General Motors Lemons Battle Royale: The Toughest Index of Effluency Decision

By: Eric Rood Photo Credits: Eric Rood
April 12, 2019

The 24 Hours of Lemons Supreme Court does not take the Index of Effluency lightly. The IOE represents the pinnacle of Lemons-dom, after all. A team may win Lemons top prize in one of many ways and no hard-and-fast formula exists to determine the winner. Often, one car sags had and shoulders below the competition but trucks along to an obvious IOE home run. Other times, the IOE becomes almost impossible to parse. The 2019 Doing Time in Joliet race at Autobahn Country Club proved the latter with a hot mess of General Motors piles.

This embarrassment of GM riches should come as no surprise, really. In 208 Lemons races, General Motors products have won an astounding 54 Indexes of Effluency. Needless to say, that’s more than twice what any other manufacturer (Ford, 22) have won. This being a Midwestern race, however, the Heartland Heartbeat of America was stronger than in other regions. Let’s run down the competitors.

Bad Decisions Racing, 1947 Plymouth

“PLYMOUTH?! That’s no GM!” While you’re technically correct, Bad Decisions did win the IOE in this race’s debut with its original flathead six and column-shifted three-speed manual transmission. However, they soon replaced that with a supercharged 3.8-liter GM V6. Flatulent exhaust note aside, the 240-horsepower V6 has made this one of the most fun cars to watch on track. When it’s working right, it runs down BMWs on the straights like a cheetah pouncing on an even-toed ungulate with an odd number of legs.

When the first drive of the race pulled into the pits to swap out drivers, the ‘47 Plymouth was an astounding third place overall! However, the Camaro-sourced T5 transmission soon seized and the replacement cost them a Class C win, potentially.

Ate Mile Motorsports, Chevy Blazer

After failing to finish any races at all, the Detroit-based team finally had everything run right enough. The Small-Block Chevy-powered Blazer ran just well enough to hang onto a well-deserved Class C win without getting any black flags at all.

The Wonderment Consortium, Isuzu Impulse

The tiny terrible turbo GM import should have waxed Class C but for some malicious fuel-delivery issue. The Isuzu went into limp mode about a quarter way through the 14-½ hour race and still nearly limped to the Class C win. Even while they were in the lead, the wounded Impulse proved too slow for safety and had to be pulled off track.

The team rigged up a fix worthy of the team’s IT and engineering backgrounds: They turned the car off and back on. That remedied the limp for a lap or so. Unfortunately, the team failed to notice that the driver was restarting the car on the front straight…over the start/finish line where the timing loop is.

While that wouldn’t faze a normal self-powered rental transponder, the team had their own transponder hard-wired to the car. And those hard-wired transponders read over the start/finish line when the car has power. In other words: They erased a bunch of laps by restarting the car in the worst possible place. So for shooting themselves in the foot in the midst of a potential class win, the lovable losers of The Wonderment Consortium—who have also voluntarily raced a Hyundai Scoupe and a Chrysler Conquest—took home the I Got Screwed trophy.

Rust Belt Racing, Chevy HHR

We’ve been clamoring for the GM equivalent of the PT Cruiser for a few years now and Rust Belt graciously brought a base-model, automatic-equipped HHR. While it’s one of those cars that doesn’t need a theme, Rust Belt are the type of team to theme whatever they bring. So they rigged up a proper “H-Bomb” tribute of David Freiburger’s beloved and extraordinarily beastly F-Bomb Camaro. Close enough for government work and/or Lemons.

As it turns out, “modern” Lemons cars tend to hate a Lemons-style beating. In this case, the Traction Control and Stability Control both, in the words of many a great poet, “freaked the hell out.” One driver spun twice at about 15 miles per hour during a rainy Sunday session simply because she was actively fighting with the “driving aids.”

The HHR was great, but its general hooptieness still fell well short of that needed for IOE. Nevertheless, they took home the Judges Choice trophy.

Monkey Paw Racing, Opel GT

One cannot truly appreciate the shipweck levels of rust on this example of European GM’s two-seater. The Mini-Corvette features some insanely appalling rot that stems from two full decades in an overgrown backyard somewhere in Northwest Indiana. While we’ve seen this car race in its original ‘70s Brown color, this race found the team retheming as a great rendition of Racer X’s killer ride from Speed Racer.

Unfortunately, the Opel nuked its transmission Saturday. As with most Lemons teams—especially those who voluntarily race a rusty Opel—we figured they’d be out all day. What seemed like just a few minutes later, we turned to find the Opel chugging back onto the track. They came up probably a few positions short of an IOE win, but the quick wrenching nabbed them a well-earned Heroic Fix trophy.

Bad Decisions Racing, Suzuki Esteem

While not a GM product in the usual sense, the Esteem was sold as a Chevy in some parts of Asia. We’ll call it close enough for our purposes. It also used the G-Series engine found in the Geo Tracker and Suzuki Sidekick. In addition to the Buick-powered Plymouth, Bad Decisions doubled down by running a totally stock Esteem. With 84 horsepower and a squishy 1980s four-speed automatic transmission, the Esteem was one of the two absolute slowest cars on the track.

Further, Bad Decisions executed an extremely good replica of Jimmy McGill’s Esteem from Better Call Saul, the Saul Goodman prequel television series related to Breaking Bad. Quoth the title character of that show: “The only way that car is worth $500 is if there’s a $300 hooker sitting in it.” We’re pretty sure they’re being generous on that valuation. Thematic excellence—even if a bit narrow in scope—goes a long way to effluence.

Ultimately, this ended up being basically a coin toss for IOE. The Esteem ran all weekend slowly, and without drama. It was such utterly horrible piece of crap when new that most people have never known what it was, let alone noticed it anywhere, including on a racetrack. That, friends, is what makes it a perfect Lemons car. Ultimately, we decided it came up ever so slightly short of the top prize, but Bad Decisions did take home an extremely well-earned Organizer’s Choice.

S Car Go, Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera S

Without question, we have pegged this one of the five or so hooptiest cars to ever run Lemons. We say that not because it was dangerous or because of anything safety-related. Rather, it was just an utterly incapable vehicle as GM shipped it out of whatever dimly lit corner factory from whence it came in 1989. In the Midwest, Cutlass Ciera and Buick Century sedans still litter the roadways en masse, but this coupe version remains a pretty rare spot.

That’s not to suggest there is anything remotely special about it. It features GM’s 3.3-liter V6, which was basically the gutless, half-assed downsizing of the well-proven 3.8-liter V6. S Car Go’s version had the non-overdrive three-speed automatic. They also left basically the whole car stock, which is unsurprising because you can’t make these cars much better even with extreme effort. The suspension was “tuned” to ride like a cloud on the highway and so the Ciera practically scraped the front bumper anytime the driver braked hard.

Incredibly, the team ran the clapped-out steel wheels the car had on it when they found its miserable self. Luckily, the car was totally incapable of running quickly enough to test the structural integrity of their rust. Lemons judges pegged it for, at best, about 12 laps before a wheel—possibly the entire car—simply vaporized on the track.

As they say, however, GM cars run poorly for longer than most cars run at all. Despite a car whose profound sadness somehow extended to the gas cap, the S Car Go Cutlass sputtered around the track all weekend. They were the slowest car by at least 10 seconds a lap, but they beat a quarter of the field handily. And for that, the Cutlass Ciera S took home the Index of Effluency.

The 24 Hours of Lemons races again this weekend, April 13-14, at Pittsburgh International Race Complex in Wampum, Pennsylvania. Come check out the race or find another race on our calendar to experience Lemons.

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