The winter 2010 issue of Hagerty’s magazine features a profile of Jay Lamm, “The Clown Prince of Automobiledom.” As creator of the famed 24 Hours of LeMons races, he’s seen the best of the worst that the hobby has to offer. Here are 10 of his favorite $500 racers.
The premise for the 24 Hours of LeMons is simple: Find a car that can be purchased and race-prepped for $500 or less, bring it to one of several American road courses, and race the wheels off it for an entire weekend. Even within that bare-bones framework, however, there is plenty of room for interpretation. Mind-boggling creations are guaranteed to show up at any LeMons race – here's a small cross-section of the recent standouts.
Cannonball Bandits – The Cannonball Bandits have an affinity for Toyotas. We can't say we blame them — Toyotas are plentiful, reliable and LeMons-cheap. Their biggest drawback? Sheer boredom — even spunky models like the Corolla FX-16 are about as visually exciting as a shipping container. The Bandits' solution: combine their FX-16 and several yards of paper mâché to create a scale Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
Ecurie Ecrappe – Named after the 1950s Le Mans-winning Ecurie Ecosse team, this bunch of Bay Area gearheads took possibly the world’s worst 1971 Alfa Romeo Spider, grafted on a rusty 1959 Giulietta nose clip, added a trunk-mounted radiator from a Honda, and hit the track. Surprisingly speedy and unsurprisingly unreliable, this Spider has run more total LeMons races than just about anything.
Eyesore Racing – This group of young engineers combined the remains of two wrecked Mazda Miatas into a single semi-straight roller, added a homebuilt turbocharger system, and went on to be the most successful team of the 2010 season. That's not even the best part: Their decorations — including the starship Enterprise seen here — are second to none.
Italian Stallions – The Italian Stallions recently "upgraded" to a roached-out Fiat 600D powered by a 1000cc V-Twin motor out of a Moto Guzzi motorcycle after coming to the odd conclusion that their motorcycle-carbed Fiat X1/9 was simply too ordinary. The result was highly popular but decidedly unspeedy; by day two of its first race, the 600 sported a passing flag as a permanent accoutrement.
Mad Maxel Tov – These guys might as well be Team Mashup; their previous iterations have included such mixed-up themes as Dungeons and Dragsters and Starsky and the Bandit. Currently, their 1974 Capri runs under the Mad Maxel Tov banner, which features a gang of post-apocalyptic Orthodox Jews.
Pendejo Engineering – If there was a prize for having the most luxurious LeMons cars, Pendejo Engineering would be the runaway winner. Having already raced a stolen-recovery Mercedes S600 and a Jaguar XJS V12, Pendejo went to Italian hardware in late 2010. The 1980 Maserati Quattroporte may be a semi-classic, but a rusty non-runner is worth essentially zilch. Wrapping the roll cage around the factory leather interior only added to the decadence.
Phony Express – Lots of LeMons newcomers seek the most performance bang for their buck; the Phony Express crew shoots for maximum road-hugging mass. As if their 1975 Lincoln Continental Town Coupe wasn't imposing enough on a road course, the team converted it into a terrifying representation of a horse and cowboy rider.
Police Brutality – This team, led by a Washington, D.C., cop, has fielded a string of memorable LeMons machines, including this 1963 Ford Thunderbird. Plucked from a field missing a motor, the T-Bird needed a transplant. So the team made the obvious (for the clinically insane) choice: a five-liter V12 from an early-'90s BMW 750iL. Converted to run on a Holley four-barrel carb and a pair of GM distributors, the 'Bird completed precisely two laps before exploding.
Porcubimmer – The E30-chassis BMW is one of the most common LeMons rides. In fact, it's gotten to the point where there's a bit of resentment directed at the Bavarian boxes. These guys easily steered around those critiques by modifying their Bimmer into an intricate replica of the 1958 Plymouth from the movie "Christine."
Team Bean – When this 1962 Austin Mini first rolled into a LeMons paddock, there was a lot of grumbling. How could anyone score an original Mini under the $500 cap? Then they took a closer look; Team Bean’s creation is among the rustiest, most wretched Minis still able to move under its own (decrepit A-Series) power.
For more information about the 24 Hours of LeMons, visit www.24hoursoflemons.com.