August Thunderhill: Debut of the west coast chapter of our team in the V8olvo! Evil Genius had been kind enough to store the V8olvo for me since I’d purchased it from Fish and Dave in the spring. Sean (priapism) found us a donor ’85 Mustang GT with the necessary 302/5speed, and hauled it all the way out to Sacramento from L.A. He also scored us a spare fuel-injected 5.0 motor for $150 that had been sitting on an engine stand for years. I arrived at EGR on Thursday morning to begin the swap, along with a whole slew of volunteers. Some were going to be racing with me, and some were just there to help. Olaaf and his friend Dave (IIRC) spent a LOT of time rewiring the car to enable it to run again. Steve McD and John’s shop boy had spent a day pulling the donor drivetrain for us in advance, making the whole job much easier. Teammates Sean, Victor (sublimate), Mike, and others wrenched hard with me all day to get the motor in.
When Chris Overzet arrived to load it, we weren’t even close to ready. We had to make him break his rule that “No cars get pushed on my trailer, they must drive on.” We each got a stint before the head gaskets really let go---after that, it was a few laps at a time in between adding water and letting it cool. The highlight of the weekend though was seeing my mom and siblings, who live in California, finally attending a race. They had an absolute blast! For the race, we slightly re-themed the former Death cab to the “Near-Death Cab”, in honor of Judge Phil’s fight with pneumonia.
September Charlotte Motor Speedway: Debut of the BMWhatever! I had purchased a wrecked 1998 BMW E36 318i (4 cylinder/5 speed) cheaply on craigslist. The woman who owned it had swerved to miss a deer, stiking the curb and rolling the car. The roof was crushed, and the front fenders mangled, but mechanically it suffered only a broken engine mount. Looking around the yard at my stockpile of future LeMons cars and LeMon parts donors, I discovered that the 1951 Plymouth Cranbrook parts car I was using as a front clip/drivetrain donor for my ’51 DC Taxi project had a roof of similar dimensions. My ’42 Buick rustpile had front fenders and hood that would work, and I found a mangled ’49 Dodge grill for $15 at the junkyard. A few weeks of sawzalling and welding later, Doug, Dave, and I had built a rather fugly but very cool race car! We took the BMW, the Lancia, and the Wounded Warrior Cougar to CMS for the race. The Cougar was a last-minute replacement for the Galaxie, and it needed an alternator. John and Phil of the Track Pillagerz were racing with us, and they spent the first half of Saturday struggling to get a replacement alternator on it. What a royal PITA! There simply isn’t room to mount the alternator with the engine in place. Those guys rock though, they didn’t give up, and after considerable efforts they were successful.
The Galaxie was supposed to go, but after Doug and I built a carbed 351 Windsor to replace the failed 5.0, we discovered the night we were supposed to leave that the custom oil pan did not clear the cross member, and we were out of time to fabricate a replacement. Of course, if I hadn’t waited until too late to put the motor in (easy 2 hour job, right?), we’d have known, and could have corrected it. Doug used his Jeep Grand Cherokee to haul one of the cars down to Charlotte on a tow dolly, and when we went to leave Sunday night, it refused to start. The rest of us had to work on Monday, so we had no choice but to leave a man behind. It wound up being the crank position sensor, but it took a costly dealer visit to determine the problem. It just wasn’t his weekend. On the brighter side, racing legend Randy Pobst and his girlfriend were racing with us, and he layed down some blistering laps in both the Lancia and the BMWhatever, the latter of which wound up winning Organizer’s Choice. That ties us for second place in Org Choices, with 3.5 total!
Racing legend Randy Pobst in the BMWhatever:
October Autobahn: Return of the Prodigal Impala Wagon The nice gentleman that rented us the 1965 Impala wagon had so much fun at Gingerman with us, he and his buddy decided they wanted to race too. I had left my roll cage in the car after the race, so that we could race the car with them at Autobahn in Chicago. DC Doug, Dave (Caddywrecker), and I all flew out to Chicago, essentially as arrive-and-drives in our own team car, and teammate/official videographer Damion picked us up. It was gonna be great, we told ourselves, not pulling all-nighters wrenching in the weeks leading up to the race. The car’s owner wanted to drop in a bigger motor in place of the original 283 V8. That engine still ran great after Gingerman, but we told the owner to do as he pleased with it (it’s HIS car), as long as it ran well for the race. He and his buddy swapped it out with a Hi-Po 327. It was ready to go, or so they said. Friday morning came, Doug, Dave, and I were waiting at the track, and tech inspections began. No sign of the Impala.
By Friday evening, we were REALLY concerned. They hadn’t answered the phone once, they weren’t at the track, and we had no car. We’d not only paid all the fees for them to race (in exchange for their car prep/delivery), we’d flown in just for this event at a time when flights were NOT cheap. By 9:30pm Friday night, I was on the phone with various craigslist sellers, trying to find a replacement clunker to build. Ideal? No, but a better alternative to all three of us spectating/guest judging all weekend. The trouble was, we had no tools, so everything would have to be borrowed. Fortunately, LeMons racers are the best when it comes to helping other teams, and we’d be able to borrow whatever we needed. I was about to purchase a ratty old Nova dirt track car with an iffy roll cage for $500 just so that we could potentially race when I finally heard back from the Impala wagon guys---they would be there with a running car by 6am. SWEET! We’d get to race after all.
6am came and went. No phone call. No word. Everyone kept asking where our car was. We had no idea. We finally decided to just make the best of it and enjoy ourselves by doing the guest judge/staff volunteer thing all day. Just minutes before the checkered flag waved for the day, our old wagon rolled in on a tall old equipment trailer. Really tall. Like, tall enough to rip off and crush both exhaust pipes when loading the car tall. It turned out, that was just the start of the worries. They had swapped the motor twice, and said they’d just pulled multiple all-nighters trying to get it together. There were numerous issues, including total brake failure (repeatedly), the engine barely running, and a fuel cell that took a half of a day to get past tech. It was Sunday afternoon before I went out for the first lap, and it barely did 20 MPH. Back to the pits.
I stayed strapped in, waiting while they thrashed to fix it. About 30 minutes later, it was deemed fixed. Back on the track for a second lap, with the same result. No power, maybe 25 MPH top speed. To the pits again. This time they fixed it properly, and for the first two turns of my third lap, the smallblock 400 was screaming, the ancient, dry-rotted tires (we’d been promised new ones) were howling, and I was again The Drift King Of The Impala Wagon. That was great, until it came to the braking zone for turn three. The brakes were gone. Now, I’ve driven and raced plenty of 4-wheel-drum-equipped cars, including this same wagon, and I know how NOT to cook them. They weren’t cooked, there was a problem, and that problem turned out to be a collapsed brake hose holding ALL the rear brake pressure. If you stepped on the brake at all, you couldn’t budge the rear wheels without bleeding pressure from the bleeder. By this time, it was late Sunday afternoon, and we had thrashed for half the night and all day Sunday. I’d had three VERY frustrating slow laps around the track, waving drivers by and trying to stay off the line. I had to walk away.
Doug washed his hands of it as well, not even waiting for a turn. The Track Pillagerz were kind enough to put him in their car for a long stint, so he actually got to race. Dave stuck it out on the wagon’s brake repair, along with the owner and his friends, and eventually got a few laps out on the track. He didn’t trust the brakes enough to push it, he couldn’t see well out of it, and he didn’t know the course, so it was more nerve-wracking than fun for him. It was then handed off to the owner’s buddy, who, despite being a rocket scientist/engineer, didn’t back off the throttle when the two-speed Powerglide got hung up in first gear. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before a rod went through the side of the block, ending the weekend for the whole team, and slicking the track for everyone else. We decided that next time we wouldn’t count on others to show up with a prepped car for us, but it was a costly lesson to learn.
At least we got to drive a Reliant Robin! Damion was at the wheel here:
The motor blowing, and the ensuing oil slick carnage:
Rest in peace, Impala wagon. Neither we nor the organizers ever want to see your rusty silhouette again.