Racing the Clock: 24 Hours to Thrash a Hyundai Scoupe and Subaru XT Into Running

The Most Heroic Fix award has long been part of 24 Hours of Lemons tradition, but many times we have multiple teams deserving of the award and the others don’t get much recognition. At the 2015 Doin’ Time in Joliet race, two teams spent just about the entire weekend in a panic-stricken frenzy to make their cars (both of which were, probably not coincidentally, recommended by me) run well enough to get some laps before the checkered flag. This race being a straight-24-hour affair, the pressure was on. Here’s the story of the Wonderment Consortium and Team Anonymous and their amazing repairs.

The Hyundai Scoupe, basically a sporty version of the wretched early Hyundai Excel, had been sadly absent from our series for its first nine seasons, and so we were quite excited when the Wonderment Consortium (known and beloved for their poor car choices) bought one and caged it. This was its debut race.

Meanwhile, Team Anonymous, who have spent years of contending in Lemons with a pretty quick Civic, opted to take my car-selection advice and add a Subaru XT Turbo to their racing fleet. Their sporty Subaru had entered a few Lemons races and had put together a remarkably consistent record of near-total failure prior to the weekend in Joliet (my Lemons-car-selection suggestions, to be honest, have not worked out so well for the teams that listened to me). This weekend was going to be the one in which the XT finally went out and dominated Class C with its mighty turbocharged engine.

Things went to hell right away for both teams, of course. The Wonderment Consortium’s Scoupe burned a gigantic hole in its cylinder head during pre-race practice on Friday. You won’t find many Excels or Scoupes in Illinois junkyards, all these cars having rusted to nothingness a decade or so back, and so the Consortium ran out and obtained a very affordable Hyundai Accent (featuring innovative fiberglass-and-adobe body mods) as their engine donor.

We began the race on Saturday morning with the Wonderment Consortium knee-deep in a disaster zone of randomly distributed Hyundai parts, while the Anonymous Subaru caught the green flag. A few laps later, though, the turbocharger and some related components failed, and the XT went up on jackstands for what looked to be a very long time.

At this point, we were wondering why the Wonderment Consortium hadn’t just found a Mitsubishi Mirage or Dodge Colt (which share an engine family with the Scoupe) as an engine source, rather than a not-very-closely-related Accent. The Accent’s engine rotates the opposite direction from the Scoupe’s, with the transmission mounted on the other side of the engine, and you can extrapolate from there when figuring out swap complexity. It turns out that their reasoning was simple: the Accent engine has 20 more horsepower!

As you might expect, the Anonymous crew had received nothing but sarcastic laughter when calling junkyards in their search for whatever oddball turbocharger went into the XT, but they were able to find a Subaru WRX turbo on Craigslist in Chicago. This unit would require extensive fabrication of numerous adapter flanges and oil fittings in order to fit, but it would provide more boost. Why not just plug the turbo oil line and run the engine in naturally-aspirated mode? Hey, that’s crazy talk!

All afternoon Friday, all day Saturday, and all Saturday night, the Wonderment Consortium guys spun wrenches, fabricated engine mounts, and figured out how to make an automatic transmission on the wrong side of the engine compartment fit their Scoupe. Those extra 20 Korean horses weren’t going to be easy!

Late on Saturday night, the Team Anonymous turbocharger-adapter effort seemed to be finished. Only a couple twelve more hours and it will be installed!

I went back to the hotel late on Saturday night to get some rest, assuming that when I returned around dawn that both teams would still be thrashing hopelessly. Wrong! The Wonderment Consortium had their Scoupe running and turning laps. Yes, they were very slow laps (because the transmission’s ECM was angry about the swap and insisted on staying in 4th gear at all times), but the team ended up turning 70 of them. In the end, we were so impressed by this achievement (in about 98% of cases, teams attempting repairs this extensive do not finish in time to turn any race laps) that we gave the Wonderment Consortium the coveted Most Heroic Fix trophy. Congratulations!

The Anonymous Subaru was parked and most of the team members were unconscious when I returned to the paddock. They had managed to get their car running, but it overheated in catastrophic fashion after a couple of laps. When I showed up, nobody felt like suiting up just to turn two laps at a time.

Eventually, though, one of the Anonymous drivers agreed to hit the race track and allow me to get photos of the team’s triumphant success: 11 total laps, future WRX-style domination assured. Well done, Anonymous!