Depending on how you count, we’ve had 219 Lemons races since that first one at Altamont Motorsports Park in the fall of 2006, and #220 and #221 will take place this weekend (in Colorado and South Carolina, respectively). With all those great races and all those great cars, you might be surprised to learn that we had our first reclaimed-vegetable-oil-burning diesel race cars at the third race overall: Altamont Fall 2007.
From about the middle 1990s through the late 2000s, you couldn’t go to Pick-n-Pull in California without bumping into some Burning Man type looking for parts to turn an old Mercedes-Benz into a, like, totally eco-friendly french-fry-grease-powered machine. Unfortunately, those dudes mostly couldn’t wrench their way out of a wet paper bag, and thousands of heavily depreciated W114, W116, W123, and W126 diesel Benzes (not to mention Maximas, Chevettes, Peugeot 504s, and even the occasional Oldsmobile) bit the dust as never-to-be-finished biodiesel projects. However, a couple of San Francisco Bay Area teams with members who did know how to build cars grabbed a pair of old diesel Mercedes-Benz coupes— a W114 and a W123— and turned them into very competent road-racing machines for the Altamont event in October of 2007.
The Greasekings.com and Canola Rollaz cars didn’t have tremendous power, but they ran on legit used vegetable oil from Bay Area restaurants (and, we hope, a dash of liposuction fat ripped off from the dumpsters behind Blackhawk cosmetic-surgery clinics).
The Canola Rollaz W116 finished 19th overall that weekend, while the exact standings location of the GreaseKings W114 has been lost in the fog of history (but it wasn’t DFL, we recall that much).
The early California races tended to be very crashy, especially at Altamont, so the sturdy construction of the big Benzes helped explain this success.
We’ve had quite a few diesel race cars since then (not to mention a TDI Golf in Lemons Race Numero Uno), including some running vegetable oil, but these big, battered Benzes hold a special place in our hearts to this day.