Banger Lemons Rally: The Four-Bangors Winners!

By: Eric Rood Photo Credits: Eric Rood
July 15, 2019

We are back from what is probably one of our favorite Lemons Rally concepts, the Four-Bangors Banger Rally. This roadgoing version of the 24 Hours of Lemons took 27(ish) heaps from Bangor, Michigan, to Bangor, Maine, with stops Bangor, New York, and Bangor, Pennsylvania.

Four Bangors in banger cars. Yeah, we’re pretty brilliant, thanks.

Unfortunately, the distance from Bangor to Bangor (Michigan to Maine, that is) rendered this the longest-ever Lemons Rally in terms of mileage, probably somewhere around 2,700 miles in six days. Hey, we never said we didn’t go a long way for jokes. Anyway, that incredible mileage tally makes finishing it with a shred of sanity a major victory for the majority of the teams. The teams who took home trophies probably ultimately finished with less sanity than the average hooptie.

With that in mind, let’s see who hauled home hardware from the Four-Bangors Banger Rally. And if you want to see even more shenanigans, cars, and checkpoints by searching #LemonsRally on Instagram.

Dishonorable Mention – Young, Dumb, and Broke (1981 Pontiac Bonneville Wagon)

As we’ve pointed out a few times, General Motors’ B-Body platform has become a staple of the Lemons Rally. The full-size GM cars offer a plush ride and ample space, especially in station wagon form. While we’ve largely seen the rounded 1990s B-Bodies, we’re always extra excited to see the squared-off ‘80s versions.

This baby-blue Bonneville Safari belongs to a college student from Pittsburgh who bought it with the home-improvement-store-grade “wood paneling restoration” and drives it every day. For the rally, he packed in a couple friends and they all camped in the spacious B-Body banger for the week, occasionally pulling out the guitar they’d hauled along with them.

Dishonorable Mention – No Budget Racing (1967 Buick Skylark)

No Budget Racing first ran on the 2018 Retreat From Moscow Rally with this same Skylark, albeit without the fancy Smokey Yunick paint scheme. Perhaps Lemons Rally organizers overlooked its hooptieness at the previous rally because it doesn’t look rusty, but the see-through floors under holy carpets suggest otherwise. Yep, this one’s a (good) pile.

Not only were there four adults (term used loosely) in the rally’s oldest car, the team also spent most of the first three days of the rally underneath the car on the side of the road. They ultimately finished fourth place in the points with what is truly a ratty muscle car of the best kind.

Dishonorable Mention – The Blockheads (1986 Toyota Tercel SR5)

What a crapcan masterpiece! The blocky, Lego-like Tercel wagon matched the team’s Lego theme perfectly, but that doesn’t begin to cover how wonderfully terrible this all-wheel-drive Tercel really is. The team captain somehow ended up down the internet rabbit hole of “Tercel enthusiasts,” from whom he bought this stunningly beige Tercel SR5 banger for $500.

What little remained of the original 61 horsepower lugged the crapcan around amidst alarming creaks, groans, squeaks, and knocks. The brakes overheated dramatically on the Mount Washington descent and by the time The Blockheads rolled back into Bangor, Michigan, everything sounded on the verge of breaking. But it didn’t quite break and that’s just running Lemons Rally perfectly, of course.

Dishonorable Mention – Golf Oil Spill (1986 Volkswagen Golf Diesel, Mk2)

It’s the rare Lemons Rally car that shows up broken, but the Golf Oil Spill limped into rally registration later than most. On the way from Madison, Wisconsin, the Mk.2 Golf’s left-rear strut had punched through the top of the finely corroded strut tower. Knowing time was of the essence, they pressed on carefully to reach banger-rally registration, then limped to Detroit to a Volkswagen specialty shop for help.

It turned out that the entire left-rear corner was so corroded that they need to replace brake lines and several other big components. Since they didn’t want to half-ass that and have an eventual brake failure, they had to wait until a shop could help them out, leaving them a full day behind. No bother, the Golf Oil Spill dudes said. With their VW fixed, they caught up—no small feat with the 52-horsepower non-turbo diesel engine—with a couple of long driving days.

Winners on Points – These Test Icicles (1985 Saab 900)

We weren’t exaggerating when we mentioned on social media that this Saab was the worst Lemons Rally car we had ever seen. Not only had it failed to finish Lemons Rallies twice—we had last seen it abandoned in Missouri on the Route Sucky-Suck Rally after These Test Icicles had bought a hammered Buick LeSabre from their tow truck driver’s friend—we also had no idea how any of it worked at all.

The finicky and complicated electronics had been bypassed with several toggle switches on the fender and under the hood. The operator had to flip them flip them in the correct order for it to work right. One it started, the engine sounded like an out-of-sync drumline. The transmission dumped fluid anytime the owners tried to fill it so they just stopped filling it…5,000 miles ago. An array of dashes and meters in the cockpit let the duo keep the whole terrible mess just below the level of “self-immolation” for the rally’s entire duration. Banger, beater, hooptie, heap…this car is it.

And when this banger came home to Bangor, the crusty and crunchy Saab had narrowly beaten out two very worthy teams as Lemons Rally “winners,” a title that mostly awards masochism and very poor planning.

Second Place – The D-Listers (1987 Bertone X1/9)

The runners-up also know well what it means to fail at Lemons Rally. In last summer’s rally, their Iron Duke-powered Chevy Celebrity Eurosport (Celebrity…D-List…get it?) had hummed along for more than 2,000 miles before it quit for put near Erie, Pennsylvania. The team plucked the Eurosport badges off before the Celebrity went to The Crusher and then put them on their “new” rally car: a 1987 Bertone X1/9. For those scoring at home, moving from a GM product (that blew up) to anything Italian is basically asking for headaches.

And the D-Listers got their headaches. The Iowans found ample headaches simply sourcing replacement parts for their two-seat, 75-horsepower Bertone (which was just a Fiat X1/9 sold stateside after Fiat officially left the United States). And once they got up and running, things atrophied quickly. By Day 3, reverse gear had gone to be joined soon thereafter by third gear with fifth gear coming and going. The starter waned until the X1/9 could only be push-started and then the wheel bearings started to fail.

The Fiat limped on anyway to second place like it ain’t no thing. And as soon as they got it home, the team started preparing it for its next Lemons Rally foray.

Third Place – Jensen Healey’s Flying Circus (1974 Jensen Healey)

Third place were no slouches, either: These Monty Python fans had driven their Jensen all the way from Santa Barbara, California. That put them about 2,500 miles on each end of the trip, plus the 2,800 miles or so of the rally. Any trip from Southern California to Maine and back is taxing, but there’s a certain level of fascination with doing it in a British car with no top.

Admittedly, the Flying Circus had refreshed the car’s Lotus 907 engine, but anyone who’s been around Lemons knows that’s hardly cheating but is merely called “surviving a British car.” Aside from some exhaust fixes, problems with the SU carbs, and repeatedly needing to retime the engine, the Jensen performed admirably after joining the team’s previous Lemons Rally car, a knackered Alfa Romeo GTV6 they had literally bought a couple days before it was slated for scrap.

If there’s anyone who should consider roadtripping professionally, it’s this pair. After all, nobody ever expects The Spanish Inquisition.

We Hope Their Careers Last Longer Than Dale Jr.’s – Junior Motorsports (1999 Dodge Neon)

This trio memorably became our youngest-ever Lemons Rally team and we were, admittedly, a little worried that three 17-year olds would either encounter trouble or make tons of their own. As it turns out, these guys had their crap together better than most adults. When we talked to them before the rally, they had already talked to Canadian customs and had their paperwork in order for the border crossing. They’d also covered all their licensing bases so that at one poor sap on the team had an unrestricted driver’s license and could drive all of the miles.

Frankly, we loved seeing these guys and even if a ‘99 Dodge Neon isn’t a spectacular rally car, we know underdogs when we see them. We really want them to stick around and owing to the Dale Earnhardt Jr. paint scheme we gave them the We Hope Their (Lemons) Careers Last Longer Than Dale Jr.’s NASCAR Career.

Random Acts of Stupidity – Sir Jackie Stewart’s Coin Purse Racing (1972 Ford LTD)

Most Lemons Rally faithful will tell you the Random Acts of Stupidity goes to the REAL winner of Lemons Rally. The Four-Bangors Rally didn’t produce a whole lot of utterly stupid antics or off-the-beaten-path sidetrips by teams. However, the SJSCPR LTD’s entry was a pile of absurdity in just getting to the rally. The car had been found originally in Oregon, where a local friend of Lemons, Julian Cordle, had bought and stored the car for Pennyslvanian Scott McMichael.

From there, longtime Lemons masochist and McMichael’s friend Pete Peterson had driven to Oregon to fetch the car and then drive it cross-country to its new Pennsylvania home. McMichael met Peterson in Denver and helped cruise it back. That relay alone took a remarkable amount of stupidity. From there, McMichael dealt with the car’s entropy probably caused by its cross-continental transportation through a series of mishaps that included a breakdown at a busy intersection during daily-driving shakedown.

The car finally ran ok enough to put at ease co-driver Jan Cole, a regular Lemons racer from Denver who had flown in to co-drive the behemoth. And what followed was a series of fun and funny excursions documented well on their team’s Instagram account.

Organizer’s Choice – The Graduated Cylinders (1970 Dodge Dart)

We found a lot to love about the Organizer’s Choice, which we typically give out in Lemons Rally to the car that organizers would most like to take home. The car itself was spectacularly bad with a (very) tired Chrysler Slant Six, a column-shifted three-speed manual transmission, a bodged-together brake system, and a classic tractor-style exhaust flapper. Before showing up for the rally, it had last been registered in 1993 and had college parking stickers from the era.

The team was perhaps even better. Kevin Gutenschwager had just graduated high school and wanted to take a roadtrip with his dad, Timothy, after graduating. The father and son put together the hammered old Dart and jumped head-first into the Rally. We’ve had several parent-child Lemons Rally teams and we’ll never get tired of them. We love this banger of a car and love the team, easy winner for Organizer’s Choice.

What’s Next?

Next up on the Lemons Rally schedule is the Hell On Wheels Monterey Rally from August 13-17 in California (mostly). The really leaves Seaside on August 13 with overnight stops in Reno (NV), Fresno, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Cruz. You can find details and registration information here.

The final 2019 rally is World Tour of Texas that leaves from Angleton (TX) from November 11-14. Details and registration are here.

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