Hella Sweet Lemons Car of the Week: The Brown Rubber Soul Racing 1981 Mazda 626 Coupe

We at Lemons HQ spend a great deal of time arguing with one another about what vehicles we most want to see in a future race. Every so often, this debate results in a public proclamation with our latest Wish Listweird GM hatchbacks, say— and many of the more masochistic creative racers have stepped up and raced cars from our lists. As your patrician and refined Chief Justice of the Lemons Supreme Court, though, I’ve spent years pushing for a certain car that just about nobody else seems to remember: the original rear-wheel-drive Mazda 626. Finally, the goofy Midwesterners of Burnt Rubber Soul Racing made it happen, traveling thousands of miles to score one of the last ’81 626 coupes on the planet and bringing it to the Minneapolis 500 race last month. Here’s their story.

Burnt Rubber Soul Racing made its debut at the 2012 Chicago race, with a Ford Probe converted into a very convincing 1967 Mercury Cougar (complete with sequential turn signals, which really add something special to road racing).

A couple of years later, the Burnt Rubber Soul crew upgraded their Cougar to full Eliminator status, including yellow paint, stripes, and evil-looking hood scoop. The “Cougar” went pretty well around the Autobahn and Gingerman tracks, but the members of BRSR realized that they enjoyed indulging their love of obscure automotive parody just as much as they enjoyed driving fast around a track.

That led right to the second Burnt Rubber Soul race car: a 1981 Imperial (no, not a Chrysler Imperial, just an Imperial), painted in glorious Sub Lime and decorated with 1972 Plymouth Road Runner-inspired decals. Serious Mopar fanatics didn’t know whether to be outraged or overjoyed by this homage/parody, and Burnt Rubber Soul Racing promptly entered the pantheon of the Legends of Lemons.

The Imperial runs pretty well with its 318-cubic-inch V8 and trunk-mounted tachometer, and a Class C win remains within its reach.

Re-themed for 2017 with puzzlingly spectacular 1979 Ford Mustang Indy 500 Pace Car livery, the Burnt Rubber Soul Imperial and its pilots achieved Index of Effluency glory at the 2017 Where the Elite Meet to Cheat race in Michigan.

All this time, I’d been putting the word out: Lemons needs a 1978-1982 rear-wheel-drive Mazda 626. I came of driving age when these cars were new (if rare), and I liked them a lot as a teenager with a much less cool Japanese car. When I started my Down On the Street series for Jalopnik, I paced the Island That Rust Forgot in a feverish search for 1978-82 626s, finally spotting this bronze ’82 626 Luxury Sedan in 2008.

Ever since then, I’ve scoured junkyards for more of these cars. Two years ago, a discarded ’82 sedan fell before my camera in California. That inspired me to renew the calls for a Lemons rear-wheel-drive 626.

Partly because of my bad influence but mostly due to his own love for the second-generation Mazda Capella/626, Burnt Rubber Soul team captain Mark Johns kept an eye open for possible race-car candidates around the country. Since he wanted a coupe— way better looking but also even harder to find than the sedan— this search took many months. Finally, his quarry appeared… in Oregon, 2,500 miles from his Ohio home. In winter.

It was cheap and the owner claimed it would start up and move under its own power. Good enough! Last January, Mark hopped on the next airplane out, bought the car, and proceeded to drive it home. Not wishing to traverse the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains in winter (and wanting to do some Route 66 tourism on the way), he drove his new-to-him Mazda down to Los Angeles and then turned left.

Things broke along the 3,600-mile route to Cleveland and the 626 often refused to start on cold mornings, but the trip went very well for a battered, 250,000-mile, 37-year-old hooptie of unknown provenance. Mazda didn’t get the recognition it deserved for reliability during the Malaise Era, but cars like this held together just as well as Corollas and Cressidas from the same period.

Naturally, Mark took the 626 for a few balls-to-the-wall passes at the dragstrip, once the weather warmed up a bit. This has become a Lemons tradition.

That’s right, 20.53 seconds at 66.12 mph in the quarter-mile!

Around this time, I learned about another RWD 626 in a California junkyard, this time an ’82 sedan in a yard near Sacramento. The Burnt Rubber Soul 626’s differential was making scary noises, so the word went out on the Lemons grapevine: Someone go pull the rear off that junkyard Mazda, we’ll figure out how to get it to Ohio later! Some of the craziest most hardcore Lemons nutballs racers live in that area, so a posse converged on Pick-n-Pull Fairfield.

Got it! You may recognize this man as the Ran When Parked Racing team captain who enraged the Cadillac Allanté world by “ruining” an Allanté as a Lemons racer.

After that, it was a not-so-simple matter of Hella Shitty Racing/Slow Dino Racing ferrying the rear from California to the B.F.E. GP race in Colorado. Perhaps due to the karma boost from this good deed, Hella Shitty went on to take the overall win at that race. After that, Bad Decisions Racing (of 1948 Plymouth and Nushen JB6500 fame) hauled the rear the rest of the way to Ohio. This sort of thing is what we love best about the Lemons community.

Because the second-gen Capella was so late-70s in appearance and brown is the Official Color of Malaise™, Burnt Rubber Soul Racing became Brown Rubber Soul Racing with this car. Clearly, a paint upgrade would be needed. Much prep, masking, and spraying later…

…the Brown Rubber Soul made its debut at the 2019 Minneapolis 500 race at Brainerd Internataional Raceway in Minnesota.

All of the 626’s prep looked perfect, from the top-quality cage to the Domination-O-Meter® on the dash. A lot of sweat went into getting this car race-ready.

Under the hood, a two-liter four-cylinder that made 74 horsepower (250,000 miles ago).

On track, it looked glorious(ly brown).

Most of the time in Lemons racing, a high-mile Malaise Era car with the original drivetrain will putt around for a half-dozen laps and then start breaking stuff. The team will then spend the rest of the weekend thrashing on the car, sending it out for brief stints and then watching it get towed back in. This did not happen with the Brown Rubber Soul Racing 626.

Brown Rubber Soul’s drivers just kept knocking out lap after lap, rain or shine. Not quick laps, of course (the 626 was by far the slowest vehicle on the track all weekend, about 10 to 15 seconds slower than most of the rest of the field), but reliability tends to be more important than speed in an endurance race.

When the checkered flag waved, the 626 had been around the BIR course 326 times, which comes to 815 hard race miles. The only mechanical problem turned out to be a lost wheel-bearing cap, which the team fixed with beer-can aluminum and the cap from a can of anti-seize.

That finish was good for tenth place overall, out of 23 starting teams. Normally, that sort of performance from such an amazing machine would result in a no-doubt Index of Effluency win, but an even more improbable performance from a competitor snatched the trophy from BRS’s deserving hands.

The United Partnership of Pentastar Racers has been campaigning— if that’s the word— their 1992 Plymouth Sundance Duster in Lemons since 2013, and this car has been one of thee worst motor vehicles we’ve ever seen contaminate a race track with its vileness (and that includes another Mitsu-powered member of the inbred K-Car family tree). After more than 20 races and 15 Mitsubishi V6 engines for the UPPR, the justices of the Lemons Supreme Court had taken a sacred vow that if this team ever managed to finish anywhere near the top of the standings at a race, we’d hit them with an IOE.

Well, UPPR managed to lead the field for much of the weekend, and somehow came in second-place overall even after developing a very MitsuChrysler-ish undiagnosable/unfixable oil leak on Sunday. We hope they crush this terrible car now, because the odds against repeating this performance approach lottery-winning levels.

So, we gave the Brown Rubber Soul Racing team the Heroic Fix award this time, for their beer-can wheel-bearing repair, and will put them on the IOE shortlist for any future race.

Trophies for a single race aside, we say this is one of the greatest cars in series history. Look for it in the upcoming Greatest Lemons Cars of 2019 post… and on a track near you, next year!

OK, now let’s watch some television ads for this fine racing thoroughbred.