While the Route Sucky-Suck wasn’t the longest Lemons Rally, it was probably the most ambitious. The seventh Lemons Rally included the entire length of Route 66 from its downtown Chicago to the Santa Monica Pier in California. That’s more than 2,400 miles of America’s Main Street in just seven days. The trip generated lots of great stories and moments for the rally’s 42 participants. We’ll get to many of them soon, but we want to cover the trophy winners first.
As always, the rally participants began the trip with a pre-rally point assignment and then scored points along the way at designated checkpoints in the rally book with more points scored for general stupidity, repairs, and so forth. In the end, only three teams took home trophies for the top three point totals, but seven more added hardware to their substantial travel baggage.
Your rally correspondent, Eric Rood, rode in several of the rally vehicles throughout the full distance to experience the rally properly. Expect future filings and reports on his experience in a wide variety of crappy vehicles. For now, we’ll run down the “winners.”
Dishonorable Mention – BlunderBus No. 33, 1992 Blue Bird
Many rally participants have kicked around the idea of a full-sized rally bus. Until this Route 66 trip, however, nobody had followed through on it. These Texas firefighters scored this particular decommissioned school bus for drills. After beating on it a bit, they came up with a brilliant idea: Paint it like a warbird bomber, don flight suits, and plod the “BlunderBus” down the Mother Road.
Because the Lemons Media Stooge rode on the BlunderBus, we will soon reveal details on this Dishonorable Mention.
Dishonorable Mention – These Test Icicles, Saab 900/Buick LeSabre
Every couple of rallies, a team inevitably blows up their original car. Do you rent a car in that instance? Do you just thumb it home? How do you press on? In this case, These Test Icicles had run the 2018 Retreat From Moscow in their Saab 900 with minimal issues, aside from the occasional icicle accumulated on the car. The Ohioans brought the same Saab back for some more. It certainly wasn’t a looker, but as one of the “modern” cars on the rally, it seemed a sure bet to make the full pull.
However, the Swedish machine had other ideas. Somewhere in the middle of Missouri, the Born-From-Jets engine expired with a fizzle. These Test Icicles called a tow truck, naturally. While the wrecker driver hooked up the Saab, he mentioned that he knew someone looking to unload a tired Buick LeSabre. The seller drove it to them—enough of a test drive for the rally team—and they forked over $400.
The LeSaabre made some alarming noises from its transmission for most of the ride and eventually popped a brake line at an inopportune moment, but the Buick still made it to the rally end. Sure, they were wrenching on it at the Santa Monica Pier, but they rode the old Buick all the way home. We think they made it, anyway. Maybe we should check on that…
Dishonorable Mention – The Conspiracy Theorists, 1977 Cadillac DeVille
The Conspiracy Theorists also returned after a successful previous run in the 2017 Retreat From Moscow Rally. Everything about this Caddy just screams “perfect for Lemons Rally.” It rides on big, knobby tires. It sports a set of horns on the front bumper. The interior is utterly perfect Malaise Era, matching the exterior color identically with woodgrain accents. Comfort, thy name is DeVille.
Again, we rode along with the Conspiracy Theorists and will have more words on this sweet ride soon. It is worth noting that their rally mascot was Charles, a dog that had undergone freeze-dry taxidermy. A team member’s father-in-law had undertaken the taxidermy and the team inherited it when it was neither paid for nor claimed.
Dishonorable Mention – Caddywrecker Air Patrol, 1968 Chevrolet Chevelle
David Mills has cemented his legacy in the 24 Hours of Lemons with more than a decade of races and a couple of rallies. In January, he and three stupid friends had ridden in a V6 Ford Mustang Snowplow Convertible for the length of the Retreat From Moscow route with the top down. That earned them second place in points, but this time around, David took another tack: a rushed-but-fantastic restoration of a 1968 Chevelle he’d bought years ago and a long road trip with his dad, Bruce.
Most of the Chevelle was in pieces with a week until setting off for the rally’s start near Chicago. Through many sleepless nights, David put the Chevelle back together. That meant restoring its original Chevy 307 V8, four-speed manual transmission, and a nice fresh coat of paint. It looked spectacular. With only a one-block shakedown done, the father-son duo shoved off from New Jersey.
The Chevelle didn’t run flawlessly, but it ran well enough. David had also rigged up a power inverter, which made the Chevelle a mobile kitchen. The Mills made grilled cheese on a hot plate. They brewed java with a coffee pot. Critically, they also made pulled pork and chili in a crockpot. The meals were shared with competitors they ran across at rally checkpoints. Brilliant!
Well done, Caddywrecker Air Patrol!
First Place – Tortellini Racing, Ford Pinto-based Mercedes Gazelle SSK Kit Car
We’ve seen some dumb things in the Lemons Rally, but the Tortellini Boys’ (as they came to be called) took the big, stupid cake with the SSK kit car—aka the Tortellini Flyer—they bought from “a guy living out of a Subaru Forester in Santa Cruz, California.” Three twentysomething Californians clambered aboard the rickety kit car in San Luis Obispo, then drove 150 miles to the Bay Area to caravan with the EBG Motorsports Buick Roadmaster. By the time they’d gotten to EBG headquarters, all three of the Tortellini guys knew they’d made a huge mistake. And it only got worse from there.
Their adventure included, in part: freezing almost all the time, getting soaked in a few rainstorms, breaking a driveshaft on the way to the rally start, finding a 24-hour driveshaft shop in Wyoming, shedding parts for 5,000 miles, freezing some more, breaking their exhaust, their “luggage racks” sagging to the point of almost dragging, breaking a thermostat bolt to be bailed out by a local Lemons racer in Amarillo, and generally driving this utter piece of crap like they hated it.
Because they did, in fact, hate it. And against all odds, the dumb kit car made the whole distance. I rode in this one, reluctantly and briefly, so expect a full report.
Second Place – Not Dead Yet, 1940 LaSalle-Miller Hearse
When you’ve run Lemons Rallies in an Edsel and in a Corvair, what do you do next? If you’re twin brothers Jim and David Forbes, you finally get around to running the pre-war hearse that you obtained in 1989. David bought the car from a temporary haunted house that year that had used it as a prop and rolled it behind the building. After seeing rust in the cylinder, he thought the Cadillac Flathead V8 was toast and parked it at his brother’s house.
There it sat—first out in the open, then under a tarp, then in a Tucson barn—for almost 30 years until the brothers decided it would be a fine undertaking for the Rally. Step 1 involved a long eviction of the mice who’d made residence of it. Most of the interior upholstery had found its way into the engine, as well, thanks to the rodent population.
If you know about Jim Forbes (background, above, with David foreground)—who’s built 9– and 10-second period-correct altered wheelbase cars for HOT ROD Drag Week—then I could just say, “He rebuilt the flathead over a few months” and you’d know what I meant. For those who don’t know Jim, that meant painstakingly freeing 76-year-old head bolts (the engine in the car had been replaced with a ‘42 Cadillac).
Then it required taking out the pistons, grinding and lapping the valves, and being very ginger with everything because three-quarters of a century can make things awfully frail. Naturally, 1942 Flathead piston rings weren’t available. The Forbes spent days sifting through old paper catalogs to discover that a single model-year of Ford Y-Block had the same rings.
Even with the engine rebuilt and running properly, they still had to contend with an always-leaking water pump (Add gallon of water every 100 miles or so), bias-ply tires, carriage suspension, one remaining section of original cloth wiring (for the headlights, of course, and it failed), and the unmistakable and unwavering smell of three decades of mouse piss.
Through it all, the brothers wore their best undertakers outfits and the accompanying morose looks on their faces. Own the car, own the role, they say. If it weren’t for the utter stupidity of the Tortellini Flyer, they’d have been easy winners.
Third Place – Green Stripe Racing, 1968 Bremen Mini Mark Shriner’s Edition
Green Stripe Racing’s Shriner’s Edition kit car remains a curious thing. Bremen built some of these kits at their own factory and even sold some at Volkswagen dealerships. This one, however, wears some aftermarket modifications, as Green Stripe’s Henry Thompson said. “My mechanic said it looked like someone had dumped the Model-A section of the JC Whitney catalog onto it.” The kit car known affectionately as “Kermit” features a fantastically sparkly fiberglass gelcoat finish. Even better, Kermit features one of the most mysterious pieces of Volkswagen lore: The Autostick transmission.
While most VW people know of the Autostick, we say “mysterious” because virtually nobody knows anything about them, apparently. Rather than an automatic transmission, the transmission operates more like an automatic clutch with vacuum actuating the clutch. Crucially, everyone figured out quickly that it made Kermit the most godawful slow thing on the rally. Speeds above 55 mph would overheat the clutch and, consequently, everything else in the powertrain.
So Kermit crawled along with long days that crept into long nights. We also rode in Kermit and will have more on this fine Autostick-mobile.
Lemons Rescue Squad and Roadside Assistance – Stattosphere Motorsports, 1993 Ford F-150
We first met Tom Statt, where Tom was always trying, um, to help out some “ill” animals. We enjoyed his enthusiasm for the rallies and especially loved his F-1-Shifty. That Ford pickup had a chain beard and a cigarette befitting its owner, plus a couple of skyscraping exhaust stacks. That’s some quality Lemons Rallying in and of itself.
This time around, Tom’s antics didn’t feature balloons, but he managed to offer plenty of help just the same. The F-1-Shifty always turned up roadside when another Rally car was experiencing troubles, it seemed. “No bother,” Tom would say, flipping on the amber emergency lights atop the F-1-Shifty. He then stuck around until the troubled Lemons Rally vehicle was ready to roll again.
On top of that, Tom and his dad John seldom were found without smiles. Few enjoyed the rally as wholeheartedly as the Statts. Because of their repeated and unselfish assistance, we handed them the rally-specific Lemons Rescue Squad and Roadside Assistance trophy.
Random Acts of Stupidity – Swing and Amish, 1990 Ford Festiva-mino
We first ran across this team on the 2017 Monterey Car Weeeeak Rally. In that rally, their Toyota MR2 burned oil by the quart until it finally expired in middle-of-nowhere Oregon. Thankfully, Daily Turismo contributor Chris Floren helped tow them their Toyota to the junkyard. They weren’t about to give up, though. They soon found a chopped-top Festiva on the local CraigsList for $500. It didn’t look like much, but it took to the end of that rally and back home to Utah.
For the Route 66 run, however, they spent their efforts converting the Festiva into an Amish buggy. To the front, they added a rocking-horse pulling their “cart.” They made a Lemons Rally butter churn for their mascot. To round it out, they wore Amish costumes all week. The Festiva’s oversized wheels meant rubbing tires for most of the rally. Like most rally cars, the little Amish cart made other alarming noises for the duration. Naturally, the duo just shrugged it off and continued with their antics:
We’ll have more on this Festiva-mino which was also among Eric Rood’s ridealongs.
Organizer’s Choice – Not Dead Yet, 1940 LaSalle-Miller Hearse
Yes, the Not Dead Yet hearse took home the top prize. They’ve come so incredibly close to winning the Lemons Rally twice now. In addition, Lemons Rally organizers would gladly take this home and daily drive it in a heartbeat. That’s a solid case for the Organizer’s Choice.
We’ll have even more Lemons Rally coverage from the Route Sucky-Suck Rally soon here on the Lemons Blog. Also, be sure to follow the Lemons Rally Facebook and Instagram pages. In the meantime, be sure to sign up for our 2019 Lemons Rallies here.