PCH, Index Of Effluency Edition: MGB-GT or Fiat X1/9?

Illustration for article titled PCH, Index Of Effluency Edition: MGB-GT or Fiat X1/9?

Welcome to Project Car Hell, where you choose your eternity by selecting the project that's the coolest... and the most hellish! Last time we simultaneously crushed and seared our fingers in the red-hot vise of the Hell Garage, the Shelby-ized Dodge Omni beat hell out of the Shelby-ized Dodge Shadow in the poll. Today, with the New England 24 Hours of LeMons race coming up in just a few days, we're thinking about the kind of car it takes to win the most prestigious trophy of the event. No, that's not the one that goes to the so-called "overall winner" (although a team does get some heavy-duty bragging rights by taking that honor). We're talking about the coveted Index Of Effluency trophy, the one given to the team that achieves beyond all reasonable expectation in a seemingly hopeless "race car." You contend for the IOE by showing up in a looks-fast-on-paper car that everyone knows is going to blow up for sure (e.g., Maserati Biturbo, Merkur XR4Ti, Pontiac Fiero, etc.), or by clattering onto the track in something ungodly slow yet totally lovable (see Tunachuckers) and then keeping that crappy heap on the track for hour after punishing hour. We're going with a mix of both approaches in today's Choose Your Eternity matchup!

You know you're looking at a car deal that should make you run away in terror make a bombshell offer right away when the seller takes the time to pound out a lengthy stream-of-consciousness tirade about the car's problems, then doesn't bother to rotate the photos 90° prior to uploading them. And when you're searching high and low for a nimble mid-engined handlin' machine to disintegrate on totally own the racetrack, you can forget all about the boring MR2 or the way-too-reliable Fiero. Yes, forget 'em! What you need is something Italian, like this 1981 Fiat X1/9 (go here if the ad disappears). Asking price is $600, but the seller has an air of desperation and junkyards only offer $200 for a small car's scrap value, so there's a good chance you'll be able to turn a profit by selling off excess parts… leaving you money to rig up the world's most redneck junkyard-turbocharged Fiat, which should boost engine power from the factory 75 horses up to a block-ventilating track-dominating 150! The engine and transmission allegedly work, and the seller claims there's "plenty of rust but the chasssity of the car is solid!!!" It runs, the chasssity is solid, and the price is right- we can't see a single flaw in this plan!
The X1/9 is a fine LeMons choice, no arguments there, but you can kiss that Index Of Effluency trophy goodbye if some team out-huevos yours by keeping a British car alive for at least half the race, particularly if they manage the feat in a tiny 70s British Leyland sports car. We like the Triumph GT6, the TR7 should come equipped with built-in yellow flags, and you often see Sprites available for dirt cheap… but imagine the glory of getting towed off the track every five laps roaring past the competition in this 1972 MGB-GT (go here if the ad disappears)! You got your Lucas Electrics, your lever-action shocks, your finicky SU carbs, your 50s-vintage pushrod four, and- best of all- that legendary British Leyland build quality, all in one gorgeous Pininfarina package! This one is 600 bucks, but the devoted eBay seller should be able to get back quite a bit of that. You get a "trunk full of parts" and the seller claims the car "has not been started in several years," which might imply that it's capable of starting again. Maybe you'll have enough money left in the budget to put some big swaybars on it, thus avoiding unsightly asphalt marks on the door handles!


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Rob Emslie

Fucking Insane And Tortured, that's what you'll be saying two weeks after dragging home this obviously gypsy-cursed X1/9. The plastic trim and rust-covered detritus will mark your trail of tears. Why did you do this? How could you have not seen the folly, the pain, the ennui?

A $300 Italian revenge for Patton's siege on Messina, this 'car' will likely be the death of you. Pneumonic aspiration of such copious quantities of oxidized pot metal and mouse turd-filled upholstery can't be good for you, and you'd soon discover tiny flecks of crimson on the bathroom mirror after a coughing jag that forced you in from the garage and your task of prying the left-rear inner fender well out of the car so you could get at the B-pillar base and swath it with Bondo to stem the creep of the inevitable return of the corpus automoti to its basic elemental parts of evil and abject despair.

The lung affliction is bad enough, but the rash you get from laying upside down, with your head under the dash, and your feet splayed over the targa bar, slowing bending it downward toward the fixed headrests, makes you think the car may be infested with some sort of virulent, un-annihilate-able bed bug. Spending days in this position, inhaling whatever malicious flotsam that drops from the underside of the dash and the fried wires therein causes you to develop an eye infection that causes puss to run non-stop from the tear duct of your right socket and the left eye to swing uncontrollably left and right, denying you stereoscopic vision.

Once you loosen the engine mounts and try and ease the drivetrain down under the jacked-up frame, you lose your grip due to the unmanageable shaking in your hands, and being so very cold all the time. The engine and transmission slip off the jack and drop to the garage floor, splitting open and unleashing a spray of mouldering and very toxic coolant of which you swallow several teaspoons, causing a seizure and collapse into a short coma.

Awaking from the coma, you find that you can't move anything below your neck, and your bowls and bladder now seem to be under the control of some outward entity as the evacuate and refill without your intervention. Sliding one ocherous eye around to discern the source of a constant creaking, you see, much to your horror, that the narrow, splayed tops of the jackstands holding the car elevated above you, are pushing meticulously and unstoppably through the rusted floorpan, which has suffered years of diminution due to poor quality steel and an abject desire of the 57-year old maker to outlive his automotive progeny.

Lying uselessly around you, your arms and legs twitch with spasms as you clench your eyes closed and shake your head back and forth in a feeble, and in the end, futile attempt to push your inanimate body out from under this impromptu Italian guillotine and avoid the inevitable 'watermelon on the pavement' sound as it snuffs the life from your dimming body. It, of course, is not sufficient, and after an interminable period of creaking and minute drops coincident with streams of rust falling onto your face, so does the rear-end of the fiat.

In the nano-second before your death, your life flashes before your eyes- The time, as a kid, you took the dare to jump off the porch roof, breaking your collar bone; the time, in your late teens, when you decided to "hood surf" your buddy's car, and then broke your tail bone having slammed ass-first into the windshield header when he took off too fast; That left-over sushi you ate two days after the Christmas party at work, resulting in a trip to the hospital, a charcoal enema and some sort of worm in your poop for the following two weeks; The drunken weekend in the Castro; Buying the fiat.

You realize that your life has been one stupid, life threatening event after another, and when the rusty trunk floor finally slams into you, you think, damn, why didn't I figure this out sooner?