Apollo 18 Mini Moke Set To Dominate Lunar Grand Prix

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
apollo 18 mini moke set to dominate lunar grand prix

As we saw in the prerace sneak preview, the 2010 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza 24 Hours of LeMons featured a brain-dissolvingly great assortment of entries, so impressive that one of the greatest of all time may have been lost in the frenzy: the Apollo 18 Mini Moke.

Yes, it’s possible to find a Moke for under 500 bucks in the United States… provided you’re willing to accept [s]endless[/s] a few mechanical [s]show-stoppers[/s] issues. Here’s the starting point for LeMons Legend Spank’s Apollo 18 Lunar Rover race car.

Spank, a San Diego-based lover of [s]terrible[/s] classic British cars, is the West Coast’s answer to the crazed Maryland-based Speedycop; he finds weird-ass vehicles that no sane person would ever in a million years think of putting on a race track, thrashes on them in a frenzy that’s still going on when the green flag waves, and manages to keep them on a punishing LeMons track for most or all of a weekend. He won the Index of Effluency trophy— LeMons’ top prize— at Sears Point with his ’72 Citroën DS, which ran for the first time in 30+ years when Spank took it one lap around the Infineon paddock and then right onto the race track… where it suffered from nothing worse than a blown radiator hose all weekend.

That wasn’t Spank’s first IOE trophy, however; back in the ’09 Buttonwillow Histrionics race, he managed to run all weekend with a 998cc Austin Mini assembled from a heap of parts found rusting in a drainage culvert somewhere; note how the Mini is being dwarfed by a monstrous Mazda 323 in the photo above. Of course, Speedycop raised the bar for the Most Foamy-Mouthed Madman In LeMons Racing title when he made a FrankenScorpion out of the dismembered corpses of a Lancia Scorpion and a Toyota MR2, and that was before Pittsburgh-based LeMons Legend Dave Morrow ran a Wasserboxer-powered Bradley GT in the October Detroit race; how could Spank possibly match those [s]downward spirals of sanity[/s] accomplishments?

Right, by taking the World’s Most Terrible Mini Moke™ and converting it to a highly credible replica of an Apollo Lunar Rover, that’s how!

When Spank showed up at Buttonwillow Raceway for the BS Inspection (the ritual by which the LeMons Supreme Court, of which I am a member, determines the cheatosity of all 24 Hours of LeMons entries), he’d brought three vehicles, none of which were ready to move under their own power at the time: the Citroën, the Mini (which had been upgraded— if that’s the word— with the addition of a blow-through turbocharger setup force-feeding the SU carbs), and the Moke.

As if that wasn’t enough work, Spank had some sort of association with the team of nutcases running a Type 3-engined Beetle (more on that car later) with an blow-through carbureted turbo setup even hooptier than the one on the Mini. Here we see the Mini suffering from a minor oil-burning problem while the Beetle sits dead after the cylinder head nuts spun off.

Eventually, all four machines were baling-wired into some kind of quasi-running condition, and the Apollo 18 Lunar Rover rolled through the tech-inspection area. Space suits, foil heat insulation, dish antenna, white helmets for the drivers— hey, this thing really does look like it belongs on the moon (though we were disappointed by the lack of aluminum-mesh tires).

Out on the race track, the Lunar Rover wasn’t exactly what you’d call blindingly fast, but its best lap time of 2:29.394 was quite respectable (by comparison, the best lap for the Maserati Quattroporte was 9 seconds slower) and its drivers were able to squeeze through some openings that were too small for bigger, more powerful machines.

At any normal LeMons race, the Apollo 18 Lunar Rover would have swept the Organizer’s Choice, Judges’ Choice, and probably the Index of Effluency awards… but this was no normal race. The Org Choice had to go to the stretch Town Car limo, the LeMons Supreme Court felt compelled to hand over the Judges’ Choice to the Maserati (which we were permitted to take out for a few laps during the race), and how could we deny the IOE to a Moto Guzzi-powered Fiat 600?

Still, Spank took home a major trophy for the Lunar Rover, joining the ranks of Heroic Fix winners with his mid-race frame repair. See how the Moke’s scary-rusty rear subframe has broken in half, right where the rubber rear spring stresses it most? In a couple of hours, Spank welded up a helper subframe that worked well enough to keep the car going for the rest of the weekend. Congratulations!

Oh, and did I mention that Spank plans to enter the Citroën in 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 24 Hours of LeMons (formerly known as the “Cuba Del Norte LeMons,” until Glenn Beck blew a head gasket after seeing the Che Guevara image on the event patch) in Miami at the end of this month? And he won’t be towing it; he’ll be leaving on Christmas Day, behind the wheel of the Citroën, and he’ll be driving it from San Diego to Miami. Solo.

Thanks to Nick Pon for photographic help.

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4 of 7 comments
  • Sean Aron Sean Aron on Dec 16, 2010

    That Moke truly had the best theme out there, it genuinely looked like a Lunar Rover! And a 2:29 lap is really outstanding for 998cc of fury! Awesome, awesome entry.

    • Spank Spank on Dec 18, 2010

      The mini has always run a 998 cc, only this time it was turbocharged. For the moke I was able to score a trashed 1275 block/crank (thrust washers were previously installed backwards which took out a lot of metal from the crank plus the center and front mains). It's really only a matter of time before the mains let go or the crank, which was ground .030" at the thrust face center web, splits in two. I think the 998 with the T3 turbo was faster than the moke! The moke just had a better driver on Saturday :), some good drafts behind the Jeep Cherokee for a couple laps while I was driving, and a lot more tire-- 50% more tire with 195 50/15 versus the 10" on the mini.

  • Ben Ben on Dec 17, 2010

    Murilee - any pictures of what they did for the gas tank? If my memory is right, these mokes have a fuel tank that sits right next to the passenger as part of the side "bulk head", and have a truck size fuel cap that doesn't seal very well.

    • Spank Spank on Dec 18, 2010

      You can check out a series of pics from the build here: http://www.hubgarage.com/mygarage/apollo18/vehicles But I'm with you on the stock fuel tank-- no way was that going to stay-- plus selling that thing off brought a bit of $ back to the build budget. I cut a hole in the rear load area floor, made a frame, and dropped a fuel cell in there. Then we used a Kenmore dryer to box it and isolate it from the topside of the vehicle as per the rules. In the above pic of the subframe, you can just see the corner of the red cell poking from underneath. The bottom wasn't boxed-- just straps and a heat shield. I also went with a center steering setup for similar reasons-- safety-- and to keep driver away from the side impact areas.

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