What does it take to win a Lemons Rally? We could write about passion and cleverness, but in all honesty, every single Lemons Rally winner has two things in common. First, they have come up with an extraordinarily bad idea. And second, they have dedicated themselves to it fully. A Ford Aerostar sight-unseen after flying cross-country. A Saab 93b held together by cardboard. Three guys in an open-topped Pinto-based kit car. Add to that list—likely at the very top—the Florida Man Poker Run’s winner first electric rally car, the Duff Beer Racing Jet Electrica 007.
With all the hubbub of the all-electric AltThusiast Rally next month and the million-nickel prize for the 24 Hours of Lemons’ first all-electric overall winner, this was the natural response for dedicated Lemoneers like Duff Beer Racing. It’s worth noting that theirs is pretty much the template for how not to enter the AltThusiast Rally. However, we find it uplifting that a team like Duff Beer has tinkered(very carefully) with an electric car like real enthusiasts.
The Jet Electrica 007 is a Dodge Omni that was basically converted by a golf-cart company to run on lead-acid batteries around 1980. This was intended as a city car to alleviate concerns about the gas crises of the 1970s. In addition to the Chrysler offerings, the company built some Electricas out of Ford Escorts. And like other Malaise Era electric conversions—the Lectric Leopard springs to mind—the Jet Electrica was abjectly terrible.
Duff built theirs a couple years ago to race. At its first outing with original running gear, its top speed of about 45 mph. That speed would last about four laps at a time. They upgraded the motor until they could reach 70 mph or so. Anyone whose driven a Malaise Era econobox knows that speed alone is borderline terrifying. The replacement Chevy Volt batteries (since replaced by BMW batteries, above) added considerable run time under race conditions. Make no mistake, by the way: This modified Jet Electrica 007 is not quick by any means. It’s probably quicker than a stock Volkswagen-powered Omni, but that’s not saying much.
Their charging solution was…ineloquent. The team would swap batteries one by one in the pits, at which time the drained batteries would go on chargers…powered by gas generators. And the chargers apparently attract swarms of fire ants. Hey, no solution is perfect, especially in its initial phase.
So…how does one make a Lemons Rally car out of this mess? The problems are pretty obvious here: The team can’t haul generators and spare batteries with chargers in a small car. And the Jet Electrica obviously had no original hookup for a modern charger. So they devised a solution and a backup, which turned out to be key.
While a slew of generators and chargers wasn’t feasible, Duff’s engineers figured one generator might help enough to manage the couple hundred miles of a typical Lemons Rally day. The generator could charge the batteries while they drove and also while they were stopped. Perfect solution! Where does one put such a generator? Well, the hatch area was filled with two battery packs and the cabin had two seats. The underhood electric motor was considerably smaller than an internal combustion engine. So why not there?
Duff mounted the El Cheapo generator under a scatter shield with the exhaust stack high enough to clear the car and prevent cabin fumes. Unfortunately, this arrangement prevented enough airflow from cooling the generator sufficiently. The overheating generator proved generally useless within half a day. To boot, it nearly stranded them without gas or battery juice in Nowheresville, South Carolina.
But they had a backup plan! Having anticipated that their generator-charging plan was suboptimal, the Duff guys added a homemade charging-station receptacle. It’s probably better the less we know about how they did it, but suffice to say it looks…questionable. Nevertheless, the intrepid Duffites began the drawn-out process of finding free charging stations at universities, smug grocery-store chains, and anywhere else they could on the route from Myrtle Beach to Key West.
The routine became roughly the same. Limp the Jet Electrica along for 80-100 miles or so. Plug it in. Pray that it worked (It didn’t as often as it did). Wait for it to charge. Repeat. Rain was a bit concerning for a car full of homemade electronics, too. However, the Electric Horizon pressed through it without shorting anything important or worse. As all Lemons Rally teams do, they documented the insanity start to finish on their Instagram account here.
The car generally missed all of the checkpoints, but their dedication to such an incredibly stupid idea earned them 50 points at every charging station. The winner of the Lemons Rally is almost categorically someone who devotes an entire week of their life to the Worst Idea Possible. And this? Well, this is quite possibly the worst Worst Idea Possible we’ll ever see on the Lemons Rally. Well done, Duff Beer. Your electric rally heap has set the bar high…or low. We’re still not sure which.
Take that as a challenge? You bet your ass it is. We have three more Lemons Rallies this year for you to show the depths of your bad ideas. Or just come to have a good time in whatever car you have.
The Four-Bangors Banger Rally, July 1-6
Bangor (Michigan) to Bangor (New York) to Bangor (Maine) to Bangor (Pennsylvania) back to Bangor (Michigan)
The World Tour of Texas, November 11-14
Angleton to San Angelo to Shamrock to Tyler to Angleton (all Texas)