TTAC Does the 24 Hours of LeMons. And Dies. Again.

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

The weekend of October 24-25 was the third running of the 24 Hours of LeMons at Motorsport Ranch in Houston, TX. TTAC was there for the insanity. And it was the fourth time our LeMons race car, a 1972 Datsun 240Z hit the track. I was an honorary “penalty” judge this time ’round (props to Autoblog’s Jonny Lieberman and LeMon’s Founder Jay Lamm for that), so I did the best I could for my teammates when they got black flagged. But I’m no crooked judge, Jonny said I was too nice to other teams, too. No matter, it wasn’t enough for us to come close to victory. Then again, the Datsun Z is the butt of many a LeMon’s joke. What’s up with that?

How could a little sports car with a fully independent suspension and a healthy six-pot motor perform so poorly? More to the point, perhaps you remember some of the “cheating” we did to our LeMon’s ringer: a milled down stock flywheel, 280ZX long block and disc brake upgrades and a smokin’ deal on a coil-over suspension at a Z-club silent auction. Everyone expected Z-cars to perform well in these races, but no matter who runs the Fairlady from the Land of The Rising Sun, it all ends in Epic Fail. And so it was this time: our car performed well the first day of racing, with the power to pull hard on damn near everyone in the straights too. But the competition is even better than last year, and the Z’s temperature gauge was none to happy about it. By Day Two, the head gasket said sayonara. So we paused, re-thought our action plans and finally packed it up to plan for next February’s race.

While I know that Z-cars are doomed to mediocrity because E30 BMW’s, Toyota Corolla FX hatchbacks (yes, really) and Foxbody Mustangs have taken the checkered flag, Jay Lamm’s own words about the Z-car tells the sad truth: Datsuns are out of date and hopelessly uncompetitive against modern vehicles. That’s sounds like a challenge to me, and TTAC’s crew chief Troy Hogan knows it. Rest assured, his (insane?) dedication to the Datsun brand means that one day a Z-car will come up a winner.

Eventually. But these events are fun for racers, brand loyal fanatics, and anyone who loved these cars (mostly 1980s and 1990s iron) when they were new. And enjoy seeing them get a new lease on life, or a stay of execution. And much like TTAC, the 24 Hours of LeMons is all about the product, stupid. Much like C/D, the BMW 3-series comes up a winner far too often. But that’s not the point.

If you haven’t seen a 24 Hours of LeMons race, go to one of next year’s events. The series is growing every year, mostly because of word of mouth and an unbelievably low cost of entry, relative to SCCA and NASA sanctioned motor sport events. Even if you don’t race, you’ll be hooked after one lap of $500 heaps making an absolute mess (mockery?) of your local road course.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Dolorean23 Dolorean23 on Nov 30, 2009

    Why not go with a '85-86 300ZX with the 3.0L six? For that matter, and if you simply have to have a Datsun/Nissan for this, why not utilize a '89-90 Maxima, the original 4doorsportscar? Or the 200SX of the same era? Seems to me you are determined to sew a silk purse from a pig's ear with the 240Z.

    • Troy h Troy h on Dec 14, 2009

      We started with the 240Z, cause I already had a documented car for $200. It had a lot of potential. In fact that's about all it had: potential. It's fairly light with a decent chassis. There are lots of easy mods too. The fact that it's one of the oldest cars in LeMons and puts down some of the fastest lap times says something. The Schwing FX16 Corolla is fast too. They are good drivers but it's a freakin' econo box for crying out loud! In my opinion, the Z31 is more of a touring sedan than sports car. They are heavy without as many easy junkyard mods as the earlier straight 6 cars. First gen 300ZXs, Z31's, seem cheap enough, I bought on for $150 the other day. They are relatively heavy and don;t have that much power but they are a decent candidate. They are more technologically advanced than the previous cars which often times translates into electronic challenges. I have a 4DCS, I like it and it could be a good LeMons candidate. Most cheap ones now a days are automiatics with bad transmissions. Like the Z31, the Maxima has the VG30 motor which is pretty durable. Just make sure you have a good timing belt. That said, VG30s have died at LeMons. There have been 200SXs in LeMons. They have some connections with the Z cars. They seem to be okay. The ideal LeMons car is one you are willing to waste invest excessive amounts of time and money on with no possible return other than to have an awesome weekend.

  • Sajeev Mehta Sajeev Mehta on Dec 01, 2009

    Because LeMon's 300Zx's do no better than the 240, and we have a lot of 240 knowledge in our group. Call it stubbornness, but we're gonna make it work. And it's not all the car's fault, the teams that win are the ones that drive somewhat conservatively and don't get black flagged by the track staff. People make the difference more than the car...sometimes.

    4DSC's are too big, though they'd probably do just as well as the Taurus SHOs. That's not a compliment.

    • See 1 previous
    • Troy h Troy h on Dec 14, 2009

      It looks like we had some detonation which compromised the head gasket which further led to overheating. I may try drilling and tapping the head for additional cooling too.

  • 28-Cars-Later "The unions" need to not be the UAW and maybe there's a shot. Maybe.
  • 2manyvettes I had a Cougar of similar vintage that I bought from my late mother in law. It did not suffer the issues mentioned in this article, but being a Minnesota car it did have some weird issues, like a rusted brake line.(!) I do not remember the mileage of the vehicle, but it left my driveway when the transmission started making unwelcome noises. I traded it for a much newer Ford Fusion that served my daughter well until she finished college.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Couple of questions: 1) who will be the service partner for these when Rivian goes Tits Up? 2) What happens with software/operating system support when Rivia goes Tits Up? 3) What happens to the lease when Rivian goes Tits up?
  • Richard I loved these cars, I was blessed to own three. My first a red beauty 86. My second was an 87, 2+2, with digital everything. My third an 87, it had been ridden pretty hard when I got it but it served me well for several years. The first two I loved so much. Unfortunately they had fuel injection issue causing them to basically burst into flames. My son was with me at 10 years old when first one went up. I'm holding no grudges. Nissan gave me 1600$ for first one after jumping thru hoops for 3 years. I didn't bother trying with the second. Just wondering if anyone else had similar experience. I still love those cars.
  • TheEndlessEnigma A '95 in Iowa, I'm thinking significant frame and underbody rust issues.