon, I was privileged to drive it on the occasional cruise nights and to hop from party to party in the upcountry area. One friend, who hailed from a “Porsches Only” family, was so smitten by its ability to swallow passengers and not slow down, he eventually bought a second hand Fox wagon for his own use, much to his parents’ mortification.

    Thank you for reinforcing my simple “5 doors or nothing” rule when it comes to buying my rides.

  • avatar

    Proper doesn’t even begin to describe the awesomeness that was the mighty Fairmont wagon. I am proud our Spec Pinata wears a battle scar from her earned at ECR in 2011.

    Nothing was quite as awesome as that car full out high on the main straight at Lemons TWS in 2012. Anyone who didn’t love that sight and sound hates ‘Merica.

    I am also relatively certain I saw the wagon in the background of a 1st season episode of “Fast N Loud.”

    To say nothing of her makers; consummate racers, scholars and gentlemen.

    Godspeed you beautiful brown rocket.

    • 0 avatar

      This has been one of the staple cars in our team’s short tenure in the LeMons South Central region.

      Sad (and happy!) to see it go. It was one of our first, “how the hell is that legal” cars, but once we got to know the team and the car it was only appreciation.

      The Fairmont Wagon will be missed. Can’t wait to see what you guys bring out next.

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    Nine different forms of awesome!
    I like to thin that there’s a special place in Heaven (and probably Hell) for brown Malaise era Fords like the ’77 Ford Granada coupe from my childhood and cars like this.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    I wish they could organize something like that here in OZ. I routinely buy Old mercedes for under $500 . The best buy lately being an ex UK 500SEc with a scruffy interior for $380 .(300HP 10-1 engine) A lowered SEc would make a great Lemons car and removing the interior will make horsepower once those powered seats and windows and massive air con set up are dumped/ebayed .mmmmm .yes I think I would love to do that.

  • avatar

    I drove a Ford Fairmont for driver’s ed back in high school. I never thought I would read anything that would make me proud of that fact.

    I shed a little tear for this grand old wagon as I read this story. This is another example of the “soul” of a vehicle, proving to me yet again that some cars are more than just a sum of their parts.

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    Great story! The part about blowing off 944′s and Miatas was very good, but the best was “good luck with that”. Passing a beat-up beater wagon in a 240SX should be easy, hehehe.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    400 hours? You guys must have either been alchemists or masochists or both to build a Fairmont wagon that would out-corner a 944. You must have first discarded all institutional knowledge (header collector mounting points?) regarding set-up and proceeded from there. I’m deeply envious of a group of gearheads who manage to blow the doors off of any (comparatively) deep-pocketed rival using nothing but bait and switch with cranksters and the Craigslist auto parts section. Did the Stonecutters bribe the tech inspectors?

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    This wagon held a special place in my heart no just because I run a wacky racer myself in the series, but because we had one of these when I was a kid. It was actually the Zephyr version (they did put the Zephyr front end on later), and it was the same exact color/wood scheme. I have many fond memories of riding in that wagon. I remember the butterscotch tweed interior, and the central speaker “grill” in the dashboard that disintegrated and stuck my finger through, just because. On a long trip, my sis and I would lay down in the cargo area and watch the stars go by.

    Our other car at the time was a red Chevy Sprint, also fondly remembered. There was a picture of the wagon right next to the Sprint on the bank at TWS. It’s quite a powerful image for me.

    Lemons is the best possible death a car can ever hope for.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Great story , _THANK_YOU_ ! .

    In the main , the folks who are always the first to yell ‘ CHEATER ! ‘ are also always cheaters them selves ~ .

    Similarly , those who automatically hate your wagon or anything else that’s different , have masculinity or self worth issues .

    You guys are Racers of the first degree ~ you went out and did it , hats are off to you .

    As Tad once told me : ‘ old guys driving slow cars way too fast ! ‘ .

    Keep up the good works ! .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Crabspirits

      I think the guys that yell “cheater” are just people who can’t think outside the box. That, or they just aren’t experienced, patient, or resourceful enough to make the budget work. In the end, none of this speed stuff matters anyway. You build a fast car, and it means you’re just going to have to make one extra fuel stop.

      How to “cheat” at Lemons, in order of importance:
      1.A “Swiss Army Knife” of a team/pit area
      2.Experience
      3.The best tires you can put on
      4.The most fuel you can put in
      5.The biggest brakes you can put on

  • avatar
    btp76

    Yeah, Mental, your eagle eyes didn’t deceive you. While filming they spent more time talking about the wagon than the Trans Am they “bought”, but it all ended up on the cutting room floor. For those interested, there are several more pictures and videos on our Property Devaluation Racing facebook page.

    • 0 avatar

      I KNEW IT!!!

      I have the 1st season downloaded over here and I saw it in the background. I was watching it at work and stopped to to bore everyone with stories of racing with it as I pointed to a blurry brown fender. My co-workers rolled their eyes…

      but I knew it man, I knew it.

  • avatar

    This is a GREAT story! However, it suffered because those of us who havent’ spent 400 hours taking cars apart and putting them back together have no idea what certain parts are, and so can’t appreciate those sections of the piece.

    >>>Our seat brackets are made from frame sections from a wrecked trailer. Rear spring locators are old header collectors. The sheet metal covering the fuel cell is a ’69 Camaro hood. The access door has been a tool box, a fruitcake pan, and a metal box from a nut and bolt assortment. Another team covers their cell with the top of an old dryer. License plates are invaluable, we use them for everything, including the switch panel.

    What is a fuel cell in this context??? I’m sure this car wasn’t running on hydrogen. What’s the switch panel? What is a spring locator???! Can’t you just eyeball and see where the spring is? Why do you need a locator?

    What’s a muffler bearing? No! Just kidding on that last one!

    A few words to explain all these obscure and esoteric parts would have made this story even more fun.

    • 0 avatar
      psychoboy

      David, most of the words in the 24 Hours of LeMons rulebook are dedicated to safety, as are most of the modifications seen in the cars that race the series.

      We are required to use one piece racing style seats, which typically mount very differently than the 60/40 split bench this car likely came with. Instead of buying expensive custom seat brackets to bolt the seat in, most teams end up fabricating brackets out of random scrap steel. In their case, PD used bits of bent trailer.

      I’m fairly sure the fairmont is running coil springs in the back, and you usually need something that will keep the springs from wanting to escape (especially when they are being used in an application for which they are not intended). Header collectors are round and made of steel, so they fit the inside of the springs nicely and can be welded to whatever is close by.

      Many racers don’t trust the factory gas tank for their fuel needs, either due to size or age. LeMons rules encourage the use of a racing style fuel cell, typically a big strong steel box, sometimes with a rubber bladder inside. LeMons rules also demand a fire/splash wall between the fuel and the humans in the event of a catastrophic incident. Since most fuel cells don’t fit where the original gas tanks did, they demand a metal cover of some sort, in this case, a Camaro hood. Of course, once you cover the cell, you have to find a way to access the fill port, so you need a lid or a cover of some sort; enter the hinged pie plate, cookie sheet, top-load dryer, etc.

      License plates are still made of steel in some parts of the country, and they are easily cut, bent, and welded to cover holes, form flat dashboard-like areas to mount switches and gauges, and add a pop of color to an otherwise aesthetically displeasing palette of rust, bondo, and primer.

      Hope this helps!
      For more help, track down the 24 Hours of LeMons when they come to a racetrack near you. I can’t say you’ll understand more after you’ve seen this series live and in person….but you’ll likely question less (except for your sanity…you’ll probably question that more).

      justin

  • avatar
    noxioux

    Oh, man. You just increased my Lemons jones by a factor of 1,000. What a great read.

  • avatar
    doktorno

    Have raced against, and been passed by, this glorious sounding wagon I am sorry to see its demise. Hopefully the team will come up with another interesting project.

    Team Benzgay.

  • avatar
    Dave Mulvey

    I’ve spent the last hour trying to figure out how to summarize in writing how I felt about this car. I can’t quite put it into words.

    Thank You to Marty and Brian for allowing me to be a part of the ride. I don’t remember how many races I drove the wagon, maybe 6 or 7, and even when driving didn’t fit my schedule or wallet, I wanted to be there as a part of the team, hold a stopwatch, radio, whatever. When I couldn’t be at the track, I was constantly watching the race monitor app on my phone.

    Some Memories…

    like making an unnecessary hero pass to the right at MSR between turns three and four, subsequently finding out why they call it The Launch, and replacing the broken shock with the identical one from my ’00 Mustang which I had driven 8 hours to get to the track. Or the time the fuel delivery issue put me dead on the end of the front straight of Turn 1 at TWS at dusk, as cars were blasting past me at 110+mph while I waited for a tow truck. The scariest drive of my life in deep fog at 4am after my alarm didn’t go off, to get to TWS before the green flag with the rear shocks I promised the team. That epic battle with the silver ford probe for the first Class B win. More as I think of them.

  • avatar
    LTDScott

    As a LeMons racer and a Fox Body aficionado, the news of this car’s demise greatly saddens me. It was one of my favorite cars in the series.

    *pours 10W40 out for lost homie*

  • avatar
    Scout_Number_4

    Car enthusiast terms I’ve learned at TTAC:

    Panther
    slushbox
    LeMons Racing
    Malaise Era
    hooptie (see also, hoonage)

    Thanks to this tremendously enjoyable article, I can now add ‘Fox body’ to the list.

    You TTAC guys should really develop a glossary for the FAQ section.

    • 0 avatar
      chas404

      hooning

    • 0 avatar
      Scout_Number_4

      Remembered a couple more at the office today:

      Ricer
      A-pillar, B-pillar, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      wumpus

      Malaise era isn’t particularly car specific, but I can’t think off hand of anything else that was so specifically screwed up as cars (and the disaster in cars had more to do with our bizarre relations (from 1950 to 2013 and beyond) to Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries than anything else).

      The term comes from a singular case of a US politician daring to tell the truth to the US public. He of course lost his next election.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    +1 for racing wagons!

    I can relate, as a friend and I raced a 1975 Pontiac station wagon at our local fairgrounds; I was the mechanic and my friend (who had driven the same car as a teen) was the driver. We won our heat race, and then miraculously won the winners’ race when the driver of the crazy-fast ’69 Cougar (who just couldn’t keep his foot out of it, on a dirt track) went wide in the final turn and my friend Jim snuck inside him to take the flag.

    We had a stock exhaust and muffler too! It was just too funny to see this pea-green station wagon silently slip by the Cougar with its roaring exhaust and the two rooster-tails of dirt spraying into the stands.

    We put a whopping $60 into the car (including $30 for a new tow strap to get it to the racetrack), and came home with $120.

    I highly encourage doing likewise!

  • avatar
    autojim

    I shall miss the Fairmont Wagon. That car never, EVER failed to make me smile when I saw it, even when it was in the paddock with the engine compartment empty and the team swapping pieces parts between the Green engine and the Orange engine to get back on track. And on track, it went like no Fairmont wagon had any rights to go.

    My only regret is I never got a chance to drive it.

    - Jim Crider, occasional MSRH quasi-official and voice of Race Control.

  • avatar
    AFX

    YEAH BABY !

    http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2372/2428344943_23acea1bcb_z.jpg

  • avatar
    Dave Mulvey

    Jim Crider, If you were the voice of race control at MSRH in the Fall of 2009, I want you to know you are partly responsible for my participating in Lemons.

    I left west Texas at 12:30am to observe a race at MSRH before deciding to participate, not knowing a soul that would be there. I brought a uniden scanner with me, not knowing whether or not I’d be able to hear anything. After arriving and watching the green flag, I turned on the scanner and quickly found race control. Almost immediately I heard an excited corner worker and control having the following conversation:

    “Control Control, this is turn X.”
    “Go ahead turn X”
    “Control we have a piece of trash on the track.”
    “Turn X, that’s incorrect, there are 109 pieces of trash on the track.”

    • 0 avatar
      number9ine

      So ready to be out there myself. Thanks for sharing this!

    • 0 avatar

      That sounds like “our” Jim.

    • 0 avatar
      autojim

      Dave, Fall 2009 wasn’t me, that was Dan, the LeMons staff race control guy, but that’s consistent with how it usually works in LeMons race control. :) IIRC, I was the Black Flag traffic cop in the pits for that race and was on a radio, because I do remember that exchange. :)

      I’m also the guy who impounded two cars in the pits during the lunch break on the test day on Friday that year: 1 full of Spec Miata driver who kept blowing flags and making the same excuses — he later got his team booted from the event after pissing off the Chief Perp — and 1 STP-painted Grand Prix who went out of the pits ON THE CHECKERED FLAG LAP after acknowledging the checker waved at him and did a lap. I may have also made the skunk LeCar team push its out-of-gas car back to their paddock space after they blew the checker at the end of Friday and ran out on their extra lap. :)

      I had a little problem at the start of last September’s MSRH race in that it was the weekend after I’d gotten home from the SCCA Runoffs at Road America, which has a very different operating standard than LeMons, and my poor brain was still in Runoffs mode. I got off to a rough start in Control, and had to take a little break to hang out in Supreme Court land and rebooted (MSRH general manager James — there are a LOT of Jameses/Jims at MSRH — ran the show while I was out). Was good after that, though Sunday found me having to get serious on 3 occasions owing to fairly major incidents.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    God damn it, now I want to build out a Fairmont Wagon. You guys might have opened up a Pandora’s box

  • avatar
    Digdug

    Love the wagon!

    I’ve had the privilege of not only seeing the wagon race in anger, but be a part of its extended crew. (I helped refuel it while I wasn’t driving another car). Brian and Marty are not only the best guys you’ll meet (Brian even introduced me to TTAC), they are also amazing engineers. I can’t imagine how fast they will be if they start with an actual sports car!

    The best part about the wagon though was the sound of the mighty V8′s battle cry bellowing over the high-pitched blender noises of the other cars. Simply awesome.

  • avatar

    Somehow our Fairmont Futura is always the boxiest thing on the track, even in a field full of Volvos. The internet is wrong about Fox bodies, there is nothing wrong with them that a little tweaking and moderation in your lowering won’t fix. We were pretty close to the top 20 when we blew our motor at Chuckwalla. This time (Sears Pointless) we blew our transmission. But next time, that’s going to be THE time.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Resourceful achievers. Great story.

    I just would love to know more detail about the car itself a which “grassroots” mods were made to it to go fast.

  • avatar
    markholli

    Thanks for the story Brian. It gave me a much greater appreciation for every piece of shit I see in Murilee’s LeMons galleries. It’s incredible how time and work goes into making a contender.


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