By on December 17, 2011

It’s not much of a shock to find that the most dominant team of the 2011 24 Hours of LeMons season, the seemingly black-flag-proof Hong Norrth Mazda MX-3, ended today’s race session at Eagles Canyon in P1. A lot can happen tomorrow, though, so unhatched chickens aren’t being counted yet. The day’s events featured plenty of Texas-style ventilated engine blocks and panicky trips to the junkyard as well.
Hong Norrth already has four LeMons overall wins in 2011; they’re not the fastest team on the track, but they don’t make mistakes and their car doesn’t break. It appears that BMW has the 2011 LeMons Constructors’ Championship nailed down at this point, thanks to the hordes of quick E30s and E28s, but Mazda will have far more wins than the Bavarians.
Hong Norrth isn’t leading by much, however, and the drivers of the Blue Goose Rabbit have come so close to a LeMons win so many times that they’re probably chewing lug nuts out of frustration at this very moment. If Hong Norrth stumbles in the slightest, the second-place Blue Goose Rabbit will be right there to grab the lead and keep it.
Because this is Texas, the SHO contingent is out in force. In P3, we have the SHOTime A Taurus SHO (foreground). Taurus SHOs have won plenty of LeMons races… and they’ve also destroyed more engines and transmissions than the rest of the field combined. Today, only one of the five SHOs scattered an engine all over the track (necessitating a lengthy red-flag delay to clean up the mess) and each of the remaining four sits in the top ten of the standings at day’s end.
We often forget that Hong Norrth runs two MX-3s in each race. They seem mechanically identical, but the team’s best drivers run the black Hong Norrth A car while the more black-flag-prone drivers take the red Hong Norrth B car. For the first time ever, the red Hongmobile has managed to finish a day’s race session near the top of the standings. Looks like the Hong Norrth B Team has been taking lessons in spinout avoidance from the Hong Norrth A Team.
No team in the first four positions can afford to relax, because they’ve got another tough previous winner looming behind them. The BenzGay 300E won the Garrapatas Peligrosas race (against most of the same teams in this weekend’s race) by the vast chasm of a 17-lap margin, and they could do it again.
On paper, the Los Bastardos Duratec-powered Renault Dauphine has the power-to-weight numbers to annihilate the competition at a horsepower track like ECR, but sometimes things— we can’t really call them unexpected things— just go wrong. Nobody hurt in the blaze, all-night wrenchfest sure to come.
It’s early to speculate too much on who might win the top prize of the weekend, but we can look at a few of the front-runners as of now. This dead-stock, 302-powered 1978 Mustang II (a team member’s grandmother’s ex-daily-driver) is looking strong.
The Barracuda of IOE-winning veterans NSF Racing is right in the thick of the IOE hunt; with its healthy 340 engine, it will need to finish reasonably high in the standings to defeat the Malaisemobiles for the Index (and by “reasonably high” I mean “top half”).
The Speedy Monzales Chevy Monza should be capable of going toe-to-toe with its Mustang rival for IOE honors; this Monza has a reasonably reliable Buick V6 under the hood, so it should blow up less frequently than the small-block version would.
The Mercedes-Benz 560SEL stayed running most of the day and sounds great on the track. It’s probably too well-built (i.e., one of the best-built cars in the history of the automobile) to qualify for the IOE, but it’s still a great big luxury car on a tough road course.
Photo credit: Nick Pon

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18 Comments on “Heaps In The Heart Of Texas LeMons Day One: MX-3 Leads, Index of Effluency Battle Heating Up...”

  • avatar

    @Murilee: Do you really think the Buick motor will be more reliable than a SBC? Is it because they didn’t try to hop it up during the prep work?

  • avatar

    There is reliability and then there is lemons reliability. I don’t think it takes much to exceed the sbc at lemons. Now as a daily driver, thats another thing. One of the things that has amazed me while following lemons is the unreliability of the sbc. I have had several that ran forever.

  • avatar

    This is about the only time I say this, but that Mustang II actually looks too clean to be out there.

    Although it does look good on that track.

    I’ll go back to my garage and stare at my $300 Chevelle and wish it was in far rougher shape than the price says. Although if I were to race the two ton sedan, I wonder how long the box stock 150,000 mile 305 would last before the OE rods and bearings scatter, esp. coupled with the high speed friendly 2.56 rear end. Good for going fast, not so good for getting there quickly.

  • avatar

    In conversations on the 24 Hours of Lemons forums the consensus is that the SBC is unreliable due to the ease at which it can be hopped up, coupled with people spinning them way to high. There is no real way to know which SBC are bone stock and which have had the heads milled and a lumpier cam installed. Just one example, the 80s Chevy S10 with the 60s 283 in it seems to run trouble free, at least for several races.

  • avatar

    The small-block Chevy has been one of the least reliable engines in LeMons, and I can’t say exactly why (though most of the failures are preceded by lengthy periods of overheating that no amount of radiator can fix, suggesting that the cooling system was never made to handle more than 4 hours of full-throttle abuse). I can think of two LeMons SBCs that have been fairly bulletproof, and both are limited to 4500 RPM.

    In fact, the only V8 that has been reliable in LeMons is the Ford Modular 4.6. The Ford Windsor has been bad, though better than the SBC. We’ve had a few Chrysler LA engines and they’ve done OK, but the sample size is too small to draw any conclusions. Same with Mercedes V8s. Lexus V8s have been so-so, maybe a little below average reliability.

    Those who just can’t believe that the legendary SBC isn’t reliable in LeMons racing should also contemplate the LeMons fate of the even more legendary Toyota R, which survives the most terrible abuse that Hilux-driving mujahadeen fighters and Congolese militias can dish out. In LeMons, the R is one of thee least reliable engines, spitting out rods like no other engine. Likewise for the unkillable-on-the-street Honda B and D engines. Every engine made by Mitusbishi has been terrible in LeMons, but that’s no surprise.

    Off the top of my head, the most reliable LeMons engines are the Ford 4.6 Modular, the Saturn I4, the Alfa Romeo Twin Cam, and the Mazda B. The Chrysler Neon 2.0 has been good. The naturally aspirated Ford 2300 has done well. I’ve seen so many BMW M20s blow up (because of the sheer number in LeMons, with the E30 being the most common car in the series) that I’m probably overlooking the ones that don’t; I’d guess that the M20 is somewhat better than average reliable. The Toyota 7M has done pretty well.

  • avatar

    Once again most of these cars look like they are WAY over the $500 dollar limit. I would bet the RX7 with the antlers cost closer to FIVE THOUSAND dollars than five hundred.

    • 0 avatar

      Seriously? I paid $1000 for a running, driving Rx-7 a few years ago, and I think I overpaid. Not to mention you can sell off unneeded parts to recoup your costs, and tires, brakes, and safety items are exempt from the $500 budget.

      Read the rules at, go to a race, check out these cars up close, and then make an educated commentary.

      • 0 avatar

        Not interested in going to a Lemons race. There is more driving talent at my local kart track than any of these races, and a 10 year old shifter kart will obliterate any LeMons car.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth


        If you go to a LeMons race, you will see some interesting driving suits. I’ve seen a lot of Koni/Rolex patches, a few ALMS/IMSA patches, not to mention the number of Runoffs podium finishers who have participated.

        The average LeMons driver is a menace, but there are thousands of LeMons drivers and some of them have quite the resume.

    • 0 avatar

      You could have picked a much better example than the extremely horrible Sensory Assault RX-7. That thing is barely worth more than scrap value. The real world of car values differs greatly from the internet world of car values.

  • avatar

    At the Charlotte race in September, the Duff Beer guys were giving us some good-natured crap about the 400M engine in our Ford LTD Landau. They’ve been through every nut and bolt of their Honda B engines, and they inevitably end up done blowed up nearly every race. By contrast, we’ve run 2 raced so far with the 400M, and all we’ve done is replace the radiator and change the oil. (we installed a fuel cell and added a shift kit to the C6 tranny too, but those aren’t engine related). The point is, Detroit (or Berlin, or Finlandia, or Hiroshima, or Milano, or wherever the heck your crap heap was built) probably had at least one engineer who probably worked at least part time on designing something resembling reliability into your crap heap of choice. Don’t mess with this. You are probably not an automotive engineer. And even if you are, you didn’t spend 3+ years designing your car’s engine.

    Our Ford’s 400M never sees the high side of 3500 RPM, and we let the trans do all the shifting, the way God and Dearborn intended. Hence, *knock on wood*, it’s still working. Heck, the damn car sits outside, under a tarp in my backyard, hasn’t been started since the race, and just the other day I went out, flipped the kill switch, pumped the hell out of the gas, and she fired right up. _that’s_ reliability. And the 400M is considered one of the red-headed bast*rd children of Ford’s legendary engine family.

    I owned a ’77 Suburban for about 3 years while in college. It was 20 years old then. And had untold hundreds of thousands of miles on it. And I think it had a 3.73 final gear in it. I drove that thing all over New England, and blasted down the Canadia highway from Montreal to Toronto at 90mph+ with it, and it was still running like a champ when we got back to Rochester, NY. All I ever did to the engine when I owned it was change the oil, change the valve seals, change the plugs, and rebuilt the Q-jet, poorly.

    That Mustang ][ is WAY to clean. But it was a gift. So was our LTD. Well, whatever. A bit of sanding and a $20 spray gun will make any car look good in a photo. It’s still a 2-door Maverick.

    And here’s a tip, free advice: Looking at that Mustang ][ and the Baracuda, you know, camber adjustments are free and easy to do. Dial in as much negative camber as the suspension will let you. Not only will that rusty crap heap handle loads better, but it will actually make the tires wear more evenly on a road course.

    Just my 4-1/2 cents.

    • 0 avatar

      Your right, I worked with those guys; there’s alot of blood, sweat and tears that go into coming up with the least worst solutions. They try to sneek in extra reliability on the sly, in spite of pressure from the money keepers. No tuner/rodder knows all the interactions mapped out on these ECU run engines – even the designers can’t predict them all ’til they test to failure – and even then, surprises happen in the field despite their best efforts. That said, the fundamentals stay the same.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    I really wish I could hear that 560 SEL. I bet it’s awesome.

  • avatar

    There is some funny $h!t on the Lemons website. I wonder if any manufactures take any of this seriously (at least from a reliability and endurance standpoint). Never mind – that would take the fun out of it.

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