While on the junkyard expedition that netted photos of a Black Gold 280ZX and the Groovalicious Purple Princess Of Peace Taurus, I ran across a couple of young dudes who were researching potential LeMons ideas.
I was pulling a couple of window cranks off this Spitfire, for installation on the 20R Sprite Hell Project), when these guys noticed my 24 Hours Of LeMons baseball cap. "We're thinking about entering the Buttonwillow Histrionics race, but we can't decide on a car," one told me. "Any advice?"
Naturally, my #1 choice for a first-time LeMons team would be a Triumph Stag. You can get this one for $450, and any team showing up with a Stag for their first-ever LeMons race would become instant Legends In Their Own Time. One lap around Buttonwillow in a Stag would be more glorious than 100 laps in a boring old 325i or Camaro, and talk about your Index Of Effluency slam-dunk! However, some teams have different priorities; some want to take the checkered flag, while others just want a car that can maximize seat time by running for a whole weekend.
Yeah, the LeMons newcomers often have this insane idea that it's possible for them to take the overall win (I know, I've been there), and that they'll be taking the big trophy and the 200 pounds of nickels at the awards ceremony. Well, that's just impossible, new guy; even a team stacked with experienced racers will still be looking at a pretty harsh learning curve the first time they get out there on a track full of rickety, parts-shedding junkheaps piloted by totally unpredictable hoons. We've read some great advice from previous winners (not to mention my personal cheating tips), and the Gator-O-Rama LeMons-winning Team Formula M For Mullet guys have shared their secrets as well (check in later for that). So if you're not willing to take on the Stag or, say, a Humber Sceptre, and you recognize that you can't win the thing on your first try, what car will maximize the amount of track time you'll get, while not being so slow as to make all the other racers hate your guts for being a big unflushable turd of a roadblock? First, let's talk about some seemingly good choices that aren't so good in reality:
LeMons Bad Car Choice #1: Any Honda or Acura. Honda makes some incredible 300,000-mile engines, and even a Civic HX will be pretty quick around a racetrack. The 2nd-gen Integra is probably the quickest legitimate $500 road-race car you can buy. However, Honda engines tend to puke at LeMons races; I've seen more blown head gaskets and thrown rods on Honda LeMons cars than on all other makes combined.
LeMons Bad Car Choice #2: Mazda Miata. Yeah, yeah, you and your buddies race Miatas all day long, and you totally know where to get one for, like, a hundred bucks. Thing is, we won't believe you during the BS Inspection, and half the other racers at the track will hate your guts because they know There Are No Cheap Miatas Out There.
LeMons Bad Car Choice #3: BMW E30. The E30 is one fast mo-fo, and that's no lie! You can get a pretty good runner for a few hundred bucks, too… you and half the other racers at any given 24 Hours Of LeMons race, that is. They break down on the track with depressing regularity (generally with fiendishly undiagnosable electrical ailments or fiendishly inaccessible mechanical failures), and there's something about an E30 that turns normally mild-mannered racers into regular Penalty Box visitors. We could go on and on (I might add the Mazda RX-7, Datsun/Nissan Z/ZX, 3rd-gen GM F-body, and a few others to the LeMons Beginners' Looks Good But Isn't Car Choice list) but it's time to get on with the good choices. To make this list, I consulted with the guy who knows more about good and bad LeMons machinery than any man alive: Nick Pon, LeMons Assistant Perpetrator and our own TheEastBayKid:
LeMons Good Car Choice #1: Toyota Corolla FX16. The big danger with a front-driver is that you'll fry the clutch and then get knocked out for five hours while you disassemble the suspension, pull the transmission, etc. However, it's worth taking that chance with an FX16, because it's impressively fast, handles predictably (very important if you don't want to talk to me and Justice Lieberman in the Penalty Box) and has proven to be a reliable LeMons machine. Plus, that engine sounds incredible; check out this video from the Schumacher Taxi Service FX16 at LeMons South '08:
LeMons Good Car Choice #2: BMW E28. We haven't seen huge numbers of E28s at LeMons races, but those that have entered have done quite well. In fact, Black Iron Racing's 535i won the LeMons SF '07 race. Is the E28 tough enough? Well, the Sharkmobile 528e has survived two races having the absolute dogshit beat out of it by its wild-eyed posse of black-flag-magnet drivers, and it's coming back for more!
LeMons Good Car Choice #3: Fox Body Mustang. The junkyards have ridiculous quantities of Fox parts (Fairmonts, Zephyrs, even the Lincoln Mark VII is based on the same chassis), the Fox handles and brakes pretty well, and it's easy to fix when something breaks. And you don't need the V8 to get around the track in a hurry; we've seen the Pinto-powered four-banger Mustangs rack up lap times indistinguishable from their 5.0-packin' brethren at race after race.
LeMons Good Car Choice #4: Mazda Protege. Mazdas tend to be pretty bulletproof at 24 Hours Of LeMons races, and Mazdas have won more LeMons events than any other marque. We don't recommend the RX-7 for LeMons n00bs (very quick, but fragile if you get hit), but how about the winner of the Arse Freeze-A-Palooza '07 race? You can get a Protege for next to nothing, the performance is pretty similar to that of a Civic (but without the tendency to blow head gaskets), and it's small enough to stay out of trouble.
Let the debates begin! If you want to see how this stuff works in reality, come to Kershaw, South Carolina, next weekend for the LeMons South Spring race. See you there!