The Truth About Cars » 24 Hours of LeMons Detroit The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 11 Apr 2014 16:12:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » 24 Hours of LeMons Detroit Blimp or Rented Rustwagon? The Toughest Organizer’s Choice Decision in LeMons History Thu, 04 Aug 2011 11:00:55 +0000
The Organizer’s Choice, which goes to the team that most epitomizes what LeMons racing is all about, is one of the trophies that many teams chase for years. You can take the Org Choice home by racing a monstrous piece of rolling sculpture, dressing the team up in ridiculous costumes and having them stay in their bewildering roles all weekend, slogging through an all-weekend death march to keep a never-belonged-on-a-race-track car in semi-trackworthy condition, or some combination of all of the above. The LeMons HQ staff chooses the Org Choice recipient via a highly scientific procedure involving a lot of shouting and hand-waving during the panic-stricken, million-things-to-get-done 20 minutes before we drop the checkered flag on Sunday; sometimes the decision is an easy no-doubter, but other times we’re ready to tear out our spleens using rusty bottle openers, so agonizing is the choice. The Organizer’s Choice decision at the Detroit Irony 24 Hours of LeMons, a few weeks back, was definitely of the latter type.

Here we see Ununquadium Legend of LeMons honoree Christ Overzet grabbing a well-deserved Organizer’s Choice trophy for his stretch limo entry at Buttonwillow ’10; clearly, this is a serious prize! There are two real Org Choice powerhouses in LeMons racing: The Cannonball Bandits in California and (The Team Currently Known As) Bust-A-Nut Racing in Michigan. Each team had three Org Choice trophies on the mantel, going into the Detroit Irony race; the Cannonball Bandits (a couple of members of which have day jobs making parade floats) achieved Legend of LeMons status with their totally credible Wienermobile, Tiger Woods And His Girlfriends entry, and their Canadian Illegals entry. Team Bust-a-Nut knew they’d need to step it up for Detroit Irony ’11 if they wanted to be the first team to nail down four Organizer’s Choice trophies, and they weren’t messing around this time.

Bust-a-Nut scored their first Organizer’s Choice trophy way back in 2007, at the third-ever LeMons race, which was a crash-and-bash-fest held at Flat Rock Speedway (trivia question: which TTAC writer was a driver on the team that took the overall win? Hint: his first name starts with a J). Back then, the award was called the People’s Choice, and the team was known as It’s The Libyans. They converted their Toyota Celica into a totally plausible Back To The Future-ized DeLorean DMC-12 and pretty much owned the award from the moment they showed up at the track.

For the following year’s “Detroit” race, this time held at Toledo Motor Speedway, Team Bust-A-Nut changed their name to Team First Blood, and they ditched the Toyota in favor of a six-wheeled, Rambo-ized GMC Sonoma.

The First Blood GMC was a horribly slow, parts-dropping pig on the race track, and the team scored a LeMons first by winning both the People’s Curse and the People’s Choice at the same event. LeMons Chief Perp Lamm is still shocked that nobody got mangled during the “mob violence” Curse destruction method that he thought was such a good idea at the time.

Fast-forward to the 2010 Bull Oil Grand Prix. Bust-A-Nut, now calling themselves Team Sleigher, obtain a 1996 Mazda MX-6 and convert it to Santa’s Evil Sleigh.

It is not possible to deny the Organizer’s Choice trophy to a car that looks like this, especially when it turns out that it still has license plates and gets plenty of street time in Detroit. But with that award, Bust-A-Nut Racing put themselves up in the big leagues with the Cannonball Bandits, and they knew that the Bandits had something big planned for (this weekend’s) Arse Sweat-a-Palooza race.

So, the genius artists and fabricators on Bust-A-Nut started brainstorming for their Cannonball Bandit-stomping entry for Detroit Irony. They’ve got at least one pro-quality illustrator on the team, and he put their ideas on paper. How about turning the Mazda into this “Twisted Carnival” machine, complete with disturbing Insane Clown Posse overtones?

Or the super-heavy Mazdallica, complete with mullet and devil’s-horns salute?

Perhaps the “Neverglades” swamp-boat would be just the ticket to Org Choice glory! This is just a small sampling of the ideas in the brochure that Bust-A-Nut showed me during the Detroit Irony BS Inspection; be sure to check out the rest of their illustrations in the gallery, below.

The Bust-A-Nut brainstormers knew they were onto something with the Pimp Blimp. The pimp theme has been somewhat overdone in LeMons (and really nailed down perfectly by LeMons Legends Eyesore Racing, back in ’08 when they were Eyesore Pimping), but the big blimp on the roof gave them some ideas.

How about a Good Beer Blimp, complete with beer-bong “hat” for the car?

One thing led to another, and that led to plans for cutting a blimp skeleton out of plywood…

…and to plans to actually build a 20-foot-long, four-foot-diameter blimp on the roof of their car.

Which they went ahead and did!

At this point, early in the BS Inspection process on Friday morning, we had what appeared to be a slam-dunk Organizer’s Choice winner right in front of us.

Of course, the team had the costumes to go with the car, and they stayed in them all weekend.

And, it should go without saying, we knew the Blimp would look great on the track… which it did.

But then… what the hell just rolled into the paddock?

Yes, one of only four Unununium Legend of LeMons medal winners for 2010, the scourge of Washington DC protesters and Index of Effluency pursuers alike: Speedycop!

Yes, driving all the way from Maryland to Michigan, there to join up with arch-accomplices DC Doug (of Parnelli Jones Galaxie LeMons car fame) and Texas IOE winner Brandon (of B League Film Society ’67 Mercedes-Benz 190 fame) to accomplish what had never been done before: drive 1,000 miles, then obtain, cage, and fully race-prep a LeMons car after arriving at the track on the day before the race.

The original plan, as discussed at great length on the 24 Hours of LeMons Forums, was for Speedycop and henchmen to show up in Michigan, buy this nightmarish, six-wheeled El HexaMaroMino, get it ready to race, and raise the bar for, in his words, “batshit crazy LeMons action.”

Unfortunately, the El HexaMaroMino’s owner must have been A) hitting the hubba-rock pretty hard when it came to accepting reality about the true worth of his car and B) able to sense Speedy’s need for the car. No deal! A deal for a ’70 Cadillac Eldorado near the track fell through when the owner couldn’t be reached. What to do? Why, load up the ’89 Maserati Biturbo 425i— the extremely rare sedan Biturbo that Speedycop had scored cheap with the idea of making it into a LeMons racer at some indeterminate future date— and bring it to Michigan. We’ll cage it! We’ll race it! It will be great! The Maserati suffered from multiple scary electrical-system problems, but it could be coaxed into starting and, by Speedycop standards, was thus ready for a full weekend of all-out racetrack thrashing.

That’s all pretty normal stuff out of the Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws playbook, but something interesting happened when the Maserati-towing trailer got in the vicinity of South Haven, Michigan: Speedycop spotted a very rusty, but intact, 1965 Chevrolet Impala wagon sitting in a driveway off a two-lane blacktop highway. He’d been following my 1965 Impala Hell Project series on TTAC, he loves old Detroit wagons, and the gears started turning even faster than usual in his boiling brain.

He knocked on the owner’s door and learned that the wagon was intended for use as a frame-donor car for an Impala SS coupe project and wasn’t for sale… but then the discussion took some no-doubt-weird turns and the owner ended up renting the wagon to Speedycop for 300 bucks, with the promise that the frame would still be intact at the end of the weekend. Otherwise, cut and paste as needed. Forget the Biturbo, full speed ahead with the Impala!

The plan was to gut the Impala, fix whatever rust damage might make the thing bust in half on the track, and install the roll cage torn from carcass of the team’s ’63 Cadillac Fleetwood LeMons racer. The process began late on Friday afternoon, with an all-nighter planned.

Hundreds of pounds of rust flakes and not-needed-for-racing parts began pouring from the 283/Powerglide-equipped wagon.

Sparks flew, metal clanged, and a crude tune-up progressed. The Impala had allegedly been driving as recently as “a couple” years before, which was good enough for Speedycop and the Gang.

The Malaise Era Radial TAs looked beautifully vintage, but would they hold together on a race track in 90-plus-degree weather? For that matter, would that ratchet strap hooked into the fuel-filler door keep the fuel tank from falling off?

So, the all-night/all-next-morning thrash began. Here’s a timelapse video showing a couple of segments of the madness.

Speedycop and his minions had the idea that they would make the green flag on Saturday and roll to Index of Effluency glory. That didn’t exactly pan out, because A) their overnight-camping pit neighbors started pleading for relief from the sound of screaming Sawzalls at 2:00 AM Friday and B) unforeseen pitfalls always crop up with a project like this.

The Bust-A-Nut Güte Bier Blimp, however, hit the track at 10:30 AM on the dot, proceeding to knock out surprisingly quick laps.

The Mazda sounded good, and you could see that blimp from any location in the paddock.

Meanwhile, Speedycop wasn’t giving up. The Impala inched ever closer to its racing debut.

The cage was more or less completed by midday Saturday, but so many nickel-and-dime projects remained. The driver’s seat and harnesses would need to be mounted, the kill switch would need wiring, and so on, before the official inspection could proceed and slap the “Good Enough” inspection sticker on the windshield.

Then the Güte Bier Blimp came clattering off the track in a cloud of smoke. Blown head gasket, at a minimum.

Then shit got worse. The Blimp’s V6 had a broken camshaft, and no replacement seemed forthcoming in rural Michigan on a Saturday afternoon.

But Team Bust-a-Nut is made of stern stuff, and they weren’t giving up. We’ll take apart the engine and think of something! they decided, knowing that they’d need to rack up more laps in order to make an unassailable Organizer’s Choice case.

At about this time, the Impala finally rolled up for its prerace safety inspection. Looks good— go race!

With Speedycop behind the wheel, two forward gears behind the engine, and 35-year-old rubber underneath, the Impala hit the Gingerman Raceway course. It wasn’t very fast, but it looked incredible out there, particularly with Speedycop getting the rear end way wiggly in the corners.

The Impala managed to pass the Zero Budget Racing Chevette Diesel (which ultimately won the Detroit Irony Index of Effluency trophy) a few times on the straights, though the Zero Budget guys were quick to point out that they got it back on the turns. The ol’ wagon turned out to be fairly reliable out there, with occasional pit stops for minor repairs.

When the race session ended that evening, the Impala had racked up a fair number of laps, while Team Bust-A-Nut was still wrenching away in their now-very-cluttered pit space. The Blimp pilots were determined to get back into the race on Sunday morning, in spite of striking out on every possible engine-parts source, and so they decided they’d convert their V6 to an I3. First, they’d block off the intake ports on the bad bank by using a manifold gasket as a template for this galvanized-steel blockoff plate.

Block-off plate in place, they’d put the intake manifold back on and let the pistons suck and blow through the empty spark plug holes (they considered removing all the bad pistons and rods, as they’d seen the One Cylinder Fiero team do the year before, but the horrors of a crazily unbalanced V6 scared them away from that approach).

They grounded the orphaned spark plugs and tied them off to the side, so as not to confuse the engine computer too much. When I asked them how the ECM would feel about the O2 sensor on the disabled bank reporting ambient, i.e. 20%, oxygen in the “exhaust,” they replied “We don’t know! It’ll work fine!” In other words, exactly the attitude we like to see in a LeMons team!

By this time, the start of the Sunday race session had come and gone, and Bust-A-Nut was finally buttoning things up.

The Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws Impala had hit its full stride by this time, screeching and groaning its way around the track and trailing rust flakes and burning-brake smoke all the while.

LeMons Supreme Court Judge Sam took a stint behind the wheel of the Impala and pronounced it “a fine racin’ automobile.”

But what’s this now? Team Bust-A-Nut’s ridiculously hooptified repair actually worked! The Güte Bier Blimp, now running on three cylinders, clanked back onto the race track. It sounded terrible, and there was this ominous trail of smoke behind it, but the Blimp was racing again!

In the Hollywood feel-good version of this story, the Güte Bier Blimp would then go on to pass everything on the track, climbing the standings for the rest of the afternoon and claiming not only the Organizer’s Choice but the Index of Effluency at the same time. Sadly, South Haven isn’t Hollywood, and the Blimp’s three-banger crapped out for good within a handful of laps.

Right about this time, here comes this beautiful two-tone ’65 Impala rolling into the Speedycop pit space. Its engine sounds like it should be good for 12-second dragstrip passes, it’s got Moon discs on the wheels, and all jaws drop in its path.

Of course it’s got a four-speed and Hurst shifter! Yes, the wagon’s owner decided to show up in one of his nice Impalas and see just what the hell all this craziness was about.

Just in time, too, because the wagon had torn one of its suspension strut rods free from its rusty moorings and its big-Chevy-expert owner knew just how to fix it in a hurry.

Speedycop got right to work… building a trophy for the car’s owner out of parts scavenged off the car.

Back on the track and now equipped with new brake shoes to replace the completely fried originals, the Impala got back into its grind-out-laps groove. At HQ, with the checkered flag looming, Assistant Perp Nick Pon and I started to figure out who would get what award, a process officially referred to in LeMons procedural manuals as “Getting In The Fucking Place And Doing The Thing With The Shit.” The Index of Effluency would be going to the 40th-place Zero Budget Chevette Diesel, no question there (the Impala came in 52nd), but what about the Organizer’s Choice?

We went back and forth, with the clock ticking on the checkered flag. Finally, with maybe 20 seconds for me to hop on the scooter and make a frenzied dash to the track exit to congratulate the racers (a standard LeMons Supreme Court ritual dating back to the earliest races), we decided that a thousand-mile drive to race a rented 46-year-old wagon just barely beat out a Mazda with giant roof-mounted blimp that managed only 67 laps. But it just about killed us, this choice, and I knew it would be giving me guilty nightmares for weeks to come.

For their crazed engine repair, Team Bust-A-Nut beat out all the competition for the Heroic Fix trophy. This included the Dodge Shadow Turbo team that spent most of the weekend playing mix-and-match with various busted engine components. The Heroic Fix is a major award, of course, worthy of great bragging rights in the LeMons world, but it’s no Organizer’s Choice. Had we done the right thing?

Of course, I’d have been feeling just as torn up had we decided to hand the Org Choice to Bust-A-Nut, because what exemplifies the spirit of LeMons better than what Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws had just done? Fortunately, Speedycop himself came to the rescue by handing over half the award (and half of the $500 in prize money) to Team Bust-A-Nut. That means that, as of right now, Team Bust-A-Nut leads the Free World in Organizer’s Choice awards, with 3-1/2 total trophies. Can the Cannonball Bandits get Number Four this weekend? Check in later to find out!

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And the Real Winner Is… Mon, 18 Jul 2011 05:19:02 +0000
If you want to contend for 24 Hours of LeMons racing’s top prize, the Index of Effluency, choosing a terrible Malaise Era subcompact gives you a big edge. Choosing a General Motors product also helps. Going with a diesel or, even worse, a Chevette Diesel, means that you pretty much have the Index of Effluency nailed down if you can manage to keep the thing on the track for most of the weekend. Easier said than done, of course, but Zero Budget Racing managed to do just that with their ’82 Chevette Diesel.

This car managed about five laps at its Gingerman debut back in April, limping to an ignominious halt in a cloud of busted-Isuzu-engine smoke while the snowflakes swirled. That’s about what you expect from this sort of car, but Zero Budget didn’t give up. No, they didn’t give up then, and they didn’t give up this Sunday when the mighty 51-horsepower (really!) engine bombed their transmission. Fortunately, the team had thought to bring a spare transmission, and so they got right to swapping it in.

Oh, it was incredibly slow indeed, although the cornering speeds weren’t too bad. In the end, the Zero Budget Racing Chevette managed 39th place (out of about 65 entries), which we think makes it the most reliable (and maybe fastest) Chevette Diesel in history. Congratulations, Zero Budget Racing!

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And the Winner Is… Mon, 18 Jul 2011 05:00:13 +0000
Zero black flags, zero mechanical problems, and consistent quick laps around Gingerman Raceway’s track all weekend: the formula for the Skid Marks Racing Neon’s victory in Michigan on Sunday.

Team Skid Marks’ lead was never very comfortable, once the team took the lead position mid-Saturday, but the Neon managed to keep a few laps ahead of the handful of teams that were chasing it for hour after hour. It looked like the Free Candy Civic would overtake Skid Marks on Sunday, but a wheel hub failure took the Honda out of the Neon’s rear view mirror; likewise, a couple of minor mechanical hassles afflicting the Bucksnort Racing E30 (exhaust dragging and failed hood pin) cost the BMW several crucial minutes in the pits. When you’re up against now-two-time LeMons winner Skid Marks, you can’t afford even the slightest setback. Congratulations, Skid Marks Racing!

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Detroit Irony Day One Wrapup: Neon Leads, Chevette Diesel Still Running, Rent-An-Impala Hits Track Sun, 17 Jul 2011 03:41:39 +0000
By the end of the day’s session at Gingerman Raceway, fewer than half the entrants’ cars were still moving under their own power. Hot weather and a punishing race course spelled doom for head gaskets, transmissions, brake calipers, and other critical components, while dehydration and fatigue led many drivers to make errors in judgment that sent them straight to the LeMons Supreme Court Penalty Box. A few teams are now poised to take advantage of the harsh attrition rate, both for the win on laps and the Index of Effluency trophy.

When the green flag waves on Sunday morning, the race leader will be the Skid Marks Racing Dodge Neon. This team, winner of last year’s Rod Blagojevich Never-Say-Die 500, hasn’t seen the LeMons Supreme Court’s Penalty Box since… well, ever. They threatened to win the Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis, held here in April, and there’s no doubt that they’ve become the team to beat in the Midwest region.

To get an idea of what it’s going to take to catch these guys tomorrow, watch a bit of in-car video from April’s race.

However, the LeMons veterans in the Free Candy Racing Civic are just a few laps back of the Neon, and they don’t appear to be fading away. One stumble by Skid Marks and— fragile Honda head gasket willing— the Pedobear-themed Civic will take over. Meanwhile, the Teutonic E30 hordes aren’t far behind the top two.

Of course, LeMons aficionados know that the real prize is the Index of Effluency, and the Chevette Diesel made quite a strong IOE statement today. This thing is by far the slowest thing on the track, yet its startling reliability has it starting tomorrow’s session in mid-pack. GM cars always have an Index of Effluency advantage, particularly when their British Leyland competition nukes its engine (as occurred with the James Bondo TR7 early in the day).

We can’t say what will happen with the IOE race tomorrow, because some hitherto overlooked hooptie might outshine the Chevette. We can’t count out Speedycop and his Gang of Outlaws, because their ’65 Impala wagon finally made it onto the race track and looks pretty good out there. The morning dawned with the cage not ready, the roof off the car, and no driver’s seat or harnesses installed.

I set up a timelapse camera in the Speedycop pits to record the action; this sequence compresses about eight hours of work into a few minutes.

This mighty wagon looks glorious out there. Powerglide, 283, four-wheel drum brakes, and a trail of rust flakes in its wake. The dead-stock Impala is passing cars out there, including the Chevette, and it may just be able to climb the standings into IOE territory on Sunday. How high in the standings is that? There’s no formula!

The Impala wasn’t ready until late in the day, but it was much more reliable than anyone expected. The only problem was a strut rod that tore out of its rusty moorings. The owner of the car (who is renting it to Speedycop for the weekend) showed up and helped fix the problem with the help of the gas-axe.

The LeMons Supreme Court was kept busy for much of the day, with numerous recidivists getting sidelined for three-hour sentences for getting three black flags. It was too hot to dish out the disco-dancing Macho Man penalty, but we did break out our grimy Teletubby costumes for the Skid Row Teletubby penalty.

We introduced the Sandwich Board Penalty today. The miscreant dons a helmet equipped with a Taiwanese National Anthem car-alarm siren and a sandwich board, then marches around the paddock to the derisive hoots of other racers.

LMI11July-Chevette LMI11July-Impala LMI11July-Impala-CageWork LMI11July-Impala-StrutWork LMI11July-Sat2nd LMI11July-SatLeader SandwichBoardPenalty SkidRowTeletubby LMI11July-LeadPhoto Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 11
ThunderPorsche, Rent-an-Impala-Wagon, and a Blimp: BS Inspections at the Detroit Irony 24 Hours of LeMons Sat, 16 Jul 2011 03:51:42 +0000
Two months after our last visit to Gingerman Raceway, the weather is hot and muggy instead of a howling blizzard. Even without the character-building weather, however, the current crop of entries have managed to raise the bar. How about a Porsche 924 with Thunderbird Turbo Coupe drivetrain? Or Unununium Legend of LeMons Speedycop renting a rustbucket ’65 Impala wagon to turn into a race car… starting tonight?

The Class C competition will be pretty stiff this time around. First of all, there’s the return of this Chevette Diesel. Last time at Gingerman, this economical machine managed about five laps before the engine melted down. We have high hopes for the little primer Chevette this time.

The Chevette will be squaring off against this Triumph TR7. This team had no idea that we’d already seen a TR7 team named “James Bondo,” but bringing a British Leyland product excuses you from not studying your LeMons history.

This TR7 has a genuine double-oh-seven-grade, driver-controlled switchable license plate!

But the TR7 and Chevette will need to get past this Fiat X1/9 for the Class C trophy, not to mention the Index of Effluency.

This crypto-blasphemous theme theme probably wouldn’t go over too well in South Carolina, but Michiganders seem to cope with it.

Speaking of Class C and the Index of Effluency, Speedycop has somehow managed to out-madman his donktastic 5-car performance in West Virginia last month. His plan was to drive to Michigan from his Maryland home, buy a nightmarish six-wheeled El Camaromino, recruit a bunch of like-minded freaks, and cage the thing in the Gingerman paddock the night before the race; you can read the whole twisted saga on the LeMons forums thread. Well, the El SexaMaroMino deal didn’t work out, nor did the possible ’72 Eldorado deal. Ah well, figured Speedycop, I’ll just trailer out the Maserati 425i Biturbo I’ve got sitting around and we’ll make that the race car.

That was an excellent plan, with no weaknesses whatsoever. But then Speedycop happened to spot a very rusty ’65 Impala station wagon in some dude’s driveway in South Haven…

The wagon’s owner wanted $1,500 for the car– too much– but further discussion made it clear that he wanted the car as a frame donor for another Impala with a better body.

So, the upshot was that Speedycop is renting the Impala for the weekend, and he can do anything he wants to it as long as the frame is intact at the end of the race. The owner is even dropping it off and picking it up! So, at this very moment, Speedycop and his motley crew of like-minded loons are gutting the wagon, cutting off the roof, installing a cage, and re-roofing it. They should be done, oh, just in time for the green flag tomorrow. This is how you maintain LeMons Legend status.

Meanwhile, the LeMons Supreme Court has somehow conned Car & Driver Editor-In-Chief Eddie Alterman into donning the robes and dispensing justice, alongside me and Judge Sam. With Tony Swann, Csaba Csere, Mike Austin, and all the rest on the premises, it’s like a C&D convention here. We look forward to seeing Alterman penalizing his hapless employees tomorrow!

Another extremely LeMonic entry is this “Forsche 924.” Looks like a semi-butchered 924 on the outside, but there’s a surprise under the hood.

Yes, the team has installed the entire drivetrain out of a Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. Engine, transmission, rear end. What could possibly go wrong?

The same guys that made the incredible Sleigher Mazda last year have somehow managed to turn their car into something even better: the Good Bier Blimp. It goes without saying that the gigantic blimp will remain on the car all weekend.

And, in keeping with LeMons BS Inspection tradition, here’s the timelapse video of the BS Inspection, which should give you at least a glimpse of the many cars I neglected to mention here.

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Review: 2011 Cadillac Escalade Platinum Hybrid Thu, 14 Jul 2011 16:00:19 +0000
A couple months back, Cadillac gave me a bright red, three-ton, rollin’-on-22s, chrome-drenched, hybrid-electric, $88,140 luxury truck to drive while in Michigan for the Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis 24 Hours of LeMons. Since that time, the effort of attempting to write a meaningful review for this ridiculous-yet-amazing machine has caused my brain to develop a severe rod knock. Who is supposed to buy this thing? I asked myself. What can you do with it?

My problem with SUVs, particularly super-luxurious SUVs, is that I believe trucks are supposed to be trucks, that is, you should be able to load a truck up with 900 pounds of swamp-water-soaked particle board and a burlap sack of hog innards and not cringe in the slightest at the thought of that nasty stuff contaminating your interior. A truck should have a bench seat in front, covered with cheap cloth or vinyl, and even air conditioning smacks of excess gingerbread. If you want luxury— and, of course, I do— then you should be driving a vast, strip-club-owner-grade sedan with its soft springs groaning under the weight of luxury options so arcane that you’ll be years figuring them all out.

Right. So, this is what we in the hack-writer business call a dilemma. Personally, I couldn’t think of any way that this beast would improve my life in any meaningful way, were I to decide to drop 90 grand on one. The only place I enjoyed driving it was around the paddock during the LeMons race, for reasons that will be made clear soon enough. Still, it’s extreme enough that it must be absolutely perfect for the correct users, but who are they? Rappers and the gangster elite would never in hell buy anything with big HYBRID badges all over the place, edge-city suburbanites will shy away in horror from the twice-as-much-as-the-Yukon price tag, and urban high-tech hipsters wouldn’t be caught dead in an SUV.

I finally figured out the perfect Escalade Platinum Hybrid buyers, but we’ll get my much-less-relevant driving impressions out of the way first. The Escalade Platinum Hybrid rides like a lumber truck, no doubt thanks to the blinged-out 22″ wheels and low-profile tires exacerbating the already bumpy ride of a big body-on-frame truck chassis.

Man, but those wheels do look beautiful. It goes without saying that you’re not going to be doing anything approaching serious off-roading in your Escalade Platinum Hybrid, and these wheels ensure that you’ll want to keep pavement beneath you at all times. I took the big Cad for a brief jaunt in the muddy grass of the Gingerman Raceway paddock and the slippy-slidy experience did not inspire confidence. You want to go off-road, get an FJ40 Land Cruiser or IHC Scout, right?

The six-liter Vortec V8 was very quiet; in fact, the noise level inside the cab was library-hushed just about all the time, including when parked next to the front straight at Gingerman with Cherry Bomb-equipped RX-7s blaring past. However, the electric motor made weird, distant whining and howling noises, both under acceleration and under regenerative braking. Several times, I found myself looking around for the emergency vehicles running their sirens.

The computer that runs the control center suffers from a slow CPU, kludgy code, or both. The response time for user input could be as much as several seconds. Using the navigation system made me feel like ramming a cinderblock through the screen. Come on, GM, the future moves fast!

The interior was pretty comfy, but some sort of strange bending of space-time was taking place that made several feet in each dimension disappear when you made the transition from massive exterior to not-so-massive interior. The inside of this truck feels cramped, giving the sense that it has about the same interior space as an early Camry. I suspect that this truck is so quiet inside because the side and roof panels are about a foot thick and filled with spray-in insulation.

But what about the fuel economy, you ask. Is it really possible to get decent mileage out of a 6,120-pound, 332-horsepower vehicle with the aerodynamics of a convenience store?

I drove 301.8 miles, mostly highway but also a fair amount of cruising around the Gingerman facilities as well as jaunts to the night life in bustling South Haven. I made no attempt to keep speeds down to gas-sipping levels, and I did a fair amount of pedal-to-floor acceleration. GM claims 20 city/23 highway mileage.

16.711 gallons, meaning I got just a hair over 18 miles per gallon. Considering that the much more slippery, lighter, and less powerful Mercury Grand Marquis doesn’t do a whole lot better in mixed city/highway driving, that’s very impressive.

So, in summary: If I had 90 grand to spend on a vehicle, this thing would be at or near the bottom of my shopping list (a much more sensible Lamborghini Espada would be at or near the top). I didn’t like much of anything about the Escalade Platinum Hybrid… but then who cares what an SUV-hating curmudgeon like me thinks? Let’s take a look at this truck from the point of view of its optimal purchaser, shall we?

Yes, now I’m working for Popular Warlord Magazine! From the point of view of your suitcases-of-Benjamins-brandishing Third World and/or Former Soviet Republic warlord, the 2011 Escalade Platinum Hybrid is the greatest motor vehicle in history!
Background image source for magazine cover: English Russia

Whether you’re a militia leader in the Horn of Africa, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur in the Bolivian rainforest, or a deal-maker in the Caspian oil fields, you know that the days when a self-respecting warlord could climb behind the wheel of a grimy Toyota Hilux are long past. Today’s more urbane warlord needs presence; yes, your Kalashnikov-brandishing entourage can still follow behind you in their Toyotas, but you need to roll into town in a vehicle that shows you’ve arrived.

We’ll start with the interior, since that’s where you’ll be spending most of your time as your driver takes you to meetings, nightclubs, and so on. Some have said that the Escalade Platinum is a bit cramped inside, but we at Popular Warlord Magazine disagree; once you come to terms with the fact that today’s warlord needs only two or three personal bodyguards traveling with him in the vehicle— yes, the wild days when the warlord himself had to carry an assault rifle on his person are behind us— and that those bodyguards will be armed with pistols instead of RPGs and tripod-mounted machine guns, you can see that this truck has room for you, your muscle, and your 19-year-old Ukrainian-supermodel mistress.

It really won’t do your sophisticated image any good if you have to haul a load of jerry-cans in your travels— your Armani suits shouldn’t be exposed to gasoline— and so the hybrid powertrain of this truck will give you the extended range you need to go from say, Addis Ababa to your secret landing strip in the desert without refueling.

You’ll want the little people to know the caliber of warlord they’re dealing with from the very first glance at your vehicle, and the massive Cadillac emblems will let them know that you’re not to be trifled with.

The four-wheel-drive system and vast torque reserves mean that the Escalade Platinum Hybrid should do just fine on the rough dirt roads in your area of influence; you’ll need to get in the Land Rover or the Hilux in order to leave the road, but for everyday post-Soviet potholes the Escalade performs admirably.

In summary, the staff of Popular Warlord gives the 2011 Cadillac Escalade Platinum Hybrid our highest Warlord Rides rating. For the cost of a couple of fat envelopes of cash, you can equip your compound with several of these fine luxury trucks.

OK, so the warlord (or strongman, if you prefer that term) is the Escalade Platinum Hybrid’s ideal buyer, but there’s another person who can get some good value from this truck: the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court Justice! Yes, in addition to writing for Popular Warlord, I’m also moonlighting at…

LeMons Judge Magazine! Yes, the publication for the discerning corrupt race official. Let’s see how this big red truck fares at LJM, shall we?

Judge Sam and myself rolled into the Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis determined to make a proper judgely impression on the rabble, and the Escalade certainly accomplished that. Why, three different racers told us words to the effect of “I could have bought one of these— I have enough cash in hand, you betcha— but I decided that the Tahoe/Yukon was just a better truck.” Yes, they’re a bunch of pathetic slobs, just trying to impress the LeMons Supreme Court with their alleged fat bankrolls… but still, their naked envy at the sight of this $90K machine was gratifying.

Judge Sam, as my cousin (yes, the LeMons Supreme Court firmly supports nepotism in all its forms) and the son of the legendary Dirty Duck, had an instant appreciation for the inherent pimp-grade superiority of this machine, and I had to agree with him.

We think this truck looks much better with the proper emblem on the grille.

So, this truck scores huge in the “impress the worm-like racers” category, but we ran into a serious flaw right away: the Bose 5.1 surround-sound audio system lacks sufficient boom. Rich Boy’s “Throw Some D’s On It” hardly rattled windows a mere 50 feet away, and Dorrough’s “Ice Cream Paint Job?” Forget it. Even the Fiat 500′s stereo cranked out more decibels. Come on, Cadillac, the LeMons Supreme Court needs bass!

You see, a true Judgemobile does more than just cruise around the paddock cranking inspirational tunes. A proper Judgemobile must project its music at sufficient volume for such audio-centric penalties as the Macho Man and the Joe Arpaio Chain Gang. The Escalade Platinum Hybrid’s sound system was just adequate for the Macho Man, as seen here.

However, one aspect of Judgemobile duty at which this truck excelled was the level of comfort provided by the climate-control system. We expect any GM vehicle to produce frigid and/or scalding air on command, and the Escalade Platinum Hybrid delivered and then some, even when temperatures dropped into the 20s and stinging snow howled through the paddock, borne on 60 MPH winds. Those poor freezing miscreants doing the Macho Man made the LeMons Supreme Court feel that much more comfortable inside the truck.

I would have preferred a slightly more La-Z-Boy-ish driver’s seat, but the comfort level was very good for two judges bloated from free bribe booze and Midwestern meat products.

For the West Virginia Homestead penalty, in which miscreants must put their car up on jackstands, remove the wheels, and eat salty snacks while sitting on lawn furniture, the Escalade provided both a pleasant contrast to the racers’ hoopty-ass wheels and a comfortable place for the LeMons Supreme Court to get out of the cold.

Can you see the envy in this Tahoe driver’s eyes?

Speaking of envy, check out this haul of bribes for the LeMons Supreme Court! We’re forced to admit that the storage capacity in the cargo area was somewhat limited, given the size of the truck. This was due to the not-very-useful folding third-row seats. We recommend that the LeMons Judge Edition™ of the Escalade go with a third-row-delete feature, to make more room for cases of beer.

Of course, the second row of seats serve as bribe-booze storage when you’ve got only two judges in the Judgemobile, so this truck should be able to fit the gifts of even the most generous racers.

The automatic fold-out running boards were handy for climbing up into the truck, but judge robes had a tendency to get caught on them.

What’s the verdict on this Judgemobile from the reviewers here at LeMons Judge Magazine? We’re going to give the Escalade Platinum Hybrid a respectable three-gavel rating; not quite up there with the five-gavel Doorless Wheel-Shedding Amazon and Monster Smokescreen Caprice Wagon, but definitely a proper Judgemobile all the same.

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Fiat X1/9 + Alfa Romeo 164 + Plywood = Launcha Splatos Wed, 27 Apr 2011 20:23:57 +0000
We’ve seen a fair number of outstanding engine swaps in 24 Hours of LeMons racing— the Saab B Turbo-powered 300ZX comes to mind— but most such projects tend to have reliability and/or performance issues in the car-slaughtering arena that is LeMons. At the frozen Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis race a couple weeks back, the much-anticipated radial-engined MR2 ate its drivetrain after a single lap, but there was one outlandishly butchered machine that actually contended for the overall win: the Alfa Romeo quad-cam V6-powered Bertone X1/9 of Team Launcha Splatos.

The team is packed with a bunch of well-known pro Alfa builders and top wheelmen, so the LeMons Supreme Court sweats them mercilessly when they bring their suspiciously quick ’69 Berlina and race-winning GTV6 to a race. “What can we build that will make you happy?” they asked after last fall’s Chicago race. “A replica of a Group B Lancia Stratos, complete with ridiculous engine swap and Alitalia graphics!” we responded. And damn if they didn’t go ahead and do just that, finding an Alfa Romeo 164 as an engine/transmission/front-subframe donor and a Bertone X1/9 for the rest. You see, there’s nothing wrong with an X1/9 that upgrading the horsepower from 75 to 190 can’t fix.

There’s a fairly complete description of the build at Kilometer Magazine, which makes it clear that the Launcha Splatos guys know how to do some serious metal cut-n-pasting. A big gallery of build photos may be found here.

The “headlights” are actually coffee cans with photos of headlight faces glued on the fronts.

The louvers are plywood, and the paint job is all Krylon rattle-can.

Prior to the Splatos, the only cars to have been this heavily modified and still spend a respectable amount of time in the top ten at a LeMons race have been the Honda CBR1000-powered Geo Metro Gnome and the more-or-less-scratchbuilt Model T GT. How good did the Splatos look on the track?

Let’s watch a nail-bitingly close duel between the Rod Blagojevich 500-winning Skid Marks Neon and the Splatos at Gingerman Raceway, from the perspective of the Neon. The Splatos still needs some bugs worked out of the suspension, but it has great power out of the turns. The Neon corners better. Each car has a top-notch driver at the wheel. Nothing passes these two cars during their battle.

Unfortunately, the Splatos still needed some suspension refinement, which meant that it spun out and/or left the track with depressing regularity. After all that time in the Penalty Box, the Launcha finished the race in 29th place, after spending much of the first day’s session in the top three (the Skid Marks Neon, with zero black flags, came in second overall). Next race, we expect to see the Splatos behave itself… and contend all weekend.

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Post-Race Engine Post-Mortem: What Blew Up? Wed, 20 Apr 2011 22:00:37 +0000
Because most of the Saturday race session at the Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis took place in rainy and/or snowy conditions, drivers couldn’t flog their engines as mercilessly as they had at the rod-throw-a-palooza Real Hoopties of New Jersey the week before. The sun came out on Sunday, however, and that’s when the casualties started to mount.

A few of the Detroit entries suffered from non-spectacular engine failures, stuff like timing chains and oil pumps, but the engine-carnage party didn’t really get going until the Landshark MX-3 came limping off the track in a cloud of smoke, accompanied by terrible clattering noises. The timelapse camera on the Chicken and Waffles Quantum Syncro caught the Mazda’s final lap.

That engine-block hole with smoke and oil gushing out can’t be good.

This shard of the block was found lodged in the radiator.

Check out the radiator bulge created by the impact of that metal fragment! Given the violence of the connecting rod’s failure, we were all impressed that the Mazda managed to leave the track under its own power.

This Jetta managed to eat its engine bearings during practice on Friday, but the engine didn’t actually seize up until the kill-switch test portion of the inspections.

All those metal chunks in the oil pan can’t be a good sign.

The Team Euro Trash guys didn’t give up, however; a Craigslist-obtained replacement engine went in Friday night and the car ran most of the race… and then the bearings failed in the second engine, late on Sunday (this happens frequently with VW engines in LeMons). Euro Trash took home the Heroic Fix trophy their first time out, so it was a happy ending for them.

The BMW M20 engine is no stranger to the thrown rod, as most LeMons E30 racers can tell you, and that’s what put the Swiss Racing 325e on the trailer.

Most of the time, an M20 rod seeking escape goes out through the block. In this case, it went for the exit route preferred by Ford Windsor rods: through the oil pan.

The Soviet-themed Byte Marks Racing Ford Escort GT wasn’t very quick, but it held together pretty well Saturday and most of Sunday.

Unlike its MX-3 cousin, the Escort GT wasn’t able to limp off the track under its own power after the engine blew up. Plenty of oil on the track now!

The Wisconsin Crap Racing “Not An SE-R, Really” Nissan 200SX was another late-Sunday casualty.

When the track speeds go up at a LeMons race, you see this sort of thing every hour or so. Still, with only a few hours of pedal-to-metal dry weather for the weekend, the rate of engine failure was lower than usual. For the first time in, well, ever, not a single small-block Chevy or Ford Windsor puked its bottom end onto the track in a 24 Hours of LeMons race. USA! USA!

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And The Real Winner Is… Mon, 18 Apr 2011 04:22:33 +0000
You get the Index of Effluency, 24 Hours of LeMons’ top prize, by accomplishing the most with the worst car. You can win it by getting a horrifyingly terrible car just into the top half of the standings, or you can get it by getting your very terrible truck a hair from the top ten. The Pickup Trash S10 team opted for the latter route, clawing their way to 12th place under un-pickup-friendly weather conditions against an extremely tough field.

Team Pickup Trash would have made the top ten, but their final driver thought he could milk a few bonus laps out of an empty fuel tank and had to be towed off the track. We’ve been watching this team for a few races now, and they’ve improved from hapless black-flag magnets to serious contenders as they’ve upgraded both their brakes and their driving skills over time. They’ve built an impressive-looking body kit out of street-sign aluminum, upgraded their suspension with cheap junkyard stuff, and left their stock V6 alone. A very easy IOE decision this time. Congratulations, Team Pickup Trash!

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And The Winner Is… Mon, 18 Apr 2011 04:06:26 +0000
On paper, the Toyota MR2 should be an excellent choice for a low-buck endurance racer… but 24 Hours of LeMons racing has a way of shattering such preconceptions like a connecting rod hurtling through the side of a 4AGE block. In fact, the MR2 has been one of the least reliable LeMons cars, even worse than such good-on-paper-but-terrible-in-practice endurance machines as the Nissan Z and Porsche 944; we’ve seen dozens of them race in LeMons over the years, and nearly all have failed miserably… until today. Today, the Dai Mondai II car was the first MR2 to take the win on laps in the 24 Hours of LeMons.

We’ve been seeing the Dai Mondai team in LeMons races going back to 2008, and their MR2 had established a pattern of going pretty well for a time, then nuking the engine. Since the team is made up of a bunch of Toyota engineers, the frustration level got pretty high. Did they give up, as so many MR2 teams have done in the past? No! Today, their efforts have been rewarded with a rusty trophy and $1,500 in nickels. Congratulations, Dai Mondai II!

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Detroit LeMons Day One Over: Snow, Madness, Neon Leading Sun, 17 Apr 2011 03:26:26 +0000
The temperature dropped to freezing, the wind hit 50 MPH, and the rain turned to snow at the Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis 24 Hours of LeMons. Cars spun out in record numbers, and broken cars had to be repaired in frostbitten conditions that would have appalled the harshest Gulag commandant. The battle for the overall lead stayed close all day, with the lead changing hands at least a dozen times.

Just in the first few hours of the day, the race leaders were: Volvo 245, Fiat X1/9, Lexus LS400, Buick LeSabre, Volkswagen Quantum, Dodge Neon, Honda Prelude, Volkswagen Golf. Later on, the wind-whipped snow got bad enough to become a visibility hazard, so LeMons HQ put the kibosh on the session an hour early.

The 1942 Kinner aircraft radial-powered Toyota MR2 made it onto the track soon after the green flag waved, and everyone hoped it would run all weekend. Sadly, its chain drive system failed after one lap.

Either the chain broke and wrapped around the transmission input shaft, breaking off the sprocket, or the shaft failed and took the chain with it. Either way, the whole mess flew apart as the car limped past the Penalty Box, with a noise Judge Sam described as akin to “a clothes washer full of hammers.” Marc, the car’s madman genius builder, says he’ll sort out the problems and bring it back to a future race, and we expect the new, improved Radial MR2 drivetrain to be much more durable.

The leader, by a single lap, at the end of Saturday’s session was the Skid Marks Racing Neon. This car took the overall win at the Rod Blagojevich Never-Say-Die 500 last year, and their black-flag-free performance continues here in South Haven. A lot can happen Sunday, and with the top ten cars are all bunched within a 12-lap spread we expect a lot of pressure on the Skid Marks’ drivers.

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Chevette Diesel vs Radial MR2: BS Inspections of The Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis LeMons Sat, 16 Apr 2011 02:27:49 +0000
The official weather report at Michigan’s Gingerman Raceway today was “butt cold and windy as hell,” but the LeMons Supreme Court slogged through the inspections of the 70 or so teams who won’t let a little miserable weather stop them from racing.

The big news, of course, is the Toyota MR2 powered by a 1942-vintage, 540-cubic-inch aircraft radial engine. It showed up with a blown transmission, but helpful racers made a run to a not-so-nearby state and brought back another Subaru Legacy gearbox. The Radial MR2 drove around the paddock this afternoon, so we’re optimistic that it will be racing tomorrow. As we say in LeMons, what could possibly go wrong?

Quick, what’s the slowest American car of the postwar era? Maybe it’s not the Chevette Diesel (because how could anything be slower than the Crosley?), but it’s hard to beat the little oil-burning Chevy in the sluggishness sweepstakes. That’s why we’re so overjoyed that a team has opted to skip past the BMW E30s and Mazda RX-7s and go right for Index of Effluency glory. Well done!

Speaking of cars GM would rather we forgot, how about the Chevy Monza? This one is on its third engine… today.

If not for the Radial MR2, this car would be getting all the attention. Sure, it looks like a Fiat X1/9 with a Group B Stratos Alitalia paint job, which is pretty cool.

Ah, but there’s a lot going on under this X1/9′s skin. You’re looking at the engine, subframe, and front suspension from an Alfa Romeo 164, stuffed into the back of the X1/9. 190 quad-cam V6 horsepower in a car that had, at best, 75 horsepower: Lancia Splatos! Team Splatos, after doing some test laps in the rain today, report that the car goes like crazy on the straights but has “interesting” cornering characteristics. Will it hold together? Probably not, but who cares?

After last weekend’s MGB-GT Index of Effluency win, we’re happy to see yet another GT at this race. SU carbs, Lucas Electrics (the car has already failed tech due to bad brake lights), lever shocks, the works. You’d think this thing would be the Chevette’s only IOE competition, until we saw…

…this 3-cylinder Geo Metro.

As always, brain-scarring scenes abounded. What’s going on here?

Or here?

Fortunately, Barbie showed up in her Capri.

We of the LeMons Supreme Court will be back in action tomorrow morning, as the racers hit the rainy/snowy track and vie for 24 Hours of LeMons glory. Check in tomorrow night for the latest LeMons updates!

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Ill-Advised Engine Swap of the Week: Aircraft Radial In Toyota MR2 Wed, 16 Feb 2011 17:00:04 +0000
The thing that got me hooked on LeMons racing was the mentality that makes a statement such as “Hey, I’d like to install a 540-cubic-inch, five-cylinder radial aircraft engine in the back of a Toyota MR2, then try to make it run all weekend in a grueling endurance race” seem totally sensible. The craziest most devoted racers find themselves locked into an arms race for the Unununium, and this is the result.

The engine, which once powered a 1942 PT-22 Recruit trainer aircraft, was rated at 160 horsepower. This one hasn’t run for 65 years, but Radial Madman-In-Chief Marc assures us that it’s in good shape and should fire right up. As for the $500 limit, I exercised my authority as Chief Justice of the LeMons Supreme Court to issue a decree stating that radial engines shall be exempt from budgetary limits. You want a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 making 2,500+ horses in your Hillman Imp, and you can convince us that your hoopty-ass installation will be safe? Fine!

It’s going to sit in the back of the car, directly above a Subaru transaxle with a custom adapter flange. A V-drive, reduction gear set, and a much more reliability-enhancing gear is involved; you can follow the whole saga on this 24 Hours of LeMons Forums thread. Will it work? The real question should be: Will it have license plates?

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The 2010 Legends of LeMons: Unununium Medal Winners! Sun, 16 Jan 2011 03:00:52 +0000
First of all, nitpickers, I know that unununium was renamed Roentgenium in 2004. Atomic Number 111 will always be unununium in my heart, and (as soon as I can find a cheap source for the stuff) it will be used to stamp out the Murilee Martin Legends of LeMons awards for the most psychotic inspiring 24 Hours of LeMons racers of each season. The ’10 season produced a bumper crop of LeMons Legends, but only four received the coveted Unununium Medal. Let’s see who they are!

The Murilee Martin Legends of LeMons Medals are awarded solely by me, without consulting the rest of the schmucks at LeMons HQ… but you’re still free— nay, encouraged— to call HQ and complain if you disagree with my choices. We’ll get to the Ununquadium and Ununhexium Medals over the next few days; today, we honor the four teams that I think beat their skulls against brick walls epitomized the LeMons Ethos better than all others during the 21-race 2010 season.
Image source: Head-On Photos

Unununium Medal Winner: Speedycop and Team Police Brutality

We’ll start with the 2010 Coppa di Bondo (the top Emeryville-issued 24 Hours of LeMons season award) winners and their head madman honcho, Washington DC mounted policeman and Crown Vic drag racer, Speedycop. Police Brutality made quite an impression during the ’09 LeMons season with their insanely-fast-and-unreliable Lincoln Mark VIII and Organizer’s Choice-winning and then-oldest-LeMons-car-ever 1961 Cadillac Fleetwood, but it turned out that Speedycop was just getting warmed up!

Police Brutality showed up to the Detroit Irony LeMons with the world’s most terrible 1963 Ford Thunderbird, which promptly fried its transmission. You see, Speedycop’s M.O. goes like this: 1) Choose a car that never in a million years belonged on a road course, 2) Haul it to a race track at least 1,000 miles away, with about three weeks of items left on the to-do list, 3) In a wild-eyed frenzy, thrash on the car for 48 straight hours at the race track and get it (semi-) trackworthy.

Speedycop never, ever gives up. When no 390-compatible transmissions could be found within a day’s drive of Gingerman Raceway, he and his accomplices dismantled the dead Ford-O-Matic and converted it to a one-speed, direct-drive unit.

Here we see the one-speed T-Bird getting a push-start for its glorious return to the track. Sure, the engine exploded in flames and shut down the track about two laps later, but it was so worth it!

After doing a bit of post-race analysis, Speedycop decided that the problem with the Thunderbird’s original engine was its lack of both cylinders and Teutonic complexity. The next logical step was to buy a wrecked BMW 750iL and install its M50 V12 and automatic transmission into the Thunderbird.

The M50′s mid-90s-style computerized fuel-delivery and ignition systems were just too damn troublesome, so for the Washington DC race, Speedycop converted an ammo can into a throttle body adapter and dropped a carburetor on top. For ignition, he rigged up a couple of junkyard six-cylinder distributors, one per engine bank. Amazingly, it worked.

Well, it worked except for the BMW transmission, which became very angry about the lack of input from the missing engine and transmission control modules and simply said “NEIN!” when the car hit the track. Limp mode, single speed, the usual. A water-pump failure added to the T-Bird’s woes, but LeMons Legend status doesn’t come easy.

The idea of a BMW engine in a T-Bird seemed like a good one, but perhaps a diesel would be a wiser choice. So, in went the M21 turbodiesel powerplant out of a trashed 524td wagon.

Naturally, it wasn’t quite ready when the green flag dropped.

But it wasn’t long before the Turbodiesel T-Bird roared onto the Stafford Motor Speedway track for the 2nd Annual 24 Hours of LeMons New England. The formula worked, and Police Brutality finally won LeMons racing’s top trophy.

After the race, Speedycop showed off some of his cop moves in the parking lot.

For the Rod Blagojevich Never-Say-Die 500, Police Brutality decided that what the series really needed was a Lancia Scorpion. And hey, why not drop the Scorpion body on an MR2 chassis?

It doesn’t look pretty, and of course it wasn’t quite finished when it arrived at the race track, but the ScorpiR2 worked pretty well and ran for most of the weekend. Speedycop even managed to talk 24 Hours of Daytona winner Randy Pobst, who was driving for some super-cheaty Crown Vic team, into taking a turn at the wheel.

Meanwhile, the Police Brutality Lincoln Mark VIII finally lived up to its potential and grabbed a fifth-overall finish at the Laissez Les Crapheaps Roulez race (not to mention a mid-13-second quarter-mile time at the No Problem Raceway dragstrip). What’s next for Police Brutality? In addition to the quest for an overall win with the Mark VIII, Speedycop will be bringing the car I’ve dubbed The Greatest LeMons Car Of All Time: Eight wheels, two engines, 5,000 switches! If that isn’t enough to melt your face, there’s also a ’42 Buick awaiting the Speedycop treatment. Better step it up for 2011, Coppa di Bondo aspirants!

Unununium Medal Winner: Spank

Many of you followed the lunatic heroic Citroën DS San Diego-to-Miami road trip that was Spank’s capper to an all-time-great 2010 LeMons season. Let’s look at the achievements that put Spank into Unununium Medal territory:

We first encountered Spank when he drove his 998cc Austin Mini to an Index of Effluency win at the ’09 Buttonwillow Histrionics. In a calculation not made by your typical E30 LeMons team, Spank decided that the Mini was both too simple and too reliable. He needed something more… French!

A lot of LeMons regulars believe that Speedycop and Spank must be long-lost brothers, because there’s such similarity in their approach to LeMons racing. The choice of ridiculous awesome cars, the last-second thrashes, the hauls to distant race tracks. For the Sears Pointless race last Spring, Spank showed up with a 1971 Citroën ID19 that had been sitting since the early 1980s. It wasn’t quite running yet when he rolled into the pits, but at least the cage was ready.

After a thrash that went all night long and included a paint job, the Air Prance sChitroën started up for the first time since Reagan was a newcomer to the White House. 28-year-old oil and spark plugs, the works. One slow lap around the Infineon paddock and then right onto the track!

Shockingly, the Citroën ran all weekend, with a burst radiator hose the only problem that required pit repairs. The easiest Index of Effluency decision in LeMons history, for Spank’s second IOE.

For the 2010 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza LeMons at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, Spank pulled out all the stops and dragged three cars to the track. The Citroën was there (and uncharacteristically ready to race upon arrival), the Mr. Bean Mini was there (with not-yet-functional turbocharging, using the bulletproof blow-through SU fuel-delivery setup), and… this was there.

You’d think that just bringing a terrifyingly rusty Mini Moke would be enough, but Spank and henchmen converted it into a totally credible Apollo 18 Lunar Rover… and they did the conversion at the track, because they still needed to, you know, get the thing running first.

When the rusted-to-hell subframe failed, Spank welded some bracing to keep the car from breaking in half. Meanwhile, he was busting ass helping his friends on the Team-ing With Bad Ideas Turbo Beetle team fix their never-belonged-anywhere-near-a-race-track car.

To end the season, Spank hopped into the Citroën on Christmas Day and headed to THE PAINFULLY BLAND BOWL OF THIN LUKEWARM OATMEAL THAT CAN NOT POSSIBLY OFFEND ANYONE, NO MATTER HOW MUCH THEY ENJOY BEING OFFENDED, 24-HOUR SEASON ENDER… which was taking place in Florida, 2,600 miles from Spank’s San Diego home.

The Citroën made it, with much drama, but it needed a replacement water pump and some other repairs before it could race at Palm Beach International Raceway.

Onto the track! Tire woes caused the Citroën to lose some track time, but all went well… until a connecting rod started a-knockin’.

Spank didn’t want to bring the car back to San Diego (he wants to concentrate on the Minis), so he gave the Citroën as a wedding gift to Timing & Scoring gurus Stephanie and Roland, who tied the knot with Minister Lamm presiding. This isn’t the end of the LeMons sChitroën story!

Unununium Medal Winner: The Cannonball Bandits

Two teams have won the Organizer’s Choice trophy three times, but only one has scored all three of their trophies during the course of a single season (the other three-time winner will be getting an Ununquadium Medal for their 2010 efforts; stay tuned): The Cannonball Bandits!

What do you do with a Toyota Corolla FX16 to make it a better race car? You know the answer!

The NASCAR Meyer Wienermobile showed up to the Sears Pointless 24 Hours of LeMons and stunned everyone by not only looking just like the real Oscar Meyer version but by being very quick as well. It did need a few structural repairs along the way, but mostly it just kept racking up laps.

Many E30 drivers found themselves getting passed by the Wienermobile, which must have made them reconsider the whole “Ultimate Driving Machine” business.

Many teams would be content to rest on their laurels after fielding one of the all-time greatest cars in LeMons history, but not the Cannonball Bandits! A couple of the Cannonballs have day jobs building parade floats (really!) and they broke out their skills once again at the Goin’ For Broken LeMons at Thunderhill Raceway Park. This time, they turned a Supra into a replica of Tiger Woods’ Escalade, complete with golf clubs and mannequins of a bathrobe-wearing Elin Woods beating on a supine Tiger on the car’s roof.

On top of all that greatness, the whole team dressed as a horde of Tiger’s heartbroken girlfriends.

Every single time the “Escalade” came off the track, “Tiger’s girlfriends” would give chase, beating it with golf clubs and screaming “WHY DID YOU BREAK MY HEART, TIGER?” et cetera. This ritual never got old, and we were very tempted to have Race Control black-flag Tiger just so we could see the angry girlfriends do their act again.

After the Wienermobile and Tiger’s Escalade, we were all asking ourselves, “How can the Cannonball Bandits possibly top that?” We got our answer at the Arse Sweat-a-Palooza LeMons, also at Thunderhill. This time, the Bandits went with a two-vehicle team: Canadian illegal immigrants in an FX16 Corolla-based “Hyder” truck and US Border Patrol agents in a Crown Victoria-esque Supra. That’s right, the Wienermobile and the Escalade were completely transformed for this race.

The Canadian illegal “frostbacks” included the whole tuque-wearing crew of north-of-the-border stereotypes, including hockey players and a flannel-shirted dude with a maple leaf shaved into his chest hair. You want to win Organizer’s Choice at a LeMons race? The chest-hair maple leaf gives you a decisive edge!

During the BS Inspection, the “illegals” came boiling out of the cargo box of the Hyder truck— which featured a section of chain-link “border fencing” and mannequin Canadian hanging onto the roof— and were promptly set upon by the “Border Patrol” members of the Bandits.


Meanwhile, the team had rented a Sno-Cone cart and was issuing free cones to all comers all weekend. This was most welcome given the 90-degree temperatures at the aptly-named Arse Sweat-a-Palooza.

The Cannonball Bandits are excellent drivers, so plenty of teams faced the shame of getting eaten up by the Hyder truck. We’re glad this driver had the skills to avoid a rollover when the Hyder blew a brake line and hit the dirt at 90 MPH.
Photo credit: Jeepskate

Unununium Medal Winner: Dave Morrow/Morrow’s Auto

Dave Morrow’s shop in Pittsburgh must have an unlimited stash of terrible junkers great potential race cars sitting out back, because Morrow’s Auto has managed to bring three of the all-time most startlingly wretched amazing race cars we’ve ever seen dumping fluids on tearing up a race track.

For example, the Snoopy’s Quest For The Holy Nickelbag GMC 1-ton van. After the van’s 350 done blowed up at the ’09 Lamest Day LeMons at Nelson Ledges, Dave decided that moving the engine back several feet and adding twin turbochargers feeding a blow-through Holley carb would solve the engine’s reliability problems.

And, other than the failure of both turbos plus a pesky engine fire, the Holy Nickelbag van worked great at the Detroit Irony LeMons at Gingerman Raceway.

At the same time, Morrow’s Auto was running their Woodstock-themed Pontiac Grand Prix, the only LeMons car powered by a Pontiac V8. The 400 worked fine, but the transmission had a few issues. Here’s a typical Dave Morrow LeMons tableau.

For the Detroit Bull Oil GP LeMons, also at Gingerman Raceway, Morrow’s Auto returned with the Grand Prix. By this time, they’d ditched the Woodstock theme; the Pontiac was now “Morrow’s Auto & The Wacky Racers, Rufus Ruffcut and Sawtooth in the Buzzwagon Quest For the Holy Nickelbag.”

In front, a clear plastic hood shows off that mighty 400.

In the rear, it’s a Grand Prix-amino, complete with log bumper!

The Rufus Ruffcut-mobile got wrecked pretty good during the course of the Bull Oil GP, crushing the front log, snapping a control arm, and bashing the radiator. No problem, that’s what junkyards and busted knuckles are for!

Nobody was really paying much attention to the Grand Prix-amino, because the Pittsburgh contingent had also brought one of the worst best possible choices for an endurance racer: The Morrow’s Auto & The Wacky Racers, Penelope Pitstop’s Compact Pussycat Quest for the Holy Nickel Bag Vanagon Wasserboxer-powered Bradley GT!

The Wasserboxer turned out to be exactly as reliable as everyone predicted it would be, firing all four of its connecting rods into several adjacent counties in a spectacular fiery blast during its first practice lap (actually, I was the pessimist who predicted it would blow up when being driven off the trailer, so I was pleased to see the Wasserboxer’s relatively bulletproof performance). No problem, though— Dave Morrow brought a whole bunch of air-cooled VW engines of unknown running condition! At that point, he began the first of many, many engine swaps.

After much trial and error, a quasi-functional VW air-cooled was installed, but none of the carburetors worked. Fortunately, Dave was able to combine the lower half of the Wasserboxer’s throttle body with some pressboard, a Holley 2-barrel, and linkage made from coat-hanger wire, a bungee cord, and a bicycle shifter cable to make the engine run.

OK, that’s it for the 2010 Legends of LeMons Unununium Medal winners; check in tomorrow for the Ununquadium Medal Winners!
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