Now in its third year, the Retreat From Moscow Lemons Rally has become one of the premium Bad Ideas™ in the whole of Lemons World. This roadgoing version of the 24 Hours of Lemons takes competitors from Moscow, Pennsylvania, to Paris, Tennesse. From there, it’s on to Waterloo, Alabama, with the finish line at Barber Motorsports Park.
If you’re following, you might note the rally’s Napoleonic theme, carefully timed in the dead of winter to commemorate the French imperialist’s doomed winter retreat from the Russian capital. The entry list was heavy on American badges this year and, unfortunately, devoid of French marques altogether. Nevertheless, it may have been the best Retreat From Moscow Rally yet.
The weather in no small part made this one a serious challenge. As the rally began, news everywhere rang of the Polar Vortex that made Chicago (and other parts of the Upper Midwest) colder than Antarctica. The polar temps stayed just a bit north of the rally route through across Pennsylvania and then the Ohio River Valley to Lexington. Nevertheless, most of the rally was spent in or around zero-degree temperatures.
Rivers marked off much of the rally route with substantial portions of the route crossing (and recrossing) the Susquehanna River on Day 1. The second day found teams following much of the Ohio River’s scenic roads in both Ohio and West Virginia.
But Kentucky’s Red River made for the trip’s scenic highlight with a cold morning drive through the Red River Gorge Geologic Area. Winding, narrow two-lane roads made for a fun (if frigid) drive up and down the river valley.
The rally’s final big moment included a trip to Nashville’s Lane Motor Museum, a haven for fans of oddball (mostly European) cars. The Lane staff took time out of their day to judge the haggard, salt-crusted rally cars in their parking lot on several “concours” merits while Rally participants got a steeply discounted trip through the fantastic vehicle collection.
Of course, rally teams were competing for trophies. On the rally, teams earn points by visiting the checkpoints—some easy to find, some difficult, some fairly normal, and others mildly distubring—to score points. All checkpoints are optional and—particularly on Day 2—teams needed to plan their routes to scoring the ideal amount of points.
Here are the final scores for the Retreat From Moscow Rally.
The Chicken Tax Evaders showed up first to Rally Registration at AJ Auto Center in Moscow, PA. This was not because they were supremely prepared for the rally but rather because they’d driven directly to the rally start from their North Carolina home. Who needs sleep? And they had sheared lug studs on the way, so their first act of the rally was to fix their Bi-Recreational All-Terrain Transporter.
The team’s name recall the famed “Chicken Tax” that prompted Subaru to install rear-facing jump seats and they remained in character the whole rally. That meant wearing chicken suits to chicken farms, grocery stores, and Chick-Fil-A.
They spent the entire rally gathering up tons of checkpoints—more than anyone else—while hauling a killer Kawasaki Sherpa and a spare BRAT engine in the narrow bed. Considering the exhaust including puffs of smoke every time we saw it, that wasn’t a terrible idea.
Unsurprisingly, their ordeal didn’t just last them the weekend, either. On the way home from Alabama after winning the trophy, the BRAT’s engine expired underneath the Great Smoky Mountains in a tunnel.
Lemons staff makes no bones about its love of Houston’s SLAB (Slow, Loud, And Bangin’) custom-car scene. We’ll let you learn about SLABs elsewhere, but this was a Lemons Rally Dream Team whose four-person crew included three veteran rally participants.
They had the formula for winning a rally down, though: (1) Bring a stupid car that organizers want to see. In this case, it was a SLAB with genuine Elbows and a trunk screen. (2) Go to lots of checkpoints. (3) Make your checkpoint photos and videos on Instagram funny and/or extra stupid. (4) Use the rally route as a jumping off to other fun stuff along the route.
They likely would have won the rally if not for a failed starter motor in Lexington. Considering the temperature was a balmy 1 degree at the time, that required effecting a numb-fingers repair instead of traversing the points-heavy Red River Gorge. In the end, they lost out by 18 points, which was effectively a single checkpoint.
Last summer, we saw In Hot Pursuit take a lifted Ford Crown Victoria on the Great Lakes Mistake rally. This time out, Ryan Krugler piled into a bitchin’ German-built Ford with his sister, Robinne Krugler. The duo wore matching taco attire every day and stopped at every taco joint they could find along the way.
As for the car, it may have been the one that rally participants most wanted. Krugler originally picked it up from a young guy intent on building it into a stage-rally car. With the cool (probably dealership) tape-stripe package and the rough-and-tough Ford Kent engine, the Fiesta impressed the Lane Museum judges, too.
This one also got a custom interior with fitted orange upholstery. The sibling team hit tons and tons of checkpoints, though a combination of bad spark plug wires and insane Birmingham traffic meant they nearly missed the awards ceremony.
The Rally gives out four Dishonorable Mention trophies for cars and teams that are just generally awesome. The first one went to Van Welker Racing, a family driving a 352-powered ‘63 Galaxie that one of the teenaged sons had pulled from a field. They spruced it up, by which we mean gave the beefy-sounding FE V8 side-dump exhausts and a Gorilla-taped-together interior.
The team registered late and weren’t really sure they’d have the car remotely done in time. When it turned up, it was the oldest car in the rally and maybe the one with the best patina. Really, the family took home the hardware for bringing a genuinely cool car on the Lemons Rally and we hope to see them back.
We’ve seen the Statt family run a couple Lemons Rallies now. Those trips initially were run in the “F1-Shifty” pickup truck. Brothers Tom and Jason ran that truck originally on the 2018 Retreat From Moscow Rally, but this year the brothers split up with their own vehicles.
Tom and their sister Emily drove the MacGyver Jeep Wrangler, with period-correct dress from both along with the “right” YJ to match the mulleted ‘80s TV star.
Jason turned a former snowplow Ford Bronco into Gary the Snail from Spongebob Squarepants. That included giant eyestalks that light up, plus the painted “shell” on the back. Both vehicles were utterly awesome and we love the Statts, who always prove helpful and infectiously fun. It was tough to decide between them for the trophy, but we really dug Gary’s awesomeness.
No vehicle could have been more unmistakably Lemons Rally than the Junkyard Motorhead Super Duty truck. It had lived its former life around oil rigs and the flatbed still featured a totally badass winch. It was also a daily driver with a naturally aspirated 7.3-liter Ford Diesel V8 that basically required its own oil tanker to follow it around.
We’re not kidding, the blow-by problem was so bad that they rigged up a semi-elaborate catch-can system with long hoses and a five-gallon oil bucket hanging below the flatbed. In the 3,000 miles from the truck’s Missouri home to the rally’s end, it used five gallons of oil. Not quarts. GALLONS.
Against all odds, it survived the whole rally and announcing its presence everywhere it went while simultaneously shrouding itself with a smokescreen. Like the BRAT that won on points, however, the engine went kaboom after the rally, though it generously waited until Junkyard Motorhead got home first.
We honestly had no idea that Ford built vans like this as late as 1982. The husband and wife team picked it up from a Pennsylvania school district, where it had dutifully run kids and other crap around for more than three decades. What made it weird? This was a van with a straight-six and a column-shifted three-speed transmission.
The school district had ordered it as stripped down as possible, heaven forbid the kids get things like a radio or insulating. The Goldberg Machine-shift linkage was fragile, to say the least. At least, it was “vague” to anyone accustomed to a floor-shifted car built after, say, 1963. Getting the gears to engage usually meant gingerly placing the shifter into roughly the right place and then wiggling it a bit until it hit home.
Importantly, the “Candy Van” carried a cat mural while the team had on hand supplies of candy and teas to lure other Rally participants into the van’s back. And if that wasn’t enough, they also brought along the first Rally cat, Danica. That’s thematic dedication that earned them A LOT of sideways looks traveling through rural America.
We’re still not quite sure how Robert Williams’ Nova coupe got so incredibly rusty, considering he lives in Florida. Maybe he parked it directly in the ocean? Whatever else might be the case, the Nova was one of the crustiest cars we’ve ever seen on the rally. On the drive to the rally start, one of the rear shocks fell off, as did the exhaust (which was zip-tied up).
The fenders featured enough rust that the Lane concours judges could put an entire foot through it. That’s pretty dang awesome, though we hope they had their tetanus shots up to date. Under the hood lurked an LT1-generation Small-Block Chevy with a carburetor and a set of mild heads.
In the end, the Lane judges scored it highest—which is to say “crappiest”—among all the hoopties on the property. Considering the motley assemble included in Lemons, that was a high-enough honor for a Rally trophy.
The Rally’s favorite trophy rewards those who either dedicate themselves entirely to insanely bad ideas. This was really a slam dunk for the Canadian cousins of Marathon Car Rentals. You either immediately recognize this as the “Gran Detroit” that John Candy and Steve Martin’s characters rent from the fictional agency in the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
It wasn’t merely enough to build a replica of the car from a turbocharged ‘88 LeBaron, however. Instead, these dudes drove with it looking exactly like the Gran Detroit from the movie. That meant they drove it with the top down, wearing a space-saver spare and an oversized trunk in the rear.
Sure, they’re from Ontario, but we even thought it was pretty crazy to try this during the Polar Vortex. But the heat worked well enough to keep them from freezing. And the space-saver spare? They intended originally to just have it on during registration, but it was too cold to change it. And then too cold to change it anywhere else, so it the donut made it 1,800 miles without bursting.
No, we don’t really recommend this, but it is perfectly stupid. Read more here.
On the Lemons Rally, the Org. Choice usually goes to the one car that organizers would totally take home. We aren’t sure we’d take this exact one home, but there’s something appealing about someone driving the snot out of the “top trim” Zastava Yugo. The GVX got a body kit, an extra gear, bitching “sport” interior, and the Big Block 1.3-liter engine.
The team name came from a famous story about a Yugo that was blown off the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan by a wind gust. Luckily, this little GVX ran fine(ish) and stayed atop the bridges, though it wore the hell out of its tiny tires.
The GVX also lacked sufficient heat to keep up with the numerous air leaks from the finest of Eastern Bloc panel fitments. No bother, you can always add layers. Either way, the little GVX made the full pull and even made it home to Michigan without major mechanical failure.
The Lemons Rally’s only previous Yugo had died an unfortunate death on Route 66 2-½ months earlier, but this Retreat From Moscow included both this GVX and a “pedestrian” GV whose occupants included Mr. Regular from Regular Car Reviews. You can see Regular Car Reviews’ experiences in a Yugo on YouTube here.
The next Lemons Rally is the Florida Man Poker Run, which departs Kershaw, South Carolina, on April 29 and ends in Key West, Florida, on May 3. You can find information on the year’s three remaining rallies on the Lemons Rally website here.