Welcome to Project Car Hell, where you choose the project that's the coolest... and most hellish! Are you thinking of entering the Buttonwillow Histrionics 24 Hours Of LeMons, but just can't find the right car?
I hear a lot of potential 24 Hours Of LeMons entrants whine about the supposed impossibility of finding any running car for under 500 bucks: "You can't even get a thrashed Taurus for that kind of money!" Bullshit, I say! Even if you rule out the option of selling $300 worth of parts from an $800 car, you can still find plenty of seriously LeMons-worthy machinery that will fit your budget. With that in mind, tonight we're going to have 10 choices- the largest number ever offered in Project Car Hell history- and every one of these vehicles is located within a day's drive of Buttonwillow Raceway Park. You've got six months, you've got a bunch of
suckers friends to join your team, and now it's time to go race car shopping! Note: if any of the original Craigslist ads disappear, just go to the gallery at the bottom of the post for screenshots.
1. 1978 Jeep DJ5
Do you want to be just another team with a soporific Sentra or coma-inducing Camaro, or do you want to stand out? You don't need to go very fast to put in a strong showing at the 24 Hours Of LeMons; all you need to do is keep grinding out the laps. With that in mind, how about a machine that will let neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stay your drivers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds? Frankenstein up some fat swaybars onto this lightweight two-wheel-drive box and it
definitely won't might even put down some respectable lap times!
2. 1987 Renault GTA Convertible
In theory, the extra chassis bracing in a convertible will make for an extra-stiff platform, once you get a roll cage installed, and of course there's the comfort factor of having those
cowshit-scented soothing Buttonwillow breezes flowing past your helmet while all the other drivers swelter in their steel prisons. What you need is the hot-rodded ragtop version of the Renault 9-based Alliance, with 95 front-drive horses and Franco-Kenosha build quality. This one is just 300 bucks, and it seems pretty close to being in running condition: "i drove where it parks and i think it needs a fuse but easy to fix." Remember, French cars have a massive head start at the Index Of Effluency trophy!
3. V6 4X4 Geo Metro
An engine-swapped Geo Metro won the last LeMons race, so you know it's a superior formula. But what you really need in a racing Metro is four-wheel drive! Imagine the advantage you'll have when the track gets covered with dirt, oil, and shards of Porsche connecting rods, as you pilot this fine GM 2.8 V6-powered machine to victory. The project isn't exactly what you'd call "finished" yet, but it's
not even close well on its way; what you get is a shortened Chevy S10 chassis with a Metro body sitting (loosely) on top of it. How much? 450 dollars in Trilateral Commission-approved fiat currency... or firearms... or GOLD.
4. 1963 Ford Fairlane 500
1960s Detroit Iron always does quite well in LeMons races, since what little does go wrong with the car on the track can be fixed in minutes by any random group of bystanders hanging around the pits. Just keep racking up the laps, try to avoid getting upside-down, and you'll cruise right past all them high-strung furrin machines. This Fairlane has the very first version of the Ford Windsor small-block V8, which you'll most likely be able to trade for a 302 + cash from some numbers-matching-obsessed Ford restorer. In fact, this thing is fully loaded with parts you can sell; we'd be shocked if you failed to squeeze 400 bucks out of it, which should provide the budgetary room to get some junkyard disc brakes and swaybars on it. Does it run? Well, it "ran when parked in my grandparents barn Last year," which would make you run away screaming if applied to a BMW, but a Fairlane? Easy!
5. Dodge Caravan Turbo
Who says you can't run a minivan at the 24 Hours Of LeMons? Chief Perp Jay Lamm hisself has stated that minivans are totally acceptable. And the Dodge Caravan Turbo
will never in a million years could be a total sleeper winner; just look at what they'll do on the dragstrip! Sell all the interior crap, lights, glass, and so on, and you should have the cash needed to go junkyard shopping for an intercooler and bigger turbocharger. Then it'll just be a matter of Sawzalling the clearance needed for huge, sticky tires, maybe chop the springs, and you'll be showing busted engine parts that big tailgate to the competition!
6. 1985 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz
What kind of car did Robert De Niro's character, Ace Rothstein, drive in the movie Casino? Damn right, a Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz! That alone is reason enough to drive a Biarritz in the 24 Hours Of LeMons, and never mind that the car in the movie was destroyed by a car bomb. You get a stainless steel roof, an Olds 350 V8 driving the front wheels, and more style than all the other schmucks in the race combined! The deal we've found here gets you one putatively running Biarritz and another parts car, which means you should be able to make a few bucks selling all the crap you won't need for racing (we recommend that you have your racing seat upholstered with that snazzy Biarritz leather). As long as you can keep from frying the transmission, and your crew works quicksville with the front tire changes (big front-wheel-drive cars tend to eat front tires in a hurry on the race track, as all the Taurus SHO guys will tell you), you should have
a snowball's chance in hell a great shot at the checkered flag at Buttonwillow.
7. 1967 Toyota Crown Wagon
Tired of all those Supras and Celicas in LeMons races? You need to show some real Toyota pride, by roaring onto the track in a vintage Crown! And, crazy as it seems, it's possible to get a Crown station wagon- which might even be close to running condition, though that's not the way to bet- for a LeMons-grade price. This '67 has the big six-cylinder M engine, and no doubt many valuable parts you'll be able to eBay-ize (to the same vintage Japanese car lovers who will want to skin you alive for trashing one of the last surviving Crown wagons in the hemisphere) into extra budget money. Spare parts might be tough to find, but it's a Toyota- who needs spare parts?
8. V6 Chevrolet Vega
If a Chevrolet V6 works well in an Opel GT, wouldn't it be even better in a genuine, all-American Chevy Vega? We've got that setup here, with some flavor of Chevy 90° V6 and a 4-speed already installed. It's plenty rusty, but so what? It runs! Well, sort of: "will need some work to make it road worthy." Roll cage kits are easily obtained for the Vega, thanks to all those Vega drag racers, and you might even be able to sell sufficient parts to afford some big swaybars!
9. 1948 Buick Super Eight
Remember when serious road racers ran straight-eight-powered Buick sedans? Of course you do (provided you come from an alternate universe in which Dewey really did defeat Truman), and now is your chance to
scare the living crap out of get the edge over the competition with this '48. Except for the hood- which you won't need, because you'll want to show off that torquey OHV eight- this car is totally complete. It appears to have been sitting for 10,000 years a while, but you've got Buick quality on your side here. Imagine piloting this ponderous stately dredging barge cruiser over and through past all those lesser race cars, straight to victory! We're sure those drum brakes will become hotter than the core of a nuclear reactor hold up just fine under the infernal balmy conditions of Buttonwillow in August, and that three-on-the-tree transmission should be pure agony the bee's nuts for racing!
10. 1977 AMC Pacer
Can you believe that we have yet to see an AMC Pacer in a 24 Hours Of LeMons race? That's a damn shame, but your team could be the first to
clog up dominate the track with the Small, But Wide AMC. This one has been sitting for 12 years (probable translation: 22 years), but the seller says it runs and drives. The price tag is $350, which means you might be able to sell a few parts and fit a junkyard V8 into your budget... but why do that, when the AMC Straight Six is such a strong engine? Unlike pre-Malaise American cars, the Pacer sports front disc brakes, and the whole package is simple enough that it should be able to hold together for many laps.