Force de Frappe: French Cars in the 24 Hours of LeMons!

For the most devoted LeMons fans, certain types of vehicles are always a good idea. British cars, naturally. American Motors products, no doubt. Comfy, prestigious luxury cars. Vans. Aircraft. And, of course, we love cars from the nation that gave us the système Panhard and suspension hydropneumatique: France! Here’s a short history of the French machinery of the 24 Hours of LeMons.

Just as French automakers were early innovators during the very first days of the automobile, a French car competed in the very first LeMons race, held in 2006 at Altamont Motor Speedway. The overall winner was a Corolla, but the class of the event came courtesy of the red-white-and-blue Peugeot 505 GL of The Fabulous Frogs.

This car played a crucial role in getting your LeMons correspondent interested in the series in the first place; I saw this car being prepped at a gas station in Berkeley, thought any race series that would accept this car must be a good one, made some inquiries . . . and eventually the French-flag-painted Pug led me to don the robes of the LeMons Supreme Court. The Fabulous Frogs’ car took a beating within the infamously metal-bending confines of Altamont, but acquitted itself well.

Quite some time passed before another team felt worthy of campaigning a French car in the 24 Hours of LeMons. In 2008, a bunch of Francophile car freaks in the Pacific Northwest obtained a diamond-in-the-rough Peugeot 505 Turbo—a car that outperformed the E30 BMW 325i and had a lower sticker price, as every Peugeot 505 owner in North America will tell you—and became The Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys.

The debut of PUJO! (as the team dubbed their car) was originally set to be the 2008 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza race at Thunderhill, but an unfortunate rollover crash of the tow vehicle postponed PUJO!’s appearance on the LeMons scene until the Goin’ For Broken 2009 race at Reno-Fernley Raceway.

With French Stig, French flags, and a French Surrender Monkey, the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys made quite a splash.

PUJO! turned out to be pretty quick on the race track and kept up with many of its E30 rivals. Parts broke, oil leaked, but the Surrender Monkeys racked up a respectable 33rd-place finish in their first race. Since that time, the Surrender Monkeys have had by far the quickest French car in LeMons racing.

After that, the rest of the LeMons world saw the inherent greatness of French race cars and we began to see more of them. The F-ing Renault Alliance showed up to Thunderhill with all manner of suspiciously good suspension parts, then proceeded to blow up early and often.

The Eagle Premier, based on a Renault 25 chassis with Renault 21 suspension, was one of American Motors’ last gasps and went on to serve as the basis for the very successful Chrysler LH platform. Such history! The first (and only) Premier in LeMons appeared at the infamous Lamest Day at Nelson Ledges and proved to be very reliable (by LeMons standards).

The Peugeot 504 has a global reputation for bulletproof construction and dependability, enjoying a production run that spanned from 1968 through 2005 (in Nigeria). At the 2009 New England race at Stafford Motor Speedway, The Safari Taxi Company decided that they’d make their 504 even better with a PRV V6 swap. That didn’t work out so well, but we still have high hopes that more teams will choose to run 504s.

The Renault Le Car (Renault 5 to you Europeans) sold in large-for-a-French-car numbers in the United States, so it was only a matter of time before some ambitious LeMons team found one and made it into a road-racing machine. Crewe Le Pewe had a sad-face-making rollover in their Le Car during the 2010 Gator-O-Rama race at MSR Houston, but came back in the 2010 Yeehaw It’s Texas race and took the top prize of LeMons racing: the Index of Effluency. We’re sure there was much celebrating in Paris that night.

Then Legend of LeMons Spank, builder of such memorable LeMons champions as the veggie-oil-fueled diesel Corvette and the Index of Effluency–winning “Hell’s Treehuggers” Harley-engined Toyota Prius opted to up the ante in the LeMons French car competition by racing a Citroën DS (actually an ID19, for you Citroën nitpickers).

He found a very, very rough ’72, which had been sitting for at least 20 years, caged it, brought it to the 2010 Sears Pointless race, started it for the first time in the paddock, and proceeded to race it all weekend with very few problems. Index of Effluency, of course!

For the 2010-season-ending race in Florida, Spank packed up the Citroën and drove it the 2600 miles from San Diego to Palm Beach. Sure, it broke down a few times, but the DS made it in time for the green flag, ran most of the race, and earned Spank the Most Heroic Fix award.

Meanwhile in Colorado, the genuine rocket scientist behind Rocket Surgery Racing had obtained a 1956 Renault 4CV and got going with the cutting and pasting. The result: this tiny, mid-engine beast, which has brought home both Organizer’s Choice and Index of Effluency trophies for its team.

The Rocket Surgery 4CV, with its mid-mounted Volkswagen engine, Audi transaxle, BMW 2800 suspension, etc., is one of the best-engineered cars in LeMons racing, and we’ll have an in-depth look at this car in the near future.

Not to be outdone by those Coloradans, Los Bastardos Racing in Texas got themselves a Renault Dauphine and dropped a quad-cam, 208-hp Ford Duratec V-6 into it. This car still needs a few bugs worked out, but it shows a lot of promise on the race track.

Having acquired a taste for French race cars, Spank managed to unearth a 1971 Simca 1204 (which was sold by Chrysler dealers alongside Mitsubishi Galants badged as Dodge Colts and Hillman Avengers badged as Plymouth Crickets) and brought it to the 2011 Goin’ For Broken race at Reno-Fernley Raceway. The Simca suffered from many mechanical ailments at that race and did a lot of limping around the track, but it came back strong at the 2011 Arse Sweat-a-Palooza and won the Index of Effluency. If you’re noticing a pattern here, it’s that French cars have a big advantage in the chase for the IOE trophy.

Spank sold the Simca to a Midwestern team headed by a man named “Soggy,” and it continues to compete—and get wrenched on—to this day.

On the East Coast, Punisher GP Racing somehow found two Peugeot 405 Mi16s, and they’ve been racing the pair of them with varying degrees of success.

The Mi16 is a very fast front-wheel-drive car with a nervous 16-valve engine that tends to blow up in dramatic fashion. Earlier this year, we were all awed by the sight of one of these cars shooting a connecting rod through the windshield of the Celica behind it.

Still, Punisher GP brought more glory to France by winning Class C with this 405 Mi16.

The most recent addition to the elite fraternity of French LeMons racers is the Tidy Whities Renault Le Car, which ran its first event at the 2012 season-ender and won the Judges’ Choice award. Here we see it entering the inspection area behind its tow vehicle and theme inspiration, a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe.

So, if you’re considering building your first 24 Hours of LeMons car, why not give your team an edge in the trophy race and get something French? Say, a Renault Medallion, Peugeot 604, Matra Bagheera, or even the LeMons French Car Holy Grail: the Renault Fuego Turbo.

About Murilee Martin