Go To Death Valley If You Want To See Secret Prototypes

I think we’ll park here for this checkpoint. Photo credit: Stef Schrader

There’s nothing quite like Death Valley to shake down a car. Not only is it the hottest place in the United States, but the twisty park roads and scenery are quite lovely—so long as your car works. So, naturally, we saw quite a few automotive testers when the LeMons Rally took us straight to Car Hell.

The LeMons Rally kept everything fairly simple for maximum hooptie leniency. There was no set schedule, save for a window of time every evening to check in. We were instead given a list of checkpoints to take photos of with our team mascots—various toys and other items. For Day 3, many of those checkpoints were in Death Valley National Park.


Because the LeMons rally ended at the Concours d’LeMons during Monterey Car Week, entrants were encouraged to do the rally in cars that were most likely to offend the most insufferable snobs of the Pebble Beach set. As such, many folks brought old junkers that had a hard time keeping up with the heat. Breakdowns during the Death Valley leg were common.

Ours is louder. Test van, Baja Bug, and team mascot Rally Chicken. Photo credit: Stef Schrader

We were smart. We went for a noise offensive instead, with a Baja Bug that would set off car alarms. The aircooled engine was exposed in a little cage for maximum airflow. The car was simple. We had no coolant to vomit, or air conditioner to strain.

With air blowing through the window that felt like a heater at full blast, I fared far better than my Massachusetts-based codriver, whose stomach bug meant that we spent a fair amount of time at the park’s visitor center. We survived with no vehicular breakdowns, nonetheless. The Baja Bug ran like a champ.


Death Valley test: passed.

Of course, this is what makes Death Valley and the surrounding desert such a hotbed (ha ha!) for test vehicles: it’s brutal. You get steep grades coming into and out of the valley itself. Once you’re in the valley, it’s suffocatingly hot.

Two camouflaged testers and an Acura with curious looking tape on its hood, Badwater Basin. Photo credit: Stef Schrader

We passed several cars in various states of camouflage on the open road, but got the closest to them at the wind-whipped oven that is Badwater Basin. Reaching this—the lowest point in the United States—meant that it was time for a photo-op, and in the parking lot, I saw three camouflaged vans as well as one Acura crossover with some leftover tape on it.


Needless to say, the one fabric-covered Honda van that was parked next to us left pretty quickly after I’d turned the camera on the parking lot. Hey, everybody! I see Ohio manufacturer’s plates and taped-over emblems that look like square Hs! On a van! Could this be the next Odyssey? I see sliding doors! Look at the probably-Honda van!

That almost looks like a stinkeye coming from the van’s passenger. Photo credit: Stef Schrader

Several other vans like it were parked in the same lot—presumably not to sight-see, but rather, to subject Honda’s latest and greatest in people-movers to the utter misery of being in a natural oven.

Next year, someone on the LeMons Rally needs to mock up some fabric panels and put them on a rental car—just to see if any publications pick up the “all-new 2018 Impala,” “next-generation Mirage,” “pending Chrysler 200 replacement” or whatever. Anyone have a spare manufacturer’s license plate that I can borrow for maximum trolling? Thanks in advance.


If you want to see everyone’s next-generation cars in real life, head to the hottest desert in America.

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About the author

Stef Schrader

Contributor, Jalopnik. 1984 "Porschelump" 944 race car, 1971 Volkswagen 411 race car, 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS.