Those of us in the 24 Hours of Lemons world who try to be Bad Influencers™ often use our sinister power to induce teams to make terrible choices in race cars. Sometimes those choices cause endless
misery character-building, while others lead to unalloyed glory. We’d been pleading for a 1988-1993 Pontiac LeMans, the Daewoo-made crapboxian commuter based on the Opel Kadett E, since the earliest days of the series, and finally a team had the ignorance guts, magical thinking creativity, and bad taste appreciation for engineering superiority to campaign one: Tommy Salami and the Meat Wagon.
The Tommy Salami and the Meat Wagon team hails from West Texas, and the TS&TMW debut took place at the 2018 B.F.E. GP race in Colorado. A Ford Pinto wagon that had belonged to team Captain Tom Webb in high school had appeared in a New Mexico junkyard many years later, so of course he bought it and turned it into the race car you see here.
The team had fun in Colorado, so they brought the Pinto to the Houston race later that year. One of the spectators at the grueling 24-straight-hours event showed up in a 1989 Pontiac LeMans that had been bought new by his father, had well over 300,000 miles on the clock, and which he hoped to sell to a Daewoo-loving participant that weekend.
Naturally, as the foremost Lemons proponent of more Daewoos, I did my best to persuade a team to buy this fine potential race car. Tommy Salami stepped up, bought the car, and drove it all the way across Texas to Amarillo.
The car had been in the hands of one family since new, and it still had the original, unrebuilt engine with close to 375,000 miles on it. What could go wrong?
Since just about every far-flung outpost in the sprawling General Motors empire offered some version of this car, the team converted the Pontiac-badged Daewoo into an everything-badged Daewoo, then dressed up the drivers in the costumes of most of the nations involved.
Here’s what the judges saw during (and after) the BS Inspection at the 2019 B.F.E. GP.
One of the many versions of this car was the Vauxhall Astra GTE, so the team ordered an Astra bumper from the UK and put Vauxhall badging on the car.
In South Africa, the Opel Kadett GSi Superboss was the Daewoo LeMans to have, so Tommy Salami obtained a genuine South African-market decklid spoiler.
In Canada, the LeMans could be had with Asüna or Passport badging, for reasons that must have made sense to The General at the time.
Since some LeManses were badged as Daewoo Racers in their South Korean homeland, the team had Racer badges 3D-printed.
If you’re going to go to all this work to badge a GM South Korean parts-bin car with every emblem that was ever slapped on it in ever corner of the world, you need to blast K-Pop on a Daewoo-made cassette deck, shipped from South Korea at great expense. This team is serious!. If you need the complete insider story on all the stuff the team did to prepare the car, check out the official Tommy Salami and the Meat Wagon account here.
There’s no connection to Daewoo in the team’s J.C. Penney Pinto pit bike, but who doesn’t love a motor vehicle made by J.C. Penney?
So, we have a near-400,000-mile South Korean car, bashed together 30 years ago by a bunch of angry, underpaid drunks and sold in the United States as a competitor to such heaps as the Ford Festiva and Yugo GV. The multinational theme, the car’s family-centric backstory, all that stuff was great… but the Lemons Supreme Court judges knew that this car had about a 99.6% chance of breaking several crucial and unobtainable parts within minutes of the green flag on Saturday, after which it would spend the rest of the weekend surrounded by increasingly despairing team members, their festive costumes cruel reminders of their unwarranted optimism.
That’s exactly what didn’t happen. The LeMans ran well all weekend long, with just a few minor repairs needed.
When the checkered flag waved on Sunday, Tommy Salami and the Meat Wagon had piloted the LeMans to an astounding 27th place overall, out of 63 entries (their Pinto finished 22nd). We’d have given the LeMans the Index of Effluency trophy with a 55th-place finish, so no other teams even had a chance at the IOE against a performance like that.
A couple of weeks after the race, Tommy Salami captain Tom Webb drove the 430 miles from Amarillo to Denver in order to grab an impossible-to-find 5-speed transmission from a junkyard LeMans (the race car has the lowly 4-speed). He did this despite having just offered the race LeMans up for sale, because he wants the new team to have the finest in 1980s Daewoo technology. Why sell the LeMans? Let’s just say that the Tommy Salami and the Meat Wagon team is working on a race car that makes the LeMans seem sensible. U BUY!