By on November 27, 2013

BABE ralley 2011 031

This is the first of a 4 part series about Mental tempting both fate and the security of his marriage by driving across hallway across the US, down through the south and (not quite) back to Oklahoma in a $400 Chevy Lumina minivan. Spoiler alert: his wife didn’t kill him but he did have to sleep on the couch for a while…

Jay Lamm, Chief Perpetrator of the 24 Hours of LeMons wrote that “racing isn’t just for rich idiots, it’s for all idiots.” Chumpcar has a similar philosophy. That covers racing, but what about tours de elegance?  There is an abundance of marque specific or classic car tours available across the US for more well-to-do enthusiasts; they offer a great deal of fraternal experiences, scenic views and luxury accommodations. Unfortunately, the fees start in the used Corolla range and can exceed the price of a new Chevy Cruz.

To paraphrase Mr. Lamm, what about the rest of us idiots?  Up until 2012, there was the option of the BABE Rally.

Calm down, while attractive and interesting ladies were present, the actual name was derived from its starting point in New York and destination in New Orleans. The Big Apple to the Big Easy – get it?

It was the only US event from the same outfit that puts on “Banger Rallies” across Europe.  Like Chumpcar, Lemons and similar events, the vehicles were restricted to a purchase price of $500.

Ever undertaken a road trip in a questionable vehicle?  You already know that step one is bring tools. In 2011, that’s exactly what I did. I expected to enjoy myself and despite my limited participation had a great time. But what was surprising was that my wife had fun as well.

It all started when I was out of the country (again). Looking for a chance to reconnect with my bride, I decided against Cancun and somehow managed to talk her in buying a $500 car, driving from Oklahoma to New York, on to New Orleans over 5 days and then back to OK. God bless good women with bad taste in men, our Skype conversations centered around Craigslist browsing and deciding on style. I wanted a big American boat; she was concerned with fuel consumption.

Lumina 2

We ended up with an absolutely awful Chevy Lumina MPV. For the tidy sum of $400, we got the infamous 3800 V-6, dust buster styling and 5 individually removable seats. What we didn’t get was A/C. This mattered, it was July. But my gracious wife still agreed. The van was purchased 4 days before the start and sat on bald, dry-rotting rubber. I was unable and unwilling to replace them; so I borrowed a set of wheels from a shop mate and bolted them on. For my “thing de résistance,” I covered it by hand roller in chalkboard paint. Not original, but certainly fun.

A scheduling snafu prevented us from meeting the start in New York; in fact we were unable to depart Oklahoma until Tuesday afternoon. We drove straight through the night. My unimaginably patient spouse drove, all the while muttering to herself as I watched Archer episodes on my netbook.

We met up with the group at 6 AM Wednesday morning, at their hotel in the hills of North Carolina. The teams were just rising from the beer fueled mayhem of the previous night; including our friends; the Three Pedal Mafia. Their fleet consisted of a desert-camo’d Miata sans top, a high mile Saab 9000 painted as a Swedish flag and a Luftwaffe themed Mercury Capri Roadster.

BABE ralley 2011 004

While the missus and I borrowed showers to get cleaned up, the entirety of the participants set about our poor Lumina with a vengeance. When we emerged, our steed was now fully decorated with sidewalk chalk. Our plan had worked.

BABE ralley 2011 026

A few cups of coffee, a bowl of continental breakfast cereal and a CB Radio install later; we were ready to begin the rally proper. The fact we hadn’t slept since the previous morning didn’t even enter into our thought process.

What could possibly go wrong?

Its summer in North Carolina, Mental has no AC and the intrepid group is headed for the “Tail of the Dragon” in a minivan! Catch the second installment to see if they survive! (OK, he wrote this, so of course he survived), but it ended up being a very, very long day…

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14 Comments on “Thanksgiving Tales of Vehicular Mayhem – the B.A.B.E. Rally Part 1...”

  • avatar

    Define “awful”. The powertrain in this van (with the “infamous” 3800) is great. I call shenanigans!

    I do like your paint job, though.

  • avatar

    Ha, this sounds great!
    Unfortunately my road-tripping days in high-probability-of-failure vehicles is (hopefully) over plus my wife would probably never put up with it now but ill be reading vicariously…nurburgring? nonsense, this is the type of automotive adventure I can relate to!

    Curious though, was the just AC broken or not installed? I couldn’t imagine buying one of these in the early 90’s without an AC option.

  • avatar


    Good piece. The Lumina APV seems like an interesting van, and pretty reliable, since I still see them around sometimes.

  • avatar

    No AC – no way! Everything else would be manageable including the lack of sleep.

  • avatar

    SWEET ! .

    There’s lots and lots of these Road Rallies in California , some of the junkers that show up are worse than mine .


  • avatar

    In my college days I once drove my 83 Jeep CJ-7 across the state of VA and into WV. Not much upgrading to it that point. Nobody wanted me to do it, and everybody was expecting me to break down at some point.

    In VA closing on the border I ran into a nasty T-storm on the top of a large mountain. I couldn’t see a damn thing the rain was so bad, the wind was blowing my Jeep all over the place, but I had to get off the mountain as I only had a soft top and there was lighting like EVERYWHERE.

    Those old Jeeps….. man. If you’ve driven one for a length of time, you know how awful/fun they are.

  • avatar

    Those images have some really strange compression artifacts. It looks like they were converted to .gif, then back to .jpg.

  • avatar

    LOL, those wheels were the neighborhood bicycle in our circle.

  • avatar

    I actually just did something similar on a 250 plus mile trip to Lake George. I’ve always ridden motorcycles but the last 8 or so years it has been an on and off thing due to some close calls. I married in that time and the wife said no to bikes from here on out. Fast forward some years and I have changed jobs, and the guys I am friends with ride – a lot. So I get the bug and for the last few rides, I rent something. Not a bad deal but would rather have something of my own. The wife eventually goes for it and lets me buy something. I do it on the cheap as it is the end of the season and I am looking for a deal. I find a 90 K75 RT that no one wants for 1300.. I take it for a half hour ride and decide this is the one (this is on a Thurs and the ride is Sat). I get her reg’d and insured and go, not sure if I will lose a tire, a tranny, anything. The guys I am with are skeptical as well but 100 miles later, it is all good. The bike gets me there and back no problem and delivers 50 plus mpg.

    While I didn’t pay 500, I paid little more and had a great time. Sometimes you gotta take a chance. Love stories like these.

  • avatar

    A few years ago I read an article (here, I believe) about the 24 Hours of LeMons. It sounded like incredible fun. So I attended one of the races as a spectator, was instantly hooked, and I now race in LeMons with three of my equally moronic friends.

    Didn’t know this BABE rally thing existed until now! Damn you, WCM Ward! If the rest of this story is as compelling as the first installment, I may have stumbled upon a new way to waste money on cars…..

  • avatar

    Sadly haven’t had the chance to participate in something like BABE or LeMons yet. That said, I had a 900km round trip from university to home and back that I did many times in a $100 Ford Escort. I was probably very lucky that its quirks were relatively benign and charming (rust, a radio that would lose power and all the presets over the occasional bump, a leaking trunk) instead of anything that would get me stranded.

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