The final 24 Hours of LeMons race of 2016 took place earlier this month at Sonoma Raceway aka Sears Point, marking the grand finale of what we think was the best season in LeMons history. One of the things that made 2016 such a great year was the large number of very old American cars that raced. The Bad Decisions Racing 1948 Plymouth and the ERM Racing 1948 Chrysler had their debut races in Michigan and New Hampshire, respectively, and the Four Yak Press Racing 1952 Willys Aero-Lark made its grand entrance to the LeMons scene at the California season-ender.
The Aero was built in the United States for the 1952 through 1955 model years, then in Brazil from 1960 through 1971. It was a simple, lightweight, reliable machine, and the Lark was the name used on the version with the 75-horsepower “Lightning” straight-six flathead engine.
That’s right, 75 horsepower… 64 years ago.
The team, members of which hail from Hella Shitty Racing (who race a Bricklin SV-1, a diesel-engined Porsche 911, and a dual-control Volkswagen Beetle, among other things) and Cerveza Racing (the winningest team in 24 Hours of LeMons history), picked up a long-neglected project Aero-Lark for dirt cheap and got to work.
The Aero-Lark participated in the Evil Genius Racing Cage-Building Class and received a high-quality roll cage, but there was still a lot to do to make it raceworthy.
The engine was seized, all the wiring insulation had deteriorated to uselessness, the brakes didn’t work, and so on. Several days of pouring Marvel Mystery Oil in the cylinders freed up the engine, and the team rewired the entire 6-volt electrical system. A set of Westlake tires was installed, with the idea that low-traction tires would spare the ancient suspension from excessive cornering stress.
The car showed up at the pre-race inspections and caused a sensation. Just look at it!
Not every driver knows how to work a three-on-the-tree column-shifted manual transmission, so this handy diagram was added.
When the green flag waved on Saturday, the Willys was ready to go.
It was tippy around turns, and the decades-old clutch couldn’t grip at more than about half throttle. Still, the Four Yak Press Racing Willys was knocking down lap after lap.
The team had to pit regularly for minor repairs, driver changes were done unhurriedly, and they opted to sit out the metal-crunching first hour or two on Sunday.
When the race ended, the Aero-Lark had completed 132 laps around one of the most challenging courses in the LeMons world. The team finished 160th out of 183 entries, beating five BMWs, two Nissan 300ZXs, a Mustang, a Camaro, and a pair of Mazda RX-7s. For this, we awarded them the top prize of LeMons racing, the Index of Effluency. Congratulations, Four Yak Press Racing!
There are rumors of a BMW 5-Series front suspension swap in the Aero-Lark’s near future, so stay tuned.