[Author’s Note: On the 2018 Route 66 Lemons Rally, Eric Rood rode in several different Lemons Rally cars along the famed Mother Road. In preparation for the upcoming Route 66 Lemons Rally in June, he’s recounting his various ridealongs. We’ll start with his shortest ridealong with the rally winners in the Tortellini Flyer, a kit car made to resemble a 1929 Mercedes-Benz SSK]
“You want I-40 West!” I empty my lungs with that shout. Clint Requa in the Tortellini Flyer’s front passenger seat casts a sidelong glance and touches where his ears are under his old-timey helmet. He flips his palm toward the broad Arizona sky in the universal, “I can’t hear a damn word” gesture. I adjust my body with a shove and thrust my phone between Clint and driver James Tyler to show the GPS map. Clint notes the discrepancy with the GPS display barely zip-tied to the chintzy kit-car dash. His leather glove folds into a thumbs up.
It’s been only a half-hour to Kingman from Laughlin, Arizona, but the cramped Mercedes SSK kit car’s “back seat” requires sitting side-saddle with one leg tucked under the other. It’s a positively miserable experience for a few minutes, yet Tortellini Flyer teammate Ethan Manuputy had ridden several thousand miles like this. He is a decade younger than me. That means his leg falls asleep in 45 minutes instead of 20 and his back is maimed rather than disfigured like mine in that time. For this leg of the trip, he is also riding comfortably in a Buick Roadmaster wagon. Smart move.
Even with my jacket’s hood pulled taught and borrowed goggles strapped on, the wind rips over the low windshield and presses my head rearward, then makes a pathway directly to my inner ear. My ear will hurt for days. The goggles smash my glasses into my face. The scant bit of my skin exposed to the desert air turns raw before we’ve crested the climb out of Laughlin. I look like The Gimp.
I had brought a liter of water to sip as the dry air removed my hydration foot by foot on the desert climb out of Laughlin. All hopes of opening it are dashed almost immediately; it takes most of my effort to hang onto my backpack and camera bag—contents unused—against the wind’s incessant buffeting. My chauffeurs have been dressed like participants of the legendarily stupid 1908 New York to Paris Race for 10 days.
I shout this, too. They can tell I’ve said something, but they can’t make out the words. They nod agreement, then blast onto the I-40 onramp toward Yucca.
What does it take to win a Lemons Rally? Lack of good judgment makes a strong start. In the case of Tortellini Racing, that means ditching the “Vancia” they took on the 2017 Monterey Car Weeeeak Rally as a rally vehicle (a team member still drives it daily).
The team instead bought this SSK Kit Car from a “homeless guy in Santa Cruz.” This example features many classic kit-car hallmarks. Namely, the Tortellini Flyer looks assembled by a team of monkeys with their “Shakespeare Eventually” typewriters. That’s not a mixed metaphor; it really looks like it was assembled with typerwiters. This was likely a Classic Motor Carriages kit—possibly even put together by CMC itself—although that doesn’t preclude the sketchy nature of the fiberglass kit car.
The constituent parts ostensibly came from a well-optioned Ford Pinto with a 97-horsepower 2.8-liter Cologne V6 and a C3 automatic transmission. Few will ever call Ford’s Cologne V6 a great-sounding engine, but the shortened (Read: “Broken”) and precariously hung exhaust system under the Tortelini Flyer magnifies the six-cylinder’s hoarse groan. Its cold start bursts across a chilly New Mexico morning like a herd of goats smacking a canyon floor in a mass suicide, equal-parts thump and bleat.
At speed, the sound grows more mournful until the backseat occupant feels an existential bleakness. With the car heavily laden, James’ only choice was to firewall the throttle at all times just to maintain speed. The terrible bleating continued unabated for 5,000 miles. It says, “What mad series of life choices have led to my ass perched a few inches above the terrible sound?”
As for the kit-car’s construction, every surface on the car rattles and shakes alarmingly. The front fenders catch air like a parachute and wobble visibly. The tiny mirrors shake so violently as to be unusable. The car generates so much drag and is so overloaded that the Flyers don’t dare try to squeeze more than 100 miles out of a fuel tank that is allegedly 10 gallons. That makes for frequent stops. Those last just long enough to clear one’s head, chug some water, and then press on for another 100 miles hoping the ride doesn’t slosh your innards too hard.
James Tyler drove the entire route, since he was the only team member short enough—about 5’10—to manage the tiny footbox and poorly positioned steering wheel. Ergonomics and comfort are not words frequently associated with kit cars.
No 5,000-mile trip comes easily, but the Tortellini Flyer’s rickety nature meant a few big repairs. On the way to the rally start, the driveshaft literally fell out of the car. The following EBG Motorsports Buick Roadmaster picked up the driveshaft, along with various other parts throughout the ride. They found a nearby emergency driveshaft shop in Wyoming—a Miracle of the Gulls-caliber event—and soon were back on their way.
From there, the rally only broke a thermostat bolt and bent tie rods. Staving off hypothermia on 30-degree mornings across the Great Plains? That’s all part of the Tortellini Flyer game.
I had agreed to swap places with Ethan in the back seat if the car made it past Las Vegas. I never expected the heap would arrive in Nevada. So I held up my obligation on the penultimate day’s desert loop out of Laughlin. I survived just 45 minutes in the Flyer before I hopped into the AMC Eagle that had been dropped onto a Chevy Trailblazer SS. I felt like I’d gotten into a Rolls Royce.
Just an hour or two later, I discovered that country’s most expensive gas station harbored another SSK kit car. The world, she turns in a strange direction sometimes.
When it was all said and done, the Tortellini Flyer Boys had hit all 102 checkpoints on the rally. They piled out at the Santa Monica Pier with surprise, excitement, a first-place trophy, and permanent hearing loss. Check out more photos of the Tortellini Flyer in (in)action below.
Want to top that kind of stupidity? Sign up for the Route 66 Lemons Rally on June 16-21 in your own stupid car. Kit cars still get lots of bonus points. However, we’re also giving out 200 bonus starting points to pre-1965 cars and 400 bonus points for pre-war cars. Get details and sign up for the next Route 66 rally here!